AVONDALE, Ariz. – For the second consecutive year, Chase Elliott went into the final race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs needing a win to guarantee his spot in the Championship 4.
And for the second consecutive year, he found himself in the lead on multiple occasions in the penultimate race of the year, challenging for Victory Lane in thrilling fashion.
But, unfortunately, for the second consecutive year, a win eluded Elliott at ISM Raceway, and his bid to race for a title in the Championship 4 came to an end.
“You just have to make the most of opportunities and the whole year counts,” the driver said after the race. “Those guys (in the Championship 4) winning a lot of races throughout the season is what kept them away from a pressure-filled situation. All the bonus points they built up pretty much got them to Homestead. That’s the way the system’s meant to work. It pays to win. So, we’ll try to win some more next year.”
Elliott was caught up in a multiple-car incident while running inside the top 10 with fewer than 50 laps remaining Sunday, and the resulting damage was enough to essentially take him out of contention.
He returned to the track but was three laps behind the leader and outside of the top 20. Ultimately, he took the checkered flag in 23rd.
Earlier in the final segment, Elliott had retaken the lead when a caution flag waved. He headed to pit road as the leader, but was penalized for speeding. That put him at the rear of the field, though he battled back up to the top 10 as the laps wound down.
However, the incident shortly thereafter derailed his effort to find the lead a third time.
“Don’t speed before that, you don’t get caught back there in the back,” Elliott said. “Completely my fault. When you make mistakes like that, you get put behind and that’s when you get wrecked.”
Elliott left ISM Raceway fifth in the standings, the first driver not to make the Championship 4.
Though he’s no longer in the hunt for a championship, there’s one more race – next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway – to close the 2018 campaign on a high note.
“Had a pretty good NAPA Chevy, especially on the long run we could run with those guys,” Elliott said. “Couldn’t get going quite as good as I wanted to, but you stay away from that penalty, you never know. I hate it, but we’ll try to go win next week.”