It was a matter of time before Chase Elliott returned to victory lane at an oval track.
In this case, it was a 546 day wait for the 26-year-old Dawsonville, Georgia native, a consistent NASCAR Cup Series championship contender.
Prior to the better late than never edition of the DuraMax Drydene 400 at Dover Motor Speedway, Elliott tallied a top five and seven top 10 finishes, good enough for the points lead. Still, Elliott’s points lead was like a New York strip steak without the seasoning.
After the 400-miler at Dover was postponed due to rain showers following 78 laps on Sunday afternoon, Elliott and his comrades tackled “The Monster Mile” on a sunny Monday afternoon.
Rolling off from the fourth starting position, Elliott drove to a runner-up result behind stage 1 winner, Denny Hamlin. The complexity of the race changed drastically for Hamlin due to a loose wheel following a pit stop between the stage break.
While Hamlin’s setback relegated him to a 21st place result, the race became the Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman Show. The trio placed inside the top three in stage 2 while Elliott placed 10th, earning the final stage point.
As for Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kyle Larson, the defending Cup champion placed sixth in stage 1 before a spin on lap 157 on the frontstretch.
Larson made a nifty save although his right side tires were blown, resulting in minor left front damage and falling a lap behind. Despite the setback, Larson earned the “Lucky Dog” on lap 190 and rallied to a sixth place finish.
Once the field took to the final stage, it was all about tire management and patience. Elliott, one of the steadiest wheelman in Cup, worked his way to the front, making haste of Ross Chastain on a lap 348 restart, driving off to the sunset off turn 2.
All in all, Elliott, who led three times for a total of 73 laps, drove a smart, patient race en route to his first win of the season. Needless to say, the popular driver sang his praises for his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy team.
“Just proud of our team for sticking with it,” Elliott said. “I feel like we’ve had a lot of pace at different times throughout the year. We just hadn’t put an entire race together really until today I feel like. Been fast at one point or fast at another. Just not quite putting it all together all in one three-and-a-half, four-hour time frame.
“It was just nice to do that today. Proud of our team. Proud of Alan (Gustafson, crew chief). Really just our entire group for continuing to bring good attitudes to the racetrack. Coming in with the right mindset every week regardless of what happened the week before. To me, that says a lot about their character and the kind of group that we have.”
Moreover, Elliott, who earned his second career win at Dover, appreciated his 14th career Cup victory in front of the First State fans.
“This one means a lot in a lot of different ways,” he observed. “Just appreciate all the effort. But thanks to all the fans for coming out. You’re always awesome. Hope to see this big crowd here next year. Just a huge thanks to everybody involved. It’s been a fun day and we’re certainly going to enjoy.”
Typically mild mannered and cool as the other side of the pillow, as the late Stuart Scott says, Elliott clarified his stance on victories, particularly when his teammates tally wins.
Make no mistake that the Georgian, while thrilled for his teammates, understandably desires wins, as if that was ever in question.
“I want to win, always,” Elliott quipped. “There’s a lot of noise. I understand you guys are doing your jobs. I respect that. But at the end of the day, like, I want to win just as bad at Daytona at the start of the season when no one has any stickers on their cars just as bad as I do when we get to Phoenix at the end of the season regardless of what has gone on.”
Undoubtedly, Elliott’s season became sweeter with his Dover triumph as he extended his points lead over Blaney to 50 markers. Ultimately, he’s always got the gloves and visor down for race day, no matter where it is.
“My drive to win, to do my job to the best of my ability, doesn’t change whether we are struggling, whether we are doing very good, whether I’m in a contract year, whether I’m not, whether my teammates have won and I haven’t,” Elliott emphasized. “Those circumstances are fine and cool and great. But I want to do my job to the very best of my ability all the time no matter what, no matter the track, no matter the circumstances, always.”
Stage 1 Top Finishers
Hamlin-Elliott-Bell-Chastain-Truex Jr./Larson-Byron-Buescher-Kyle Busch-Keselowski
Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
Blaney-Kyle Busch-Bowman-Truex Jr.-Stenhouse Jr./Chastain-Jones-Burton-Buescher-Elliott
DuraMax Drydene 400 at Dover Top 10 Finishers
Elliott-Stenhouse Jr.-Chastain-Bell-Bowman/Larson-Kyle Busch-Buescher-Harvick-Jones