Rookie phenom Chase Elliott led a race-high 85 laps en route to winning his third NASCAR Nationwide Series race of the season tonight at Chicagoland Speedway.
Despite losing the lead to Kyle Larson ahead of the final round of green-flag stops in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300, Elliott was able to reclaim it when the cycle ended and eventually beat Trevor Bayne to the stripe by 1.8 seconds.
“I just try to make the most of the practice laps…The biggest thing is these guys brought me a really fast race car,” Elliott said to ESPN in Victory Lane about his ability to quickly learn the tracks.
“That’s the biggest thing. That gives me time to learn the race track instead of having to work on the car and do it at the same time.”
Elliott also took over the NNS points lead by a margin of seven points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who endured a rough night and finished 16th.
Sprint Cup regulars Larson and Kasey Kahne finished third and fourth respectively, followed by Ty Dillon in fifth. Pole sitter Brian Scott was able to claim the $100,000 “Dash4Cash” bonus with a sixth-place result, two spots ahead of his closest D4C rival, Chris Buescher.
For next week’s race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it will be Elliott, Scott, Bayne and Dillon that race for the third of four $100,000 prizes.
“It’s really neat and I’m glad that we won it here and we’re locked into it for Indy,” said Scott. “We’ll just keep going and try to take a couple more of these big checks home…I think we just needed a little bit more of an adjustment – or two – to really be able to have a shot at Victory Lane.”
Another notable result tonight was the one from 18-year-old Erik Jones, who finished seventh in his Nationwide Series debut for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tonight’s race was only seven laps old when Sam Hornish Jr., who had climbed to 21st after starting at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments post-qualifying, crept to the pits with smoke coming from the back of his car.
As the caution came out for fluid laid down by the car, Hornish then pulled into the garage and exited the race with engine issues.
“We know one thing – there’s a big hole in the oil pan,” the former Indianapolis 500 champ said. “Our car was really good there to start off the race. We had to start at the back with a problem that we had during qualifying, but I felt like we were gonna have a really good day.
“The Monster Energy car was really awesome in practice and I felt like this was going to be a great opportunity to not only lead laps but go out and win the race. It’s unfortunate that it ended so soon, and it’s not what these guys or myself deserve.”
Shortly after the green came back out at Lap 14, Scott came under attack from Elliott for the lead. On Lap 21, Elliott was able to take the lead from Scott in Turn 3, but three laps later, the two started another skirmish that had them swap the point twice before Elliott finally pulled away.
As Elliott pushed his lead over four seconds, Scott fell into the clutches of Blaney, who peeled second off of him at Lap 43. Elliott eventually pitted from P1 at Lap 51, and when the wave of green flag stops ended, he had cycled back to the lead with a gap of 8.1 seconds over second-place Blaney and an 11+ second gap over third-place Scott.
That edge went away, however, on Lap 70 when the second caution of the night came out for debris. Blaney then used the restart on Lap 74 to power past Elliott and take control of the race for the first time.
Blaney held the lead until Lap 105, when Larson got by him to make his own first appearance at the front. Another set of green stops ensued around Lap 110, and the caution came back on Lap 123 just after the cycle came to a close.
On the restart at Lap 128, Blaney was leading but quickly lost the spot to Larson. While Blaney dropped out of the Top 5 with a developing loose condition, Larson briefly got sideways in Turn 2 at Lap 143, enabling Elliott to retake the lead on the inside.
Eventually, Blaney pitted at Lap 154 to get a track bar adjustment but went one lap down. Four laps later, Larson was able to fully recover from his close call on Lap 143 and grabbed the lead back from Elliott ahead of their final green stops with less than 40 to go.
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT CHICAGO
EnjoyIllinois.com 300 – Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 85 laps
2. Trevor Bayne, led 14 laps
3. Kyle Larson, led 23 laps
4. Kasey Kahne, led 3 laps
5. Ty Dillon
6. Brian Scott, led 20 laps
7. Erik Jones, led 2 laps
8. Chris Buescher, led one lap
9. Ryan Blaney, led 47 laps
10. Elliott Sadler, led one lap
11. Brendan Gaughan
ONE LAP DOWN
12. Cale Conley
13. Jeremy Clements
TWO LAPS DOWN
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Ryan Reed
16. Regan Smith
17. Dylan Kwasniewski
18. Ryan Sieg
19. Mike Bliss
THREE LAPS DOWN
20. Dakoda Armstrong, led one lap
21. Landon Cassill
22. David Starr
FOUR LAPS DOWN
23. James Buescher, led three laps
24. Jeffrey Earnhardt
25. Eric McClure
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
26. Jamie Dick
27. John Wes Townley
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
28. Chad Boat
29. Tanner Berryhill
30. Derrike Cope, -10 laps down
31. Joey Gase, -12 laps down
32. Richard Harriman, Lap 112, Suspension
33. Josh Reaume, Lap 107, Vibration
34. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 50, Brakes
35. Carl Long, Lap 15, Overheating
36. Sam Hornish Jr., Lap 7, Engine
37. Ryan Ellis, Lap 6, Vibration
38. Mike Harmon, Lap 6, Fuel Pump
39. Blake Koch, Lap 4, Vibration
40. Kevin Lepage, Lap 3, Electrical