As the laps wound down, Chase Elliott maintained his race lead Sunday at Dover International Speedway even as he approached traffic.
But with less than five laps to go, he had caught up with the No. 31 car ahead of him – and the No. 18 car had closed the gap behind him.
“It was all just lapped traffic-dependent,” Elliott said. “I thought if I had a clean track, I could have run as fast as he did, but I didn't, and I should have done something different.”
Elliott stayed in the inside lane, running the bottom of the track, while Kyle Busch used the high line.
“I think Chase weighed his options out and knew that the bottom is where 90-some percent of these races have been won, if not 95 or more, and stuck with that,” Jimmie Johnson said. “I think he had more trouble with the lapped cars that were in front of him. I think there were some cars fighting to stay on the lead lap that really, I think, hurt the performance of his car, and the 18 had a straightaway of clean air to really chip away at the lead and get to him.”
Ultimately, Kyle Busch caught Elliott and passed him just as the white flag waved, and Elliott took home a runner-up result.
“That's just on me, and he did a better job than I did,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to.”
JOHNSON PLEASED WITH PERFORMANCE
Johnson, who finished just behind Elliott in third place, said he knew from the moment the cars unloaded on Friday that the Hendrick Motorsports rides would have plenty of speed.
“I wished I would have qualified better,” he said. “I really think we had a shot at winning the race today, and at times I was better than the 24 and the 18 and was catching there at the end. I just never really had track position to race for the win. I finally got top-three there on the last run and we were out of laps. A solid day, though.”
Now that both Johnson and Elliott have advanced to the second round of the playoffs, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS can’t wait to get the next set of three races underway this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Usually, if you run well at Dover, you run well at Charlotte,” he said. “So, we are excited to go to next week as well.”
EARNHARDT TAKES HOME TOP-10
Throughout much of Sunday’s race at Dover, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running inside the top 10 – and that’s exactly what he hoped for.
“I was talking to (Ryan) Blaney (Saturday) night and he said, ‘Man, you guys are so fast,’” Earnhardt recalled. “And I told him I would just take a top-10 after the year that I have had.”
In the final segment of the race, Earnhardt found the top five and moved as high as second place as competitors began heading to pit road for green-flag stops.
After the field cycled through, he settled into seventh place, which is where he was running when he crossed the finish line.
“We probably showed a little bit more speed at different times during the weekend than where we ended up,” he said. “I know the car was good enough to run in the top five and we showed that at certain points in the race and certain points of the weekend, too.”
But Earnhardt was pleased with the No. 88 team’s performance and was glad to grab the solid finish.
“It feels good,” he said. “This team is really a good team and we have just had a lot of odd misfortune and we have ill-prepared ourselves at times. When the car is good, it seems like we have some bad luck. Then there are weekends where we just can’t get the car right. It’s been a pretty down year.
“But hopefully this weekend is the start of some more good runs. I think we will end this thing strong and I am excited.”