CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Chase Elliott overcame a costly mistake that nearly wrecked his race car to win a sloppy race on The Roval in scorching temperatures at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Sunday showcase was the first elimination race in NASCAR’s playoffs and attention was focused on which four drivers would be cut from 16-driver championship field. Elliott recovered from an earlier gaffe when he was leading on a restart, locked his tires headed into the first turn and drove directly into a tire barrier.
“I can’t believe I did that, I don’t think you could have done anything more stupid leading the race then what I did,” Elliott said in victory lane. He celebrated the win by returning his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the same place he crashed earlier, nosed the car back to the barrier and smoked his tires to the delight of the fans.
Behind him, the race was for the final spot in the second round of the playoffs with Elliott’s teammate, Alex Bowman, desperately trying to hang on to the 12th slot. He finished second in the race but his fate was out of his control because he trailed Ryan Newman in the standings.
But Newman, racing Aric Almirola over the final few laps for a shot at advancing, missed a chicane and the error cost him his shot at advancing. The point difference swung to Bowman, who slumped to the ground next to his car after the race as medical attendants tried to help him recover from heat issues.
As Bowman was sitting there, Bubba Wallace approached him and angrily threw water in his face as retaliation for Bowman deliberately spinning him in the race.
It was that kind of messy day on the hybrid road course/oval at Charlotte, where the championship chances ended for Newman, Almirola, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones.
A late caution led NASCAR to stop the race for a cleanup and the drivers had to sit inside their cockpits, where temperatures hovered around 120 degrees. NASCAR officials went car-to-car handing out water bottles, and Newman was among the many who radioed their crew asking for bags of ice to be waiting for him when the race ended.
Kyle Busch decided he wasn’t going to wait and drove his car to the garage, calling it a race with seven laps remaining. He was three laps down at the time and already locked into the second round of the playoffs.
Kevin Harvick finished third and was followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer, who was in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs but advanced with his fourth-place finish.
Brad Keselowski was fifth and followed by pole-sitter William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney as playoff drivers claimed the top eight spots.
The track, typically a standard NASCAR oval, was modified for this playoff race for the second year in a row into a 17-turn, 2.28-mile circuit that uses both the road course through the infield and the oval.
The twists and turns around the circuit are marked with chicanes on the backstretch and frontstretch to slow the cars, and, potentially increase passing on the oval portion of the track. An added wrinkle from last year is an overhauled backstretch chicane revamped to make it a braking and passing zone.
NASCAR made it very clear in every communication with teams that skipping a chicane would be penalized, and Newman was one of many drivers to miss it and suffer a costly setback.