RICHMOND, Va. – It wasn’t the night Chase Elliott had hoped for, but it was one he needed at Richmond Raceway.
Elliott brought the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet home in fourth after Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders at the .75-mile Virginia short track. It wasn’t an easy road to get there, though.
RELATED: Official results
During a round of green-flag pit stops in Stage 2, Elliott was entering his pit stall when he had to slow down more for Ross Chastain exiting his stall. Chastain clipped the left-rear quarter panel of Elliott’s car upon exit. The incident forced Elliott to enter to0 deep into his pit box. Elliott initially thought he was over the line in his pit stall, which would have been a penalty.
In reality, he was still legal in the stall, but proceeded to back up in an effort to avoid penalty. Unfortunately for Elliott, the jackman had already started raising the No. 9 to change right-side tires. The reverse movement dropped the car and broke the jack.
Instead of fighting with Denny Hamlin for the Stage 2 victory like he had before pitting, he ended up a lap down due to the valuable time lost on pit road.
“I knew I was way long. Obviously, it’s really hard to tell. I can’t see the line,” Elliott said after the race. “I know the guys are off the top of the box to help with the pit stop. So, then I’m sitting there and I’m like maybe they … I know I’m deep, maybe they didn’t have the ability to key up the mic because they had a lot going on. I just took it upon myself to back up and TJ (Semke, the jackman) had already hit the right-side jack. At that point, I should have known not to, but obviously I wouldn’t have broken the jack if I knew it was going to break the jack. I didn’t want to do the pit stop over the line. I felt like that was just going to make problems even way worse. Tried to be cautious but ended up hurting us worse.”
In radio communication immediately after the incident, Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson used it as a lesson learned, telling Elliott, “Don’t back up unless we tell you to.”
The defending champion salvaged a top-five finish to maintain an advantage over the elimination line going into the Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night, which he needed after a 31st-place result at Darlington Raceway to open the postseason.
But Elliott couldn’t help but wonder what could have been after Martin Truex Jr. locked himself into the next round with a victory, while Hamlin and Christopher Bell finished second and third for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“It definitely hurt after the damage I felt like,” Elliott said. “Prior to that, I thought we were really solid. I didn’t know if we had anything for Martin (Truex Jr.) or Kyle (Busch), but I would have loved to have found out.”
“Definitely good to come here and run fourth,” he added. “This is a tough place, so I was proud of that.”