It sure looked like it was going to be Joe Gibbs’ day in Nashville. At one point, The Super Bowl Championship coach turned NASCAR Championship Car Owner had all four of his cars in the top five, separated only by Ryan Blaney’s Penske Ford. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex, Jr. had traded the lead for the entirety of Stage One and most of Stage Two.
Then the lightning came, followed by a torrential downpour and a hours-long delay.
When the race got going again at 10:30pm Eastern Standard Time on USA Network sandwiched between SVU reruns, a new contender emerged. Chase Elliott had been a 6th to 10th place car all evening to that point. Just before the red flag, the 9 pit crew had a slow stop that put Chase back in the field. That opened up an opportunity for Alan Gustafson to take a big swing at his ill-handling NAPA Chevrolet.
Restarting the race in 16th, Elliott was noticeably faster, making quick work of much of the top 15 and ending Stage Two in 4th. Truex and Hamlin were still the class of the field to that point, as Truex swept the stages and Hamlin ran right behind him. Kyle Busch then entered the fray after Hamlin had a slow stop and Elliott had a good one. Hamlin was sent to the middle of the field and Busch restarted second and Elliott restarted third respectively. Busch launched past Truex and dominated the first part of Stage Three.
Elliott kept pace with the Gibbs Toyotas, never letting them out of his sight. Elliott’s car seemed to get better as the run wore on, and finally he was able to get by the 18 and 19 and take the lead. As soon as they were passed, Truex and Busch hit pit road, attempting to undercut Elliott by pitting first. Elliott came the next lap, but “Rowdy” and crew were able to get by him. With several cars still left to pit, Chris Buescher lost a wheel off his RFK Ford.
The remaining drivers who hadn’t pitted came to pit road and cycled the lead back to Busch with Elliott on his inside in second. “Awesome Chase From The Same Place” stormed past Busch on the restart and looked poised to make the run to the checkers without much difficulty.
Josh Bilicki’s engine had other ideas, as it expired and brought out the caution with seven laps left.
That left Kyle Busch and the rest of the field with a choice. Pit or stay out and run for the win with the now dominant 9 car. Busch, Truex and a whole lot more decided to come get tires and try to get a needed advantage. Instead, they were unable to move forward and were relegated to 21st and 22nd respectively. In-car footage showed Busch hitting the wall shortly before the finish after getting blocked on the restart. Chase Elliott was left to do battle with the elder Busch brother instead. Kurt admitted after the race he was “a little soft” on Elliott at the end.
Busch settled for second as Chase Elliott took home his second win of the season on the concrete surface in Nashville as Brad Keselowski bounced up and down along the backstretch after he crashed into the wall on the restart. Elliott also won in Dover earlier in the year. With the win, he moves into the number one seed in the playoffs, and still has the regular season points lead as well. Ryan Blaney recovered from a spin inside 100 laps to go to finish third. Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five.
“So proud of our team because we kind of had a setback there about halfway and we were able to get our NAPA Chevy dialed back in and get back in the mix,” said a jovial Elliott after his signature burnout. “These things are hard to come by and you have to enjoy them. You never know when or if ever you will get another one.” The win marks the third straight win for Hendrick Motorsports at Nashville with Geoff Bodine winning in 1984 and Kyle Larson winning last season.
Hendrick lost both Alex Bowman and William Byron on the same lap, as a part of Byron’s suspension broke in one corner and Cory Lajoie sent Alex spinning in another. Neither recovered to finish in the top 30. Denny Hamlin, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top ten. Cindric and Bell’s runs are equally as impressive as Elliott’s as both overcame big adversity to get their top ten finishes. Chase Briscoe fell out of contention early when he and Ty Dillon were involved in a crash while racing hard with Ross Chastain.
The Cup Series rolls into Road America in Wisconsin next weekend, where Chase Elliott is the defending winner. All in all, Nashville Superspeedway put on a good show once the lights came on. Maybe it should stay a night race for one date a season for the rest of its tenure on the schedule. Only time will tell.
Photo credit to Pat, @Puffadda on Twitter and the Official Photographer of Pit Box Press