CONCORD, N.C. — Chase Elliott overcame a costly mistake that nearly wrecked his race car to win a sloppy race on The Roval in scorching temperatures at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Sunday showcase was the first elimination race in NASCAR’s playoffs and attention was focused on which four drivers would be cut from the 16-driver championship field. Elliott recovered from an earlier gaffe when he was leading on a restart, locked his tires headed into the first turn and drove directly into a tire barrier.
“I can’t believe I did that, I don’t think you could have done anything more stupid leading the race then what I did,” Elliott said in victory lane. He celebrated the win by returning his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the same place he crashed earlier, nosed the car back to the barrier and smoked his tires to the delight of the fans.
Behind him, the race was for the final spot in the second round of the playoffs with Elliott’s teammate, Alex Bowman, desperately trying to hang on to the 12th slot. He finished second in the race but his fate was out of his control because he trailed Ryan Newman in the standings.
But Newman, racing Aric Almirola over the final few laps for a shot at advancing, missed a chicane and the error cost him his shot at advancing. The point difference swung to Bowman, who slumped to the ground next to his car after the race as medical attendants tried to help him recover from heat issues.
As Bowman was sitting there, Bubba Wallace approached him and angrily threw water in his face as retaliation for Bowman deliberately spinning him in the race.
A late caution led NASCAR to stop the race for a cleanup and the drivers had to sit inside their cockpits, where temperatures hovered around 120 degrees. NASCAR officials went car-to-car handing out water bottles, and Newman was among the many who radioed their crew asking for bags of ice to be waiting for him when the race ended.
The track, typically a standard NASCAR oval, was modified for this playoff race for the second year in a row into a 17-turn, 2.28-mile circuit that uses both the road course through the infield and the oval.
The twists and turns around the circuit are marked with chicanes on the backstretch and frontstretch to slow the cars, and, potentially increase passing on the oval portion of the track. An added wrinkle from last year is an overhauled backstretch chicane revamped to make it a braking and passing zone.
NASCAR made it very clear in every communication with teams that skipping a chicane would be penalized, and Newman was one of many drivers to miss it and suffer a costly setback.
ERIK JONES FIRST OUT
Jones was the first driver eliminated from the playoffs after a horrible opening round.
He had a mechanical issue at Las Vegas, but rallied last week at Richmond to finish fourth in a 1-2-3-4 sweep for Joe Gibbs Racing. Then NASCAR said Jones’ car had failed post-race inspection, and the 42-point penalty dropped him to last in the playoff field.
Jones was in a must-win situation at Charlotte to advance into the second round of the playoffs, but he went to the garage with damage to his Toyota at the end of the first stage and finished last. It officially knocked him out of the playoffs while the race was still going on.
“It’s frustrating not to even have a chance throughout the whole race, you know?” said Jones. “It’s unfortunate. We just had three really bad weeks and it’s some of our own doing and some not our own doing. I’d love to be moving forward here and challenging for the championship. I thought we could have went pretty deep this year, but it’s just the nature of the playoffs.”
Kyle Busch decided not to finish the race when NASCAR stopped it with seven laps remaining to clean up debris on the track. Busch was three laps down at the time and temperatures in the cars were hovering around 120 degrees during the stoppage.
With nothing to gain when the race resumed, Busch threw in the towel and pulled off the track.
The opening race of the second round of the playoffs, Sunday at Dover International Speedway. Elliott won last year.