FORT WORTH, Texas - After another disaster on the race track, Chase Elliott has a crystal clear vision of his only path to a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
On Lap 9 of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet broke loose as he was running a higher lane in Turns 1 and 2. The car slammed into the outside wall, severely damaging the rear of the Camaro.
Elliott’s crew made repairs, beating the time limit under NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy by roughly 10 seconds. Elliott completed 312 of 334 laps and finished 32nd — a result that left him 78 points below the current cut line for the Championship 4 Round of the playoffs.
In other words, Elliott must win next Sunday at ISM Raceway in Phoenix if he wants to race for the series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. There is no other option.
“I made a mistake, got loose and crashed,” Elliott said. “I really hate that (the wreck) happened. Obviously, it’s not good and not what you’re looking for. It’s just my mistake and there’s really no excuse for it. It’s just all eyes on Phoenix.
“Obviously, today was very self-inflicted. I made a mistake that there’s really no excuse for, and that’s what you get. You make mistakes, you put yourself in a bad position, and that was all on me today. I hate that it happened, but it did, and we’ll just go on to Phoenix and try to get a win out there.”
RYAN BLANEY FIGHTS ILL-HANDLING CAR, FACES UPHILL BATTLE AT PHOENIX
Ryan Blaney manhandled his No. 12 Team Penske Ford (or perhaps it manhandled him a bit), ultimately finishing eighth. He now sits 23 points behind fourth-place finisher Joey Logano — who is also fourth in the standings — for the final two spots in the Championship 4.
“It was a long night,” Blaney acknowledged. “We struggled really bad all night with track position, and then I felt like, even when we got a little bit of it, we still weren’t very good.
“We tried a lot of things tonight, and they didn’t really work. Unfortunately, we didn’t really get many stage points and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) winning didn’t help our cause, but we have to run better than that, anyway.”
Nor did it help Blaney’s cause that Ryan Newman, a driver notoriously difficult to pass, held him up during a green-flag run and blocked Blaney’s run off Turn 2.
“Ryan is Ryan and he is going to race hard,” Blaney said. “I was mad that I had a massive run up top and he just turned right and it made me jump out of the gas and get tight and hit the fence.
“That’s what I was mad about. I was fine with the racing before that, but when someone has a big run like that it’s like, ‘c’mon.’”
That incident likely didn’t change Blaney’s situation heading for ISM Raceway at Phoenix.
“Gotta win,” Blaney said. “Hopefully, we go do that.”
DENNY HAMLIN GOES FROM FAVORITE TO LONG SHOT IN ONE WILD RIDE
The weekend was going well for Denny Hamlin — up until the Lap 80.
Hamlin came to Texas Motor Speedway second in the playoff standings and qualified third for the second race of the Round of 8.
But on Lap 80, while racing for position in the top 10, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota turned sideways in Turn 4 and slid through the infield grass, damaging the splitter on his Camry.
Hamlin lost two laps on pit road while his crew repaired the car. Slowed by the damage, he finished 28th, six laps down.
The real damage, however, came in the standings. A five-time winner this year, Hamlin dropped to fifth in the standings, 20 points behind Logano. That’s a huge deficit with one race left to determine the Championship 4 drivers.
Now a season that Hamlin characterized as his best to date depends on a stellar performance at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“Just got up in that stuff (traction compound) before it was really broke in,” Hamlin said. “Just lost control. That’s all there is to it. Proud of the whole FedEx team for putting their best effort forward so we could be there at the end. Did the best we could, and we’ll go to Phoenix and try to win.
“The car and the effort will be there, that’s for sure. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go there and win. In these circumstances, I like the challenge. We’re going to go out there and give it our best shot and put our best foot forward and see if we can’t get a win next week.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media
—Field Level Media