NASCAR penalizes top teams shortly before Talladega race
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Chase Elliott felt right at home, embraced by fans at a track a few hours from home and one where his father celebrated victory a couple of decades before.
This time it was Chase’s turn.
Elliott won the Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, giving Chevrolet its first victory of the season. He finished well in the clear from a race-ending crash that flipped Kyle Larson a half-dozen times.
Elliott took the lead shortly after a restart with four laps to go and worked with three other Chevy drivers to hold off the rest of the field. He won for the first time since October and went to victory lane about 150 miles from his hometown in Georgia.
His Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott won twice at Talladega in the 1980s.
“Dad’s history, obviously very cool,” Chase Elliott said. “To me the biggest piece of today was just how much of a home race it felt like after the race. I was blown away by the people and how fired up everybody was. That was an unbelievable experience. We are close to home, so that’s cool, and they made me feel that way.
“I couldn’t ask for much more there.”
His father was back in Georgia driving in a vintage cars race. (He won, too),
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman finished second, followed by rookie Ryan Preece, Joey Logano and another rookie, Daniel Hemric.
Elliott is the sixth driver to win through 10 Cup races this season and locked up a playoff spot.
Elliott credited a meeting with all Chevy drivers for the late-race teamwork.
The race ended under caution after David Ragan hit William Byron, who tagged Kyle Larson and sent him sliding across the track. Larson then flipped half a dozen times before coming to a stop.
“That was probably the longest flip I’ve ever had,” Larson said. “I haven’t seen a replay of it. I didn’t know if it would ever stop. I knew I was flipping and was just hoping that I wasn’t going to get any closer to the catch fence, so it was a little bit scary, but thankfully I’m all right.”
The 2019 aerodynamics package had cars reaching higher speeds than NASCAR wanted in practice, so officials tried to slow them down with a late rules tweak. But the changes made the cars go even faster, leaving many veterans wary of the closing speeds and potential for chaos and high-speed crashes.
But the race was mostly wreck-free — until the final lap.
Elliott’s victory ended a seven-race winning streak for Ford at Talladega. Penske Racing had won six of the last nine.
But it was a Chevy celebration — for a change.
“We needed to win this,” said Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief. “We needed to consolidate our efforts. We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here.”
Bowman didn’t get a chance to try any last-gasp attempts to pass his Hendrick Motorsports teammate because of the caution.
“Well, I’m not just going to let him win, right?” Bowman said. “I’ve got to try. I knew I could get to his quarter panel. I was pretty confident I could get to his quarter panel in the tri-oval and who knows who’s going to get to the line first at that point. I thought I could do it, but it depends on the car behind you and where he goes. It would have been fun to try.
Martin Truex Jr.’s race essentially ended with seven laps to go.
Aric Almirola turned Chris Buescher, who was vying for the 10th spot, coming out of Turn 2 and caused a four-car wreck that included Truex and brought out a red flag. Buescher slammed into the wall and started spinning.
Matt DiBenedetto had nowhere to go and rammed into Buescher’s rotating Chevy, lifting it several feet off the track. Buescher car then hit Truex and Justin Haley.
It didn’t take long for the first wreck at Talladega Superspeedway. The first one caught up Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick.
Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney tangled on Lap 10 to touch off the crash that also caught up Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
Wallace went low, got sideways and then slid back across the track, slamming into Michael McDowell and causing heavy damage to both cars. Harvick, McDowell and Wallace were knocked out of the race.
Hamlin joined them in the pits a short time later.
It was a tough day for Toyota, with the only Top 10 finish with Kyle Busch at No. 9. Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto were caught up in wrecks.
Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson ran over a piece of debris, punctured a tire and hit the wall early in the race. He fell several laps behind the leaders and extended his career-long winless streak to 69 races.
The Cup Series moves to Delaware next Sunday for the Dover 400. Harvick is the defending race winner.
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