Chase Elliott is heating up. The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion scored another top 10 finish on Sunday as he brought his No. 9 Chevrolet home runner-up in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Sonoma Raceway. While Elliott is the top road course racer in the game today, he’s still winless on the California road course.
Elliott, entered the weekend having won five of the last six races on road courses. He’s won the last two at Watkins Glen. He’s won the last two on the Charlotte ROVAL. He won the inaugural race at COTA a few weeks ago. He won the inaugural Daytona road course last August and should have won it again this past February.
The only thing is, he’s 0-for-5 now in wine country.
Elliott, looked good from the drop of the green flag, it’s just that his Hendrick Motorsports teammate of Kyle Larson was just a little bit better. That proved to be the difference in the end.
“There were spots on the track where I thought I was a tick better (than Kyle Larson), and there were spots on the track he was better,” Elliott said after scoring his third top eight in his last four Sonoma starts. “Then there were spots I thought we were fairly even. Needed to have a tick more to get after it. Proud of our team. I thought we were solid. Just need a little bit.”
Elliott, finished second at the end of the first stage and fifth at Stage 2. He went off strategy as Larson and was in the hunt for the win in the end. He first hit pit road on Lap 9, one lap prior to the planned competition caution. So did Larson. Then, he didn’t pit before the first stage break like most do. He, Larson and almost everyone else hit pit lane for their second time on Lap 21.
As most were probably going to come down pit road just prior to the end of the second stage, they were all gifted another caution via Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s crash on Lap 31. Elliott and a lot of other contenders chose to pit then. Larson and Martin Truex Jr. didn’t.
This put them off strategy from one another as Larson needed to make two more stops still. Elliott, needed only one.
Larson, pit at the end of the stage which handed Elliott clean air up front. He passed Kurt Busch for the top spot on Lap 44 and would lead the next 13 laps before Larson caught up and passed him for the lead on Lap 57. Elliott, would then choose to pit on Lap 61. Truex came down a lap later with Larson one lap after Truex.
After it cycled through, Elliott was third among them. He’d get a caution on Lap 70 and the fight was on. He got by Truex, but had nothing for Larson despite three late race restarts. Larson, was just that much better as Elliott had to settle for his third straight top two result of 2021 and gave Hendrick Motorsports their fourth straight 1-2 result.