CONCORD, N.C. — In an unexpected 17-turn of events, rain held off for Sunday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In more predictable fashion, Chase Elliott won his second Roval 400 in a row and his fourth consecutive road course race.
“They are the best at road course racing right now,” second place finisher Joey Logano said of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy team.
Elliott drove back to the top-three in the final 25 laps after a loose wheel forced him to the back of the pack mid-race. The driver regained his track position off a restart following a late caution and made his pass of the Toyotas of Erik Jones and Kyle Busch heading into the final 20 laps of the race.
“I thought our car was better than it was here last year and I thought I was better than I was last year,” Elliott said. “Didn’t pile drive the barrier this time, so that was good.”
Busch attempted to race himself to Victory Lane to remain in playoff contention with a late, bold call deemed “Richard Petty.” His team passed on fuel as others pitted to inherit the lead following the caution, but Busch fell back out of the top-five by the time the next yellow flag was thrown. He said that even if he stayed out, he didn’t think his team could take first.
“We were trying something, anything,” said Busch, who finished 30th. “ … But I didn’t have anything to be drive away and I even had my teammate in the 20 car (Erik Jones) pass me, so obviously I didn’t have anything for nobody today.”
After the next caution, Logano and Kurt Busch raced into the top-three, but Jones took the third-place spot from Kurt Busch before the checkered flag.
Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, who was below the eight-driver cutoff heading into Sunday, will not advance to the playoff Round of 8. Other playoff bubble drivers Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola were also eliminated from the postseason.
“Man, it’s just frustrating to know how good we are and what we’re capable of,” Kyle Busch, winless in 2020, said on NBC’s broadcast. “And being champions from last year to not come out here and be able to succeed and be able to win.”
Busch said he knew this round was going to be trouble based on the season so far.
“And, yeah, I was right,” Busch said.
Bowyer, like Busch, looked like he had the potential to clinch the must-win race at certain points despite equipment issues and contact. He led early laps, but lost power steering with around 45 laps to go. The No. 14 driver, who announced his move out of driver’s seat and into the broadcast booth next season, still finished in ninth place after wrangling his Ford through the finish line. He was on the ground next to car immediately after the race and taken to the infield care center, but was evaluated and released half an hour later.
“I’m good,” Bowyer later tweeted. “Was definitely outta gas!! Another couple three laps and I’d have been on the ground after race crappie floppin’ Self inflicted, I shouldn’t have knocked the Power Steering out.”
Those remaining in contention for the championship title include Kevin Harvick (+45 points), Denny Hamlin (+32) and Brad Keselowski (+13) leading in points. Elliott (+5) leads Logano (-5), Martin Truex Jr. (-10), Alex Bowman (-18) and Kurt Busch (-21) as the four drivers on the playoff bubble heading to next weekend’s race at Kansas.
“I think it’s going to be a really big challenge for us to move on, as I think it is for everybody, in this round unless you just have a bunch of wins,” Elliott said.
Sunday’s victory was pivotal for the driver who has quickly built a name for himself as a road course expert.
“I think today’s win is big,” Elliott said. “Getting those extra five points can make the difference, so we’ve just gotta bring our A-game and push ahead, and really execute three solid weeks.”
©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)