Chase Elliott can finally breathe a sigh of relief. After a tumultuous eight days, he finally brought through for his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the year in Thursday night’s Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite a dominant performance by Kevin Harvick, fuel mileage kicked in as Elliott chased him down to take the lead late and held on for his second national series win in three days.
Due to the field invert, a pair of Hendrick Motorsports drivers started on the front row. William Byron, who finished twentieth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, was on the pole with Alex Bowman beside him. Their Hendrick team-mate Elliott, who finished second after the fourth HMS driver Jimmie Johnson was disqualified, started nineteenth.
Just moments after the green flag waved, the yellow flag came out when Rick Ware Racing team-mates Garrett Smithley and Joey Gase made contact on turn three, with Smithley’s car catching fire. Josh Bilicki and Quin Houff escaped the wreck.
The fire from Smithley led to oil being spilled in turn four and at the entrance to pit road, prompting a lengthy cleanup that spanned ten laps.
Matt DiBenedetto, who started fourth, had a strong jump at the green flag to push Byron to the lead on the opening lap. He eventually cleared Byron shortly before the caution was called, and led for the next ten laps under yellow. It was the first time since 2017 with Ryan Blaney that a Wood Brothers Racing car led double-digit laps in a race, while the team had not done so at Charlotte since Elliott Sadler in 2001.
The race resumed on lap 11 with DiBenedetto fighting with Byron before losing out. By the lap 25 competition caution, the two ran 1–2 with Bowman in tow.
On pit road, Byron collided with Corey LaJoie as the former exited his pit stall, forcing him to pit again despite being the first off pit road. Joey Logano stayed out to inherit the lead for the restart.
“I was fully committed to my box (expecting Willy to take 4) when I saw his jack drop and start to John Force it,” LaJoie tweeted. The John Force analogy refers to the drag racing legend. “It’s impossible stop a 3500lb car going 45mph in 20 feet.”
Matt Kenseth cut a tyre spun on lap 29 for the second race-related yellow. Brad Keselowski also had a tyre go down, causing him that forced him to pit. Shortly after, lightning struck the track for yet another red flag in the week. The race had been postponed from Wednesday to Thursday due to rain from Tropical Depression Bertha.
After over an hour of waiting, the race resumed on lap 33 with Logano in front. Keselowski, who had pitted shortly before the red flag, was penalised for pitting too soon.
Logano would lead a Ford contingent of Blaney, DiBenedetto, and Harvick for the rest of the stage. Bowman finished fifth, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Elliott, and Chris Buescher.
Logano remained in the lead for the start of the second stage on lap 63. Two laps into the stage, Kyle Busch cut a left-rear tyre after colliding with Aric Almirola, though the latter was able to save the car.
Harvick took the lead on lap 66. Eight laps later, Houff and Brennan Poole hit each other, sending the former into the wall for the next yellow. Bowman claimed the lead for the ensuing green flag on lap 78.
The Fontana race winner, who also won the first two stages in the 600, continued his Charlotte streak by running unopposed to the Stage #2 victory.
Blaney, Logano, Elliott, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Dillon, John Hunter Nemechek, Christopher Bell, and Bubba Wallace also received stage points.
Bowman led Logano out of the pits, while Clint Bowyer suffered a speeding penalty. Nemechek fell out of the top ten due to a slow stop in which his car fell off its jack, and restarted nineteenth.
With a move on the outside, Harvick took the lead on lap 126. Seven laps later, Bowman hit the wall from second and had to pit. By the caution on lap 143 for Timmy Hill, Bowman was thirty-third and a lap down.
With a considerable margin between him and the field, Harvick was the first off pit road, while Hamlin gained three spots to move up to second. Erik Jones was penalised for pitting outside the box, resulting in him being held for a lap as the race resumed with 59 laps remaining.
Aggressive driving by Stenhouse propelled him into the top five shortly after the restart. On lap 165, Wallace hit the wall exiting turn two aftera hub failed, leading to his retirement.
As the laps ticked down, fuel conservation became a concern for the leaders as Elliott and Blaney, who were running second and third, began narrowing the gap on Harvick. With 27 laps to go, Elliott closed the distance and passed him for first. Blaney and Stenhouse followed suit four and eight laps later, respectively.
Elliott drove off to take his first win of 2020 and the seventh of his Cup career. Behind him, Hamlin passed Blaney for second, while Michael McDowell spun through the tri-oval grass.
It has been a chaotic week for Elliott. After being wrecked by Kyle Busch late in last Wednesday’s Toyota 500 that infamously led to his middle finger gesture, his hopes of winning Sunday’s 600 evaporated with a late pit stop. Things finally seemed to look up when he beat Busch in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race on Tuesday night, and his Thursday victory finally placed a ribbon on the last eight days.
“It’s a tough week for sure. We’ve had some tough losses but that deal on Sunday night was a heartbreaker,” Elliott said in his post-race interview. “Any win in the Cup Series is really hard to get. […] Luckily, the run went long and that fell in our favour. I was just waiting for the caution to come out.”