FONTANA, Calif. – Chase Elliott scored a runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway for his best career result at the 2-mile track in California.
Elliott started at the back of the field –33rd – based on NASCAR’s metric formula to set the lineup when qualifying gets rained out. He drove the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the top five within the first 50 laps and led on lap 167 of the 200-lap event.
"Really proud of our team," Elliott said after the race. "We obviously didn't run very good there toward the end of the year last year, and everybody really went to work hard over the winter to try and get better. Appreciate everybody on our NAPA team for just sticking with it and sticking with each other.
"Obviously, I think we still have some work to do, but it was really nice to just see a lot of that hard work pay off and have the car driving like we were wanting it to do. So that's always a good thing. Appreciate everybody's effort; everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet."
Alex Bowman finished eighth to give him back-to-back top-10 finishes to open the season. The driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 led 17 laps on the day, including the 16 of the first 17 laps of the race. This result marks the first time he has opened the NASCAR Cup Series season with two straight top 10s.
"I felt like we were good. I just couldn’t launch out of my pit box," Bowman explained. "The pit box was really slick and I struggled with that. Because of that, I lost a lot of spots on pit road. I had a good race car, I just had to come from deep every time. We will take it and move on. It was a good points day and we will keep fighting."
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William Byron spent a large portion of the race in the top 10, but tire went down on the No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 late in the event. He finished the race 25th. Two-time Auto Club winner Kyle Larson suffered a mechanical issue early in the race and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 finished 29th.
Kyle Busch got the win in the 400-mile race and Elliott was part of a Chevrolet sweep of the top-four positions. Sunday’s race marked the first on-track activity of the weekend as wet weather canceled Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions.
Next up is the second of the three-race West Coast swing, which takes place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, on Sunday, March 5, 2023, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). Hendrick Motorsports has seven wins at the 1.5-mile track in Nevada, including two straight wins in the spring race by Larson (in 2021) and Bowman (in 2022).
Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: Second
Race notes: Elliott started 33rd and radioed in prior to the lap 17 competition caution that the "balance is okay." Following a pit stop under yellow, the 2020 Cup Series champion moved through the field. He jumped into the top 15 on lap 26 and was in the top 12 when the caution came out on lap 43. With the No. 9 team’s fast work in the pits (10.38-second stop), the 27-year-old came out seventh for the lap 47 result. He briefly got into the top five before falling back to 10th to end stage one, while earning a stage point.
Elliott told crew chief Alan Gustafson he was "too free, too loose." The team went back on the changes from the previous pit stop and Elliott was 15th to start stage two. He liked the changes early on telling the team the car was "way more comfortable for me." With multiple cautions early in the stage, Elliott and the team elected to stay out several times to keep the track position they had in the top 10. The car came to life late in the stage as Elliott was running faster lap times than much of the top 10 and he passed his teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman for position. The driver of the No. 9 finished stage two in seventh and earned four stage points.
More great work in the pits helped Elliott gain two spots to restart fifth for the final stage on lap 138. Much of the final stage saw the 18-time Cup Series winner in the top five and he passed Daniel Suarez for fourth on lap 154. Using the inside lane, Elliott passed Joey Logano for third on lap 164. He took over the lead for one lap on lap 167 before pitting under green. Cycling out behind Busch and Ross Chastain, Elliott wasted no time trying to get by Chastain for second when the cycle ended. He passed his fellow Chevy driver with 22 laps to go and then got by Michael McDowell (who had yet to pit). In the end, Elliott couldn’t quite run down Busch for the victory and took home second.
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Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: Eighth
Race notes: Bowman started from the fourth position and wasted no time getting to the lead. He led 16 of the first 17 laps. At the competition caution, Bowman reported that he was free on exit. The next run saw the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 restart second on lap 21 and battle Busch for a top-six position. A strong pit stop (11.17-second stop) during the race’s second caution on lap 43 set Bowman up to earn a solid amount of stage points. He restarted fifth on lap 47 and quickly moved to fourth. The 29-year-old would finish the stage in that spot and earn seven stage points.
Under the stage break, Bowman radioed to crew chief Blake Harris that he was too loose in turns three and four. Following a pit stop, he restarted fourth on lap 73 and pinched the fence a bit on the next three-lap run. The car didn’t have much damage on it but getting caught in a traffic jam on pit road caused Bowman to fall out of the top 10 for the lap 80 restart. A rash of cautions in the next stretch saw Harris keep the No. 48 out on track to keep its top-10 position. Over the green-flag run of 38 laps to close stage two, Bowman climbed to sixth, but ultimately finished the stage in eighth.
During the stage break, Bowman told the team that his car started tight and built free. Under the yellow, the team had a longer stop since the No. 48 Ally Chevy was low on fuel at the end of the previous stage. As a result, Bowman restarted 13th on lap 138, but he moved up to 11th in short order. Another caution brought Bowman back down pit road on lap 142 for fuel and four tires and he restarted 15th on lap 146. He methodically worked his way back into the top 10 on lap 166 and pitted from the fifth position a few laps later. He cycled out in 11th, but was able to gain three spots in the closing 11 laps to finish eighth.
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William Byron, No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 25th
Race notes: Byron started from 32nd and was a fast mover in the early going. By the competition caution on lap 17, he was in 16th. A strong pit stop of 11.18 seconds set Byron up to restart 11th on lap 21. Within one green-flag lap, he was in the top 10 in seventh. He grazed the wall off of turn four but he was able to keep the No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 going strong. Following a pit stop under yellow on lap 43, he restarted eighth on lap 47 and quickly moved into the top five with a set of adjustments that was described as "better." A late pass by Denny Hamlin saw Byron finish stage one in sixth and earn five stage points.
Under yellow, Byron asked for help with the car’s right-rear grip. The team also worked to repair a small hole in the nose and cranked out a 10.94-second stop on pit road. The 25-year-old driver restarted third on lap 73 and was still scored there on the lap 76 caution. While on pit road, Byron and Ross Chastain nearly came together but an incident was adverted. After restarting eighth on lap 80, Byron moved to fourth in the short run before a caution came out two laps later. He stayed out over the next two cautions to keep his top-four position on track. Over the course of the 38 green-flag lap run to close the stage, Byron slipped outside of the top 10 and told crew chief Rudy Fugle that he was "really loose" and tried changing his line in turns three and four. Ultimately, Byron finished the stage in 14th.
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During the stage break, Byron mentioned that he felt "the car builds more free quicker" since he hit the wall in stage one. He restarted the final stage in 15th in lap 138 and felt the car was better on the short four-lap run to open the closing stage. A really strong 10.88-second stop put Byron back in the top 10 and he stayed in the top 10 for the next eight laps. While trying to make a pass on Brad Keselowski for eighth, he got shuffled back to 13th when everyone stuck to the high lane. He would slide to 15th a few laps later. With 19 laps to go, Byron radioed that he had a tire going down and the team put on new right-side tires. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was penalized for being too fast on pit road and had to serve a pass-thru penalty. He also feared the car had another issue, but he was able to complete the race. Byron finished 25th and two laps down on the day.
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 29th
Race notes: The two-time Auto Club winner started 15th and was quickly into the top 10. However, he came down pit road prior to the competition caution (scheduled for after lap 15) due to a mechanical issue. Larson had been running eighth at the time. The No. 5 HendrickCars.com team lifted the hood to take a look and he went back out two laps down. Larson brought the car back down pit road during the yellow for a more extensive look and the team brought the car to the garage. Work was done to get the car back out with an electrical issue believed to be the culprit. Larson returned to the track on lap 30, 15 laps down. Once back out, the team logged laps to gather information for the coming season. With several drivers caught up in an incident near the midway point, the 2021 champion was able to gain a few spots in the running order. At day’s end, he finished the race 29th.