From Heartburn to Happiness: Chase Elliott Wins the Bank of America ROVAL™ 400
Chase Elliott's Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 was as up-and-down as the infield layout of the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL™. Like no one else, Elliott experienced the ROVAL™'s lows - wrecking out of the lead with 43 laps to go - as well as its highs, rebounding from the discouraging accident to race his way to the lead with six laps to go and score an unforgettable triumph.
The son of 1988 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott made a statement in the title race, claiming his first Charlotte victory and the sixth of his NASCAR Cup Series career on a 2.28-mile, 17-turn test of nerve, skill and strategy.
Elliott initially felt he'd lost his nerve when, while leading on a Lap 66 restart, Elliott dove into Turn 1 - nicknamed the "TUMS Heartburn Turn" - locked his brakes and slid into the tire barrier. If anyone wrote Elliott off after the unfortunate mishap, though, he changed their minds in short order. One pit stop for repairs and an apology to his Hendrick Motorsports crew was all it took for Elliott to regain his speed and focus.
Elliott gradually picked off positions as Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman, the eventual runner-up, closed the gap to the front-runners. Bowman went from fifth to second in the final five laps to join Elliott and 10 others in advancing into Round 2 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Kevin Harvick followed Elliott and Bowman to the finish in third. Clint Bowyer ended the race fourth with Brad Keselowski fifth. Polesitter William Byron was sixth followed by Martin Truex Jr. in seventh and defending race winner Ryan Blaney in eighth. Ninth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson was the only non-Playoff driver in the top 10, while defending series champion Joey Logano finished 10th.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Elliott's day happened after the race, when he returned to the scene of his accident to gently nose his car into the wall and captivate the crowd with a celebratory burnout for the ages.
Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Aric Almirola were the four drivers eliminated following Round 1 of the Playoffs. Almirola finished 14th and missed the 12th and final advancement - which went to Bowman - by a scant five points.
CHASE ELLIOTT, No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro (Race Winner): "At the time I thought we were done for sure (after the crash). Just a really stupid mistake. If ever there is a book about things not to do, that should be No. 1. I just didn't compensate enough for the faster pace. It's nobody's fault but mine. It's nice to (win and) have an extra six points going into the next (Playoffs) round for sure. We'll go over it on Tuesday, start our prep and start thinking about the next round. You definitely want to take those six points with you as long as you're alive in this Playoffs system. You hope you don't need them, but it's nice to win and to know you have them.
"I was coming back on the frontstretch (for a celebration), I saw that dang thing (the Heartburn Turn) and I was like, I can't pass up the opportunity to go and redeem myself a little bit (by doing a burnout into the wall). I was really proud of that one. I was pretty fired up. It should've never been special in the first place but since I went out of my way to make it special in the first place, I felt like I had to go back and see it one more time."
ALAN GUSTAFSON, No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro (Winning Crew Chief): ""Fortunately, it wasn't much (damage). (The lap-66 crash) pushed the hood down more than anything and got the hood down inside the top of the fenders and kind of pushed it back into the windshield. The biggest thing we had to do was get that back sealed up. Having that vent isn't the greatest thing in the world for the performance of the car. That was our biggest task. As long as the splitter was in good condition and (there were) no tire rubs, we were going to be in decent shape. That was the case. We got lucky on that. I don't know how we didn't have more substantial damage that than. That went our way. … These (Playoff) rounds are tough. You can get through (the first one) if you just don't make mistakes, but they're going to get tougher."
RICK HENDRICK, No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro (Winning Car Owner): "I thought it was over. I thought if (Elliott) could get back to the top 10, it'd be great. But the car was really fast. I thought it was hurt when it went into that barrier. But he came out, and the lap times were good. We got a couple cautions that helped us, and he got back up to the front. The car was really good, and he made some unbelievable moves, so I'm just really proud. Three out of the last five road courses, he's won. That's pretty sporty."
ALEX BOWMAN, No. 88 Nationwide Retirement Chevrolet (Runner-Up): "Probably about 10 (laps) into the race I was done and out of it from a physical standpoint. I just tried to keep digging. I tried to give it away on Lap 1. I went to touch the brake pedal and went to wheel-hopping and it got away from me. I apologize to those that got collected in that. I felt like I hurt myself more than anybody. Glad we were able to rebound. And the guys gave me a really strong car to come back through the field. Under green, you're kind of doing your job but under caution you have time to think how you feel and it's not much fun. The cautions made it worse for sure. I have been doing a lot of things from the physical side with the help of Josh Wise and Jimmie Johnson, but when you're sick, you're sick."