By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
The Elliott name has been a big one at Talladega Superspeedway since the 1980s, when Bill Elliott and his No. 9 Fords put on some impressive displays of speed on NASCAR’s fastest track, including an all-time fast qualifying speed of 212.809 miles per hour back in 1987, and making up two laps under the green flag to win the 1985 Winston 500.
On Sunday, Elliott’s son, Chase, took up his father’s mantle and drove the No. 9, now on the side of a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, back to Victory Lane after winning the GEICO 500. Appropriately, while young Elliott was getting his first Talladega victory, dad was collecting another winner’s trophy aboard an old No. 9 Dodge at a Walter Mitty race at Road Atlanta.
Chase Elliott’s victory, the fourth of his Cup career, was the first of the season for Chevrolet, and broke a string of wins by the Fords from Team Penske and the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing. Elliott led four times for 44 laps, including the final four in a race that saw 39 official lead changes. (There were other lead swaps in the race that don’t show up in the official count, which only focuses on who leads at the end of each lap.)
Elliott, who grew in Dawsonville, Georgia, was a winner for the first time in his native Southeast, with his 2018 victories coming at Watkins Glen, Dover and Kansas.
He seemed moved by the reception he received from an enthusiastic Alabama audience that cheered him to victory over the final four laps and celebrated with him afterward.
“I was blown away by the people, how fired up everybody was,” Elliott said. “The post-race [celebration] was unbelievable. I’ve never had a crowd … just felt like in the palm of your hands is how it felt.
“You get excited, they get excited. You walk, they don’t say anything. You pump your arms up, they get pumped up. That’s just something that I’ve never really experienced. That’s one of the coolest moments I feel like of my racing career.”
Elliott, who is poised to become the face of NASCAR if he can continue his winning ways, said he won’t take the fan support for granted.
“You don’t know if that will always be that way,” he said. “People might not like you in a couple years.”
There were several aspects of Sunday’s race that kept fans entertained besides Elliott’s victory.
For instance, drivers from each manufacturer worked together throughout the race, and in the end, Elliott used drafting help from his Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman to take the win, while two young Chevrolet drivers, rookies Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric, finished third and fifth, respectively. Those were career bests for Bowman, Preece and Hemric. Ford’s Joey Logano dominated much of the latter portions of the race, leading 37 laps, but wound up fourth at the finish.
The race was the first run at Talladega under a new package that featured tapered spacers on the engines instead of restrictor plates, which upped horsepower from around 450 to 550. It also saw the use of a 9-inch rear spoiler, up from the 8 inches used elsewhere this season.
The changes left many wondering how the race would play out, but the main change seemed to be that trailing drivers who got a boost of speed could close quickly on the drivers ahead of them.
There were several accidents, the most frightening occurring on the final lap when David Ragan lost control of his No. 38 Ford, triggering a crash that saw Kyle Larson sail into the air and into the inside wall before launching into a series of barrel rolls.
Larson, who emerged apparently unharmed, said the crash scared him.
“Initially, I thought I was going to hit the inside wall pretty hard,” he said. “And then right before I got to it, I felt the car starting to lift and was just hoping it would just set down.
“Then it started tumbling. It was the longest flip I’ve ever had. I didn’t know if it would ever stop … I was just hoping it wasn’t going to get any closer to the catch fence. It was a little scary, but thankfully I’m OK.”
Bowman said that even though Elliott was poised to deliver the team a victory as the laps wound down, his main goal was to put his own No. 88 Chevy in Victory Lane.
“I’m not just going to let him win,” Bowman said. “I’ve got to try.”
But with the last-lap caution flag, actually thrown for an earlier wreck by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the frontstretch, no one will ever know how that battle among teammates would have worked out.
Logano said he didn’t believe the outcome would have been any different, even if the race ended under the green flag.
“There were no runs building and no momentum going,” he said, adding that his own bid for the win went awry when he moved to block Kurt Busch. That allowed Elliott to slip by them both.
“At the end [Busch] had a big run, and I felt like I had to block that,” he said. “I can’t block both, and [Elliott] got underneath me.”
PHOTO: Kyle Larson posted about his late wreck on Instagram. Courtesy of Chase Elliott Motorsports