Elliott Ends Skid Deep In the Heart of Texas 

Going into the race, the talk was who can unseat Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, teams who had won all but one race season?  When the Checkered Flag fell on Sunday that question had been answered – NO ONE as HMS’ Chase Elliott ended his 42-race winless streak with a bold run at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway to capture his first win here.  

Elliott led three times for 39 laps with his winning pass taking place on the Lap 260 restart, passing Denny Hamlin to get to the point.  Once there, he held off a spinning Hamlin and later a spinning “Chastain’ed” Ross Chastain to be out front when the final Double Overtime Last Lap Caution Flag flew.

 Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1, lead the field to a restart during the NASCAR Cup Series AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 14, 2024 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

This was Elliott’s first win of the season and 19th career win.  This places him 44th on the All-Time Cup Win List, tying him with Hall of Famers Davey Allison and Buddy Baker along with Greg Biffle and Fonty Flock.  This puts him seventh on the Active Full-time Cup winners. The #9 HMS driver now has six GEN 7 wins, tying him for 4th with Christopher Bell.  Elliott, who missed the 2023 Playoffs, now joins William ByronDenny HamlinKyle LarsonDaniel Suarez and Bell in the 2024 Championship Hunt.

Elliott started 24th and climbed to 7th by the end of Stage 1.  His 17-position climb in Stage 1 was third behind Daniel Hemric (23) and Austin Hill (18). He slipped back to 10that the end of Stage 2, before making the final push to the front.  Restarts provided the most Green Flag passes and Elliott not only made his final pass on a Restart but survived two more to take the win.

He brought his car home clean, which could not be said for much of the field as 14 of the 16 Cautions were spins or accidents that involved drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Alex Bowman, Carson Hocevar, Kyle Busch, Josh Berry, Kyle Larson, Zane Smith, Michael McDowell, Chase Briscoe, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Ryan Preece, Kaz Grala, Harrison Burton, William Byron in addition to Hamlin and Chastain.  

Kyle Larson also had the odd misfortune of losing the lug nut on a caution following a long green flag run that resulted in a two-lap penalty.   Larson, who was the class of the field early was able to take advantage of the Lucky Dogs and move back into the Lead Lap but was never in contention after the unprecedented occurrence, even though he had led the race 5 times for 77 laps up to that point.

During the fourth caution of the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400, Kyle Larson’s right rear wheel detached after an 18-lap green-flag run. With the two-lap penalty, Larson moved from the lead to 33rd.© NASCAR on Fox / Twitter

Record setting pit work helped seal the deal for the Dawsonville GA native as the #9 crew pulled off a blistering 8.49 second 4 tire stop.

HMS looked like they had followed up their 1-2-3 finish at Martinsville with a 1-2 finish with William Byron in tow, but after further review, P2 was awarded to Brad Keselowski who passed Byron as the final Caution was being thrown.

Tyler Reddick was another strong challenger came in P4, with Daniel Suarez clawing back to P5.  Chase Briscoe, Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Carson Hocevar rounded out the Top Ten.

Elliott left Texas with the most points.  Kyle Larson remains atop the point standings, helped in part with his Stage 1 win.  Ross Chastain won Stage 2.  Elliott scored Stage Points in both Stages to come away with the most points.

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch are at the cutoff with Brad Keselowski 1 point away from making it a three-way tie.

Denny Hamlin remains atop of the Racing Lead Change Leaderboard with Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney are closing in.

The following is a statistical breakdown of the AutoTraderEchoPark Automotive 400-

Race Breakdown

Here is a statistical breakdown of the passing and lead changes we saw at Texas:

Total Lead Changes-23 among 13 Leaders.  Kyle Larson led 5 times for a race high 77 Laps.

Green Flag Lead Changes (P1) 13

– Start/Restart – 7

– Leader Pit – 4

– Racing Lead Changes – 2 

Kyle Larson – 1

Ryan Blaney – 1

Quality Passes (P1-P15) – 1016

Non-Qaulity Passes (P16-P37) – 2700

Overall Passes – 27% of the 3716 Green Flag Passes took place in the front 39% of the field, so passing was concentrated in the back of the field (P16+) 

Total Green Flag Passes – 3716 for 18.2/Green Flag Lap. This is the most Green Flag Passes in the GEN 7 era.

Margin of Victory – Chase Elliott won on a last lap Caution in the second Overtime 

Winning Pass- Elliott’s winning pass came on Lap 260 when he took the lead for good on Restart after Caution #12.  

Winning Run-Elliott led the final 2 laps (Green-White-Checkers) of the race.   

Most Green Flag Passes – 159 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

Most Quality Passes– 66 Chase Briscoe

Biggest Gainer – 26  Kyle Busch (35/9)

Biggest Loser – -26 Ryan Blaney (7/33)

Racing Lead Changes (after nine races)

Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney made the only Racing Lead Changes for the race.  These passes occurred in a Lap 100-101 exchange where Larson passed Blaney for the lead on Lap 100 and Blaney retook the Lead passing Larson back on Lap 101. The remaining 175 laps including the entirety of Stage 3 had no Racing Lead Changes.  

With his pass, Larson now moves into a tie for second with Kyle Busch.  Blaney is now third, two RLCs behind leader Hamlin.  There were no new drivers entering the RLC Race

Here is the overall breakdown up to this point:

12 – Denny Hamlin

11 – Kyle BuschKyle Larson (+1)

10 – Ryan Blaney (+1)

 7 – Martin Truex, Jr. 

 6 – Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs 

 4 – Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland

 3 – Austin Cindric, William Byron (+1)

 2 – Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott

 1 – Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Corey LaJoie, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger, Bubba Wallace 

21 different drivers have made a total of 90 Racing Lead Changes in the first eight races of the season.

Texas 2 RCLs over the 168 Racing Laps (Total Laps – Caution Flag Laps – Start/Restart Laps), is tied with COTA and Martinsville for the second fewest RLC’s for a race this season.  The highest is still Atlanta with 30, with Richmond the lowest, with 1.

Final Thoughts

Another race, another HMS win-this time with Chase Elliott who returns to Victory Lane after his 2023 snowboarding accident.  It was almost a year to the day from his return to driving.  It was a popular return as the race scored over a 72% on the Jeff Gluck “Was It a Good Race?” poll.  With three of the HMS teams qualified for the Playoffs, could this unpredictable, high speed, pack racing Talladega be just what Alex Bowman ordered to punch his ticket?

Last week in T for Texas.  T for Tires, You See… I discussed the tires Goodyear was bringing to the track this race and how in previous races it had produced only one Racing Lead Change at Texas last year and three at Las Vegas earlier in the season.  My prayer was that moving the race from the Playoffs into the Regular Season would improve the action and numbers.  It did… sorta.  RLCs at Texas doubled from 1 to 2, but still didn’t equal the three at Vegas.  Even if it had, I was hoping that the passing up front without the benefit of the bunching at restarts or giving up the lead to pit would have needed at least two hands to count on.  Not crossing half-way on one hand is nothing write home about.  It didn’t help that both occurred in a lap 100-102 exchange between Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney where Blaney passed Larson and Larson repassed him was the extent of the battles up front.  At least there was lots of cautions and restarts to bring the fans to their feet, because it sure wasn’t the racing.

Post-race we heard the drivers complaining about the inability to pass again and was asking for more tire falloff.  To date, this has been a short-track issue and it is concerning to see it creeping into the intermediates.  

Earlier this week, NASCAR’s Elton Sawyer, VP of Competition said that they were pleased with the racing on intermediates this season.  Vegas is the only other intermediate they have raced on to date.  As mentioned earlier, they produced similar numbers with the bulk of the lead changes coming from Restarts and Leaders Pitting, with a short-track “esque” low number of Racing Lead Changes (5 in two races).  If the Series is banking on Restarts, Pit Cycles and Green-White-Checker Finishes to produce the needed excitement and drama, I hope it works for them.  They may want to consider throwing in some better racing up front though between the restart bunching and pitting until a final two-lap shootout.  I’m just not sure a diet of one or two passes for the lead is going to cut it over the rest of the intermediate season.  

Of course, we head to Talladega which is notorious for producing 30-50 Racing Lead Changes, so all this talk and concern will be forgotten after this Sunday… until we get back to another intermediate.

Texas’ move out of the Playoffs seemed to be a positive move though.  The crowds looked larger and although there is no direct comparison to any other Texas race, the viewership numbers looked improved.  How much so, will take more analysis than I can cipher.

Speaking of viewership numbers… Talladega will be the first “true” test in a while.  No “Chase Elliott Effect”, same slot in the schedule, no major competition like Caitlin Clark or the Masters.  Think we’re on the same Bat Channel as last year.  Finally, a good YoY comparison to see just where we are now.  The only variable is the weather.   Surely, that won’t be a factor… will it?

It was good to see a Ford again crack into the Top 2.  Kez said they didn’t have the speed to win this one but if running that close to the front can a win be far behind?  

It was good to see Chase Briscoe overcome their challenges and bring home a P6 for the rumor-filled SHR team.  Hopefully, he can block out the noise and have another strong run this week.

Daniel Suarez was up and down for the race and finally finished up for a Top Five. They are in the Playoffs with an Atlanta win but need more consistent finishes.  Hopefully, he’ll be able to replicate that drafting track finish and will be the start of that run.

Another strong showing by Tyler Reddick.  Issues again knocked him out of a winnable race.  Hopefully that will get cleaned up.  Bubba Wallace brought in a P7 for a good points day for the 23XI stable.

Has Austin Dillon got the monkey off of his back?  A P8 going into Talladega is a good start.  Teammate Kyle Busch in P9 made for an encouraging weekend for the struggling RCR team.

Rookie Carson Hocevar is continuing to improve, bringing home a P10 for Spire Motorsports.  Can he stay out of the “Big One” this week and back it up with another Top 10?

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

CRB – Champion Ryan Blaney got into it with fellow Ford driver Ryan Preece and found his race ending early for a P33 finish.  That was one position behind Ross Chastain, who was taken out in a last lap crash.  It seems no matter if its good or bad these two always seem to find each other.  This week was no different.

Speaking of Chastain, do you think Ross and William Byron will be exchanging Christmas Cards this year?  After Spring Darlington last year Rick Hendrick, Kyle Larson and Cliff Daniels made it clear that the TrackhouseRacing driver was on their list, but it wasn’t for Christmas Cards.  Chase probably stopped sending one after the 2022 Phoenix finale.  Has Byron followed suite?  Hope if there are any hard feelings after their last lap dust up, they settle it elsewhere.  This Sunday isn’t the time and Talladega isn’t the place.

Kyle Larson-the mono-lug has been a challenge since its introduction in 2022 and how the right front nut was able to stay on his car throughout the green flag run, only to fall off under caution only adds to its mystique.  If it had to happen, it’s fortunate that it did that way as nothing good can come out of losing a lug nut and tire at speed.  It will be interesting to see just what the deeper dive produces.

Similarly, Ty Gibbs lost a socket off one of his air guns.  It remained attached as Gibbs returned to the track only to have to pit again to have it removed. The cause would be interesting to know.  Again, another bullet dodged.  At some point though, luck is going to run out and a future occurrence may not be so fortunate.    

The race results seemed to stall talk of a Texas reconfigure and shifted to how can we get that infernal leftover PJ1 off the track and see if things improve.

Now it’s on to the “new” (NEXT GEN?) pack-racing at Talladega.  The secret to the game is how much fuel can you save so you won’t stay in the pits too long on your next fuel stop.  Now that avoiding the lead (burns more fuel), staying in line and don’t pass (saves fuel), running half-throttle (or less) until it’s time to go is the “racing” blueprint for what was once the circuit’s fastest track seems to be the be as counterintuitive as it comes.  I guess “ordinary men doing extraordinary things” now means fighting everything in your soul to go fast to get as many miles as possible out of a gallon of Sunoco. I’d love to see a couple of teams go rogue, team up and break away, just to try to force the issue, but the “risk v. rewards” probably don’t work out.  But it would be entertaining.  

The best thing is that no matter the “strategy” Talladega will result in a sizable number of RLCs which could add new players in the RLC Race, shake up the Standings or both.  Either way, we’ll tune in and see how it all turns out.

Talladega Superspeedway ( Photo from https://www.essentiallysports.com/ )

Texas was the third G-W-C finish in a row.  Or since it was double overtime, should we say the fourth in three races?  Will that streak continue at the 2.66 mile high-banks?  Good chance.

Finally, as we talk about streaks, the question continues… who can unseat Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, teams who have won all but one race?  These two are on a seven-race win streak.  Will they make it eight?  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

But, this is Talladega.   


Thunder On… and Stay Safe!

David Nance

Photo Credit (cover): Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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