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April 7, 2024

Chase Elliott’s confidence rising after strong Martinsville run: ‘Just nice to have a solid day’

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Chase Elliott turned in his best result of the season on a storybook afternoon for Hendrick Motorsports.

Elliott’s third-place effort in Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway highlighted a 1-2-3 effort for the organization as it celebrated its 40th anniversary in style. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Elliott efforted his second consecutive top-five finish of the 2024 campaign and highest finish since finishing second at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August 2023.

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A winner of the sport’s Most Popular Driver Award for each of the last six seasons, Elliott is still in the midst of a 42-race winless streak. But his ruby-red No. 9 Chevrolet paced the field for a season-high 64 laps Sunday after qualifying third, marking the third time in the past four races Elliott has led multiple laps.

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“It was a solid day for us for sure,” Elliott said. “Nice to lead some laps. Certainly fell off a little more than I wanted to there at the end of those runs. Just struggled with traffic a little more than I should have. I thought our car was close. Pit stops were really good. Most of the restarts went well.”

The one Elliott was least satisfied with was the race’s final restart. Teammate William Byron was sailing toward Victory Lane with Elliott second and fellow Hendrick driver Kyle Larson in third. But John Hunter Nemechek’s brakes failed entering Turn 3 with just two laps to go in regulation, setting up an overtime refire with Byron on the inside of the front row and Elliott to his right.

“I had an OK jump. Just couldn’t make it stick there on the outside,” Elliott said. “Got into (Turn) 3 and tried to root him up off the bottom and went to get the power down to get up underneath him and I just couldn’t do it. And then I tried to run in really hard into (Turn) 1 and roll a little bit of a diamond and couldn’t make that stick either. So, at that point, I figured what was second or third? Who cares at that point? You try to go for the win or not.”

Instead, Byron stormed into Victory Lane to lead the 1-2-3 effort on a special day for Hendrick, which became the first organization to ever sweep the top three positions in a Cup Series race at Martinsville.

“Happy for William, happy for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” Elliott said. “Really special to have all of our folks here — there are a lot of them and their families. Hate Rick (Hendrick, car owner) couldn’t be here today and (Rick’s wife) Linda but certainly happy and proud to be a part of their organization and ultimately their family.”

Elliott’s No. 9 team has had plenty of speed to start the season but not always the results to show for it. Their average running position heading into Sunday’s race was the series’ fourth-best at 11.23, but that only equated to a 12.7 average finish. A fifth-place run at Richmond Raceway last weekend, followed by Sunday’s third-place effort, marks Elliott’s first string of consecutive top fives since a three-race stretch from Sonoma Raceway to the Chicago Street Course last summer.

“The pace has been good. I’ve been pleased with that,” crew chief Alan Gustafson told “The speed’s been in the cars. I feel like earlier in the year, we just weren’t getting the finishes indicative of the performance of the cars. Our average run position and our finish position was quite a bit different. Recently, I think we’ve certainly gotten better at finishing where I feel like we should. It’s never-ending, just keep trying to improve.”

Short tracks were a particular point of emphasis for Hendrick Motorsports heading into the past two weeks, Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels told, a point echoed two weeks ago by Byron’s crew chief Rudy Fugle after the No. 24 team’s win at Circuit of The Americas. Those efforts bore fruit Sunday at Martinsville, with all four Hendrick cars finishing inside the top 10, with Alex Bowman bringing home an eighth-place finish.

“We made a big step, change, improvement here which I thought was good,” Gustafson said. “We worked hard this week in the lead-up to the week. I feel like really late in the week, we all kind of went a little different direction. That worked out good, so happy about that and happy with the way that everybody’s working together and the results show it.”

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A race-winning crew chief with Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Kyle Busch and Elliott — all current or future members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame — Gustafson has proven he can get the best out of his drivers. He also sees what Elliott continues to bring as he evolves with the Next Gen car, a vehicle Elliott wheeled to Victory Lane five times in 2022, its debut year.

“I feel like he always shows up,” Gustafson said. “Everybody does on our team. I don’t know that there’s been a thing drastically different. I just feel like we’re getting the results.”

The next goal, as always, is for the No. 9 team to get back to its winning ways. Elliott won two or more races in each year from 2018-2022 but remains winless since Talladega Superspeedway in October 2022. Teammate Byron, meanwhile, has won nine of the last 44 races and three of the first eight in 2024.

The first step toward Elliott earning that next checkered flag is running at the front of the field, which the No. 9 Chevy did plenty on Sunday.

“Just nice to have a solid day,” Elliott said. “William has been running really good, so just nice to be up there and be in the mix and feel like you got a shot. That’s encouraging and certainly a lot more fun.”