Chase Elliott roars from 6th to the win in final 2 laps at Darlington (VIDEO)

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After his final pit stop of the night saw him drop from second to sixth, it appeared Chase Elliott’s bid for victory in his first race at Darlington Raceway was over.

But the 18-year-old dynamo was far from finished.

Coming off a restart with two laps to go in the VFW/Sport Clips Help A Hero 200, the Nationwide Series rookie raced all the way to second heading for the white flag and then overtook Elliott Sadler on the final lap to earn a stunning win on one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks.

Sadler got loose off of Turn 2 and saved it, but that opened the door for Elliott to get next to him down the backstretch before pulling off the race-winning pass in Turn 3.

“That last restart was crazy,” said Elliott, who claimed his inaugural Nationwide win just last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “I didn’t know what to expect starting sixth and I knew those guys on two tires were going to be a little slow than those on four.

“But it happened to work out. Our lane went and [Sadler] got a little loose on 2. I was able to get to the outside and that was where I wanted to be anyways. Unbelievable. I can’t thank these guys enough…”

Starting second, he ran behind pole sitter Kyle Busch for the first 33 laps before hunting him down for the point. He would then dominate the middle stanza of the race until a caution came out for a spinning Regan Smith on Lap 88.

The subsequent pit stops saw Busch, coming from the first stall out of the pits, leap from fifth to the lead while Elliott did the reverse and fell from the lead to fifth.

Off a restart with 48 laps left, Elliott rose up to challenge Kyle Larson for second and the two young lions made contact with one another in the process. They were able to somehow avoid crashing, but the battle enabled Busch to pull away.

Elliott finally took second with 39 to go after Larson had another brush with the wall, but now had to cut into a gap of almost three seconds to Busch.

The deficit dwindled a bit as Busch fought with a loose condition and lapped traffic, but Elliott was still about a second and a half behind until Tanner Berryhill was spun out by Larson with seven laps left to trigger the caution.

Busch brought the leaders to the pits, where he dropped to third after taking four tires while Sadler and Larson took just two to gain first and second on the track.

As for Elliott, he took four tires in what appeared to be an ill-fated stop. But as it turned out, he had one more surge left in him.

When it was all over, Elliott had once again turned the heads of the Sprint Cup elite. While racing for JR Motorsports, he is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver – and the Hendrick gang was definitely impressed.

His car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., praised Elliott and his work in post-race:

And Earnhardt’s HMS teammates also chimed in as well:

Matt Kenseth took third behind Sadler, with Busch fading to fourth and Joey Logano coming home fifth.

Elliott also extended his lead in the Nationwide Series championship to an unofficial margin of 13 points over Smith, who recovered from his earlier spin to finish eighth.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 52 laps
2. Elliott Sadler, led 3 laps
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Kyle Busch, led 84 laps
5. Joey Logano
6. Kyle Larson, led 2 laps
7. Kevin Harvick, led 5 laps
8. Regan Smith
9. Trevor Bayne
10. Ty Dillon
11. Brian Scott
12. Landon Cassill
13. Ryan Reed
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Josh Wise
16. Mike Bliss
17. Mike Wallace
18. Dakoda Armstorng
19. Kevin Lepage
20. Jeffrey Earnhardt
21. Eric McClure
ONE LAP DOWN
22. Brendan Gaughan
23. Dylan Kwasniewski
TWO LAPS DOWN
24. Carlos Contreras
THREE LAPS DOWN
25. James Buescher
26. Joey Gase
27. Tanner Berryhill
FOUR LAPS DOWN
28. Todd Bodine
SIX LAPS DOWN
29. Derrike Cope
30. Tommy Joe Martins
31. Jeremy Clements, 10 laps down
32. Cale Conley, 11 laps down
33. Mike Harmon, 11 laps down
34. Chris Buescher, 28 laps down

35. David Starr, Lap 67, Accident
36. Matt Carter, Lap 30, Rear Gear
37. Ryan Sieg, Lap 16, Accident
38. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 7, Overheating
39. Jeff Green, Lap 6, Brakes
40. Blake Koch, Lap 2, Vibration

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.