DOVER, Del. – As the white flag waved in front of him at Dover International Speedway in October last season, Chase Elliott watched as Kyle Busch passed him for the race lead.
To that point, Elliott had led a race-high 138 laps, including 59 as the laps wound down.
But Busch took over the lead for the final two, and Elliott was relegated to a runner-up result as his first career NASCAR Cup Series win eluded him.
“Last fall was such a tough race for me,” Elliott said. “As I've said to a bunch of people, that was probably the toughest day of my career.”
Fast forward a year. When Elliott led the final 11 laps of the Dover playoff race this time around, holding on through two restarts, the trip to Victory Lane on Sunday was that much sweeter.
“I can assure you if last year wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't appreciate it as much as I do today,” he said. “Just to be able to come back and kind of put those things behind you and prove that you belong is very gratifying.”
Last season’s race at Dover came down to Elliott catching lapped traffic with five laps to go while Busch had nothing but clean air in front of him to track down Elliott.
It slowed him down just enough for him to lose the lead in heartbreaking fashion. But it also provided a learning opportunity.
“I think we all learned from that experience, and certainly I think he learned from that experience, and that enabled him to race a little bit better today,” No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “I think he did a better job passing today and really what got us last year is just the lapped cars and not working lapped traffic as good as we needed to, and I think he did a good job with that today.”
This year, the win came thanks to holding off competitors during two restarts – one of which came in overtime – on older tires to take the checkered flag.
Elliott was proud to have been able to avenge last season’s loss and come out on top for his second career Cup Series win.
“It certainly wasn't the same complexion as the race a year ago,” he said. “Didn't win it the same way we lost it, but still, just to have some more confidence going into those restarts and things is great.”
“Doing it consistently, being in high-pressure situations and enjoying those moments is the only way you're going to get better at it. Just glad that we had another chance to do it today.”