Chase Elliott leads Chevrolet to GEICO 500 victory

by Justin Nguyen

In the first Monster Energy Cup Series race back after Easter week off, Chase Elliott led a contingent of Chevrolet Camaros to the checkered flag in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. After a final lap wreck that sent Kyle Larson flipping, Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman scored a 1–2 finish.

Austin Dillon started on the pole alongside Aric Almirola. Six drivers – Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Reed Sorenson, and all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones) – were ordered to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Brendan Gaughan, running his first race since the Daytona 500 in February, started at the back after a driver change; Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race winner Tyler Reddick qualified Gaughan’s #62 while Gaughan was attending his son’s communion.

Stage #1

It did not take long for Team Penske to get to the front. After two laps, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano quickly moved to the lead as Almirola slipped behind them. As the field separated into three lanes, the outside, led by Truex and pushed by Stenhouse, entered the fray.

By lap ten, Penske’s third driver Ryan Blaney was at the front, leading a Ford group. Shortly after, Darrell Wallace Jr., running in the top five, bumped Blaney from behind, causing the former to get loose. While trying to save his car, Wallace hit Hamlin and was shot up into Michael McDowell. Behind them, Clint Bowyer spun and hit his Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Kevin Harvick. Newman and Matt Tifft also suffered damage in the wreck.

The race resumed on lap 17 with Almirola leading Keselowski. On lap 26, Jimmie Johnson pitted after suffering damage in turn three. Logano and Kyle Larson briefly led on laps 31 and 33, respectively.

As the end of the stage neared, drivers began attempting various strategies to conserve fuel. Busch and David Ragan, who had been in the top five, fell back as they tried to save. After the Ford drivers pitted, Truex took the lead. Ty Dillon became the leader on lap 49 and ultimately took the stage win.

Bowman was second, followed by Austin Dillon, Elliott, Daniel Suárez, Newman, William Byron, Stenhouse, Busch, and Matt DiBenedetto.

Stage #2

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Elliott was the first to leave pit road to become the leader for Stage #2, while Truex suffered a too-many-men penalty. The stage began on lap 60 with Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman on the front row; the latter took the lead a lap later.

After Hendrick drivers led the way, Keselowski became the leader on lap 66 to open another Penske window with him and Logano. Ragan, Busch, and Stenhouse also shared time in front. By lap 82, the top five consisted of exclusively Fords (Stenhouse, Keselowski, Almirola, Blaney, Logano).

Green flag stops began with approximately 25 laps remaining in the stage. Hamlin went to the garage for repairs after hitting the wall earlier, while Parker Kligerman was penalised one lap for pitting outside of his box. After Busch pitted with 19 laps left, he battled with Stenhouse for the lead. Although Stenhouse claimed the position, he was squeezed between the Ford inside line led by Keselowski and the Chevrolet outside line with Elliott at the front, sending him back.

Elliott cleared Keselowski to take first with 16 laps to go. Joined by Hendrick partners Bowman and Byron, the three recorded an HMS 1–2–3 finish in the stage, with Elliott scoring his first stage win of 2019. Blaney finished fourth, followed by Dillon, Kurt Busch, Larson, Daniel Hemric, Logano, and Kyle Busch.

Stage #3

The final stage commenced on lap 117 with Elliott leading Bowman. By lap 128, the top six was exclusively Chevrolet cars, followed by Blaney, the Toyota of Jones, and Keselowski.

Dillon eventually started to fall with a potential tyre issue, dropping to twenty-fifth. On Lap 131, the caution came out for debris. After stops, Jones led Blaney to the restart.

With Blaney’s help, Logano quickly jumped to first, though Truex took over on lap 140. Logano, aided by his Penske allies, fought back for the position.

Green flag stops opened before the 30-laps-remaining mark, during which Keselowski was turned and had to pit backwards. As the pit cycle continued, Ross Chastain inherited the lead; after Chastain pitted, Stenhouse became the leader. After the stops ended, Logano was back in first by lap 167.

With six laps to go, Chris Buescher was turned by Almirola on the backstretch, sending him into the outside groove where DiBenedetto was running. Unable to avoid the #37, DiBenedetto slammed into Buescher, sending the latter airborne. As DiBendetto’s car slid towards the apron, Truex attempted to dodge but was clipped into a spin. Justin Haley, making his Cup début, smashed into DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto’s #95 caught fire as a result of the carnage, while the red flag was raised.

Finish

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Logano and Jones led the field to the restart with four laps left. Pushed by Stenhouse on the inside, Logano took off before committing to the outside with Kurt Busch behind, leaving Elliott and Bowman to the inside. The Hendrick duo eventually cleared Logano for the top spots. The following lap, Jones – now at the back of the pack – spun in turn three, but was distanced enough to not warrant a caution.

As the field came to the white flag, Stenhouse wrecked in the tri-oval, but like the Jones crash, no yellow flag was waved. On the backstretch, Ragan clipped Byron, the latter coming down into Larson. Larson and Jeffrey Earnhardt slid onto the apron, where Earnhardt slammed into the inside SAFER barrier while Larson went airborne and flipped multiple times before landing. The caution was subsequently called, ending the race.

The win is Elliott’s first at a superspeedway and fourth of his career, while Bowman scored his best Cup finish of second. Rookies Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric finished third and fifth, respectively, for their best runs to date. It is Chevrolet and Hendrick’s first win of 2019.

“To come home second, it’s not a win, but it’s headed in the right direction,” Bowman stated after the race.

The Dawsonville Pool Room, located in Elliott’s hometown, tweeted a video of its siren being sounded in celebration:

https://twitter.com/DawsonPoolRoom/status/1122621081033019392

“We just had a plan and executed it really well,” Elliott said in an interview with Fox Sports. “Obviously could have gone both ways, but fortunately, everybody stayed together and stayed the course and had some help at that last lap with the caution.

“This is unbelievable, this is special. This is close is to home for me, so it feels a little bit like a home race.”

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