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NASCAR Cup No.2 at Charlotte – Finally a win for Elliott after two near misses

NASCAR Cup No.2 at Charlotte – Finally a win for Elliott after two near misses

Charlotte, NC, May 28/20 (GRW): After the previous two NASCAR Cup races in which Chase Elliott had looked like being the race winner but failed to close the deal, he scored a decisive win here in the second of the Charlotte Cup races after the season ‘reopening’, beating Denny Hamlin to the line by two seconds. With three top performances in the last three races – albeit with two failures to win – Elliott has to be considered to be one of the top-ranked elite drivers in Cup racing at the moment – and a strong prospect for this year’s championship.

Kevin Harvick led the most laps in the 208-lap race and it looked like he was set for the win when he passed Alex Bowman for the lead on lap 126 and led the next 54 laps, through the final caution on lap 147. This left him with a 58-lap green-flag run to the checker and his car was unable to maintain its advantage over this long run. Elliott was able to run him down and pass him for the lead on lap 181, going on to win the race. Harvick’s car continued to lose pace and he gradually fell back in the final laps, finishing tenth. Ryan Blaney took over second when Harvick faltered but Hamlin, who had started way back in 29th place by virtue of his poor result on Sunday, had found his pace in the closing laps and, with eight laps to go, he passed Blaney to take second place. Blaney, in the No. 12 Penske Ford, finished third, Ricky Stenhouse came fourth finishing ahead of many better-finance entries – a good result for this smaller JTG Daugherty team entry -- while Kurt Busch was fifth. 

This race was ordinally scheduled to be held the previous day but rain, which came just as the race was about to start, caused NASCAR to reschedule it to the Thursday evening. This was the fourth race in this initial flight of seven races at Darlington and Charlotte which had been disrupted by rain. Indeed, after having been held over to the next day due to rain on Wednesday, the race was red-flagged for a 74-minute delay when rain and lightning returned – sending this race, which had been planned as a short race with an early finish, close to midnight before it was done.

PHOTO NCS2 CMS2 PitRoad2 052820Drivers and crew stand for the national anthem prior to the Alsco Uniforms 500 (Chris Graythen | Getty Images)

With the starting order based on an inversion of the first 20 finishers in the previous race, William Byron started on the front row with Alex Bowman alongside -- but it was expected that the ‘cream would rise’ and that the faster cars back in the grid would eventually come to the front and take their rightful places contending for the race lead.

There was a competition caution on lap 20 and Joey Logano took the lead by virtue of being the first of the four cars which did not pit. In this short race with initial 55 lap and a 60 lap Stages, the cars would have been pretty much able to run to the end of the second Stage before they needed to pit for fuel. After the red flag was withdrawn, Logano continued to lead the field until the end of the first Stage at lap 55 – and, after pits stops under yellow, he continued to lead.

Soon after the restart to begin the second Stage, Kyle Busch, who had started back in 17th position (by virtue of his fourth place finish in the previous Cup race) had a tire problem, slowed and then pitted – falling two laps down on the field. He was never able to recover from this setback and he was still a lap down in 29th place when the race ended.

Harvick now passed Logano to take the lead until he pitted under the next caution which fell on lap 74. However, many cars opted to not pit this time and Bowman cycled up into the lead ahead of Logano and Blaney. When the second Stage ended a few laps later, Bowman still had lead ahead of Blaney, Logano and Elliott.

Bowman held onto the lead through the round of pit stops at the end of the second Stage. A few laps after the restart, Harvick showed his strength by passing Bowman. A few laps later, Bowman’s car went very loose and he clouted the wall with his rear corner; after that he was no longer in contention and he had to settle for a 31st-place finish 2 laps down.

Harvick continued to look like the probable race winner as he hung on to the lead though the final caution which came on lap 145. And he still led for many more laps. But his car was slowly losing its edge as this long run went on. Elliott closed in on him, caught him, and passed for the lead on lap181 – and, after that, it was all Elliott for the rest of the way to the checker.

When Harvick started to fall back, Blaney took over second place two seconds behind Elliott and he looked to be set up for a second-place finish but Hamlin, who had started way back in 29th place based on his poor result on Sunday, had found his pace in the closing laps and, with eight laps to go, he passed Blaney to take second place.

"It feels awesome," said a relieved Elliott, who won for the first time this season, the first time on the Charlotte oval and the seventh time in his career. "Man, it was a tough week for sure. We’ve had some tough losses, but that deal on Sunday night was a heartbreaker. It’s not the Coke 600, but any win in the Cup Series is really hard to get.

"Alan made a great call there at the end to get it tuned up, and luckily the run went long, and I think that fell in our favor," Elliott said of the final 59-lap green-flag run. "I was just waiting for the caution to come out, to be honest with you. I thought the caution was going to come out, I was going to break something, or I was going to crash. Just after the last couple of weeks, I didn’t think, truly, it was going to go green to the end. I’m just glad it did and glad we’re, hopefully, back on the right path."

"It just fell off at Lap 30," Harvick said. "We knew that’s what we had, and it went straight 60-some laps. (The team) did a really good job of turning the car around—the total opposite of what we raced last Sunday. So it was a good test session for us. We just didn’t need a long run."

Click HERE for the results of the Alsco Uniforms 500k

The next NASCAR Cup Series race will be run at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 31.

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