CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott captured his best finish of the 2019 season at Martinsville Speedway.
After leading a total of 49 laps in the race's final stage, Elliott succumbed to a second-place finish, crossing the finish line 0.594 seconds behind race winner Brad Keselowski.
"Our NAPA Camaro was good," stated Elliott after climbing out of his No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet post race. "I felt like we were about as even with (Keselowski) as we could be. When I did get the lead, I felt like there was little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it and whatnot. But, yeah, I tried to move up there at the end and I don’t know if I could have got to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner, maybe. But, I tried to get to him there in (Turn) 3, but maybe next time."
Elliott started the 500-lap short-track event eighth and quickly vaulted into the top five where he ran for the majority of the race. Just past the halfway mark, he positioned himself in second for a handful of laps before overtaking Keselowski on Lap 325 and extending his lead by over one second.
“We ultimately got to a point where we knew we weren’t going to be able to beat (Keselowski) as we were, so we knew we were going to have to make some adjustments,” said No. 9 crew chief Alan Gustafson. "We did, and they seemed to be right. The car really drove well after that and he was able to pass Brad (Keselowski)."
Unfortunately, a caution with 126 laps remaining slowed the field and Keselowskiwas able to drive off pit road ahead of Elliott -- a position that Elliott wasn't able to get back as much as he tried.
“Man, it was close," said Gustafson of Elliott. "Just couldn’t get quite back past him.
“It was a really good effort. I’m proud of our guys, the pit stops were solid. Unfortunately, we lost that one spot but the guys did a great job and the car was good. So, it was a solid day.”
When Gustafson looked back on yesterday’s race, he knew there were aspects that the team could have executed differently, but he was ultimately satisfied with the No. 9 team’s efforts.
“I think if we could do it over again, we would probably do some things differently,” he said. “Maintaining the lead is obviously the most critical thing. Then past that, I think we could have been slightly more aggressive with our adjustments and giving him a little bit better of a car to do it with.”
Gustafson and Elliott spent some time together after the short-track battle, dissecting aspects of the race that helped each other understand their overall performance.
“We kind of went over the car and debriefed a bit,” Gustafson said. “We tried to understand a few things, and I think he was slightly frustrated we didn’t win. As good as we ran, to me, it was a really positive day. I wanted to be sure that he knew I felt that he did a fantastic job, and certainly shouldn’t be frustrated with his performance.”
And now, the duo sets their sights on Texas Motor Speedway -- a track where Elliott hasn't finished outside the top 11 in all of his six Cup Series starts.
“Our performance hasn’t been great on one and a half’s,” the crew chief said. “The learning curve has been steep. We're definitely trying to improve. We’re taking some different philosophies to Texas and we’re going to try to apply them and see if we can improve our performance.”