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
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