Chase Elliott has a long history with NASCAR and a bloodline that encompasses multiple generations. He has become a household name in the NASCAR Cup Series, but have you noticed that some of Elliott’s key losing moments have been the result of a battle with a Joe Gibbs Racing driver? You hear of great rivalries in sports — Lakers vs. Celtics, Red Sox vs. Yankees, now Elliott vs. JGR?
The third incident occurred Sunday night at Darlington Raceway with Martin Truex Jr. Elliott and Truex Jr. were battling for the lead late in the opening race for the NASCAR Playoffs with a berth in the Round of 12 on the line. Truex Jr. got a big run to make the pass on Elliott with 13 laps remaining. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver thought he was clear enough, but Elliott wasn’t going to concede the lead during a crash that cost them both.
The contact cut a tire on Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The damage to Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet sent him sinking through the field. Elliott finished 20th, just two spots ahead of Truex. The incident allowed Kevin Harvick to pass both en route to his eighth win of 2020. Elliott and Truex Jr. left Darlington sixth and seventh in the playoff standings.
History repeated itself with Elliott at Darlington this year. Who can forget the Wednesday night showdown earlier this season where Elliott added to the bird population in South Carolina by offering a certain gesture of his frustration to Kyle Busch? After a late-race run-in, Elliott’s No. 9 was sent crashing into the inside wall by Busch and out of a race he had a chance to win. One conversation later, both drivers showed respect and professionalism by not harboring any feelings.
The incident that started it all was the most memorable — Elliott and Denny Hamlin in 2017 at Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin bumped Elliott out of the way in an attempt to get to the front on the closing laps. The move may have cost Elliott the possibility of his first career Cup win. Both drivers got out and exchanged words in a heated argument on the frontstretch in front of an animated grandstand.
Time has passed since that first battle. Elliott has eight wins in the NASCAR Cup Series and is back competing for a chance at the Bill France Cup in 2020.
Now we head to Richmond Raceway for the second race of the NASCAR Playoffs. Historically strong at short tracks, Elliott’s stats will tell you his chances at Richmond aren’t his best. In what will be his 10th start at the Virginia short track, Elliott is going after his first win there. The strongest finishes at Richmond for the No. 9 team both came in 2018 with a runner-up in the spring and a fourth place later that year. Other than that, he has only cracked the top 10 one other time and only led 34 laps there.
If Elliott can keep it off the tow truck and finish with a strong result, he will look promising heading to one of his strongest tracks, Bristol Motor Speedway. Having already captured the All-Star Race win in July and contending for the win and scoring two stage wins in June, Elliott will look to have a 2020 season double take at the track he calls one of his favorites on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit.
A key to Elliott getting a needed result at Richmond and Bristol? Maybe, it’s stay clear of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. They say there is no memory longer than a driver’s scorned. If retaliation is on the mind of driver No. 9, he has nine races and three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to target on the road to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway come November.
Stats courtesy of Racing Insights.