Ninety-eight was the number of times Chase Elliott fired his engine without winning in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Eight was the number of times he finished runner-up. Every time he came up short the last two and a half years, there was no one harder on Elliott than Elliott. Over and over, he walked into the deadline room after a race in which he dominated and beat himself into the ground.
However, it was never a matter of if. Only when the kid who not too many years ago posed with his father Bill Elliott in victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and roamed the garage with him would do the same.
On August 5, 2018, there was no dejection and there was no “Elliott was his own worst enemy.” Instead, to the thunderous applause of a sold-out crowd in attendance at Watkins Glen International, he took the fight to and passed points leader Kyle Busch for the race lead, he led the remaining 63 laps, drove his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to and over the limit and held off defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. to finally win for the first time in the Cup Grand National Series.
“Holy cow! What a thrill! I don’t know what to say. I’m just so thrilled and so emotional,” Elliott said. “There’s so much relief you know; it’s been working on three years and I hadn’t won a one and came here with a good opportunity today. I was able to get it done. But, just thanks to all the fans. I hope all my buddies are ready to get rowdy tonight because it’s going to be a good one.”
During the post-race cool down lap, Elliott ran out of gas and came to a halt down the short chute. As a number of drivers slowed down to congratulate him, teammate Jimmie Johnson pushed him to the start/finish line to start the post-race celebration.
“Well, I just appreciate the support and the respect on the race track,” said Elliott. “Jimmie (Johnson) has been one of my heroes for a long, long time. I leaned on him a lot over this past off season and I always lean on him, but certainly a lot throughout this off season just about the opportunities I’ve had in the past and not closing them out. He has been a big supporter of mine and that was one of the coolest things ever and I will never forget it.”
He hi-fived his crew, before hopping on the roof of his car to soak in the moment, as the fans showered him in cheers.
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen and I just want you all to know that. And, I am very grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Let’s go get some more.”
The adulation continued in victory lane, as Darrell Wallace Jr., teammate Alex Bowman, the aforementioned Kyle Busch and his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott, congratulated Chase Elliott.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” said Bill Elliott. “I was standing over there and kind of letting the laps run down and I was thinking, you know, what’s going to go wrong now? He (Chase Elliott) held it together and low and behold, (Martin) Truex runs out of gas. It’s just that luck went our way today.”
While Chase Elliott and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports organization struggled for most of the season, he picked up his the last three races, with stage victories and Top-10 finishes in each.
Starting the afternoon in upstate New York third, Elliott quickly challenged Denny Hamlin for the race lead snaking up the esses, before being usurped by Busch in the inner-loop on the second lap. On the 27th circuit, Elliott hugged the tail-end of Busch from the bus stop to Turn 10, before Busch pulled aside to let Elliott take the lead.
While he didn’t lose it again, Martin Truex Jr. took the fight to him in the closing 14 laps, getting his closest to passing Elliott in the final three laps. Truex missed a mark in the inner-loop with two to go and Elliott pulled away. Heading into Turn 1 on the final lap, however, Elliott carried too much speed into the turn and ran wide, allowing Truex to pull alongside him briefly. The fight ended down the short chute when Truex ran out of fuel.
“Yeah, so I had a decent gap coming to the white and I felt really good about it,” Elliott said. “I felt too good about it apparently. I got into (Turn) 1 a little hard and started wheel hopping and had to knock it out of gear to keep from spinning out and got… obviously I missed the corner because of that. Luckily, I had a good enough gap to where he didn’t get up next to me and didn’t miss it too bad. So, what a day.”
Elliott’s victory was the 250th Strictly Stock Series victory for Hendrick Motorsports. It also made Elliott the 192nd different driver to win in the series.
He leaves Watkins Glen 11th in points, 315 back of Kyle Busch.