Chase Elliott makes a Playoff statement with victory at Kansas

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 21: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

KANSAS CITY, KS – OCTOBER 21: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It took 99 races for Chase Elliott to get his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Ten events later, the scion of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has three wins, the latest coming at Kansas Speedway in the Sunday’s Round of 12 elimination race in the series Playoffs.

Elliott took charge in the Hollywood Casino 400 when Kevin Harvick was hit with a pit road speeding penalty on his last green-flag pit stop on Lap 214 of 267. After inheriting the lead when Brad Keselowski came to pit road on Lap 224, Elliott stayed out front the rest of the way.

Over the closing laps, runner-up Kyle Busch chopped Elliott’s three-second lead to .300 seconds but could get no closer.

Elliott crossed the finish line .903 seconds ahead of Busch, as Kyle Larson—needing a victory to advance to the Round of 8—came up short with a desperation charge that carried him to third-place finish.

The victory was Elliott’s second in three weeks, as the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet made a statement entering the next round of the Playoffs. To Elliott, the “overnight” success wasn’t a surprise.

“I thought last year we had a pretty solid run at it and didn’t win any, obviously, but had some really good runs,” Elliott said. “Just so proud of my race team and the pit stops we had today. (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) made some great calls.

“We just can’t get complacent. This is a huge time of year. We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”

Elliott was well aware Busch was gaining on him near the end of the race, but he was reluctant to run up against the outside wall, where Busch was gaining ground.

“I got really tight that last run, and especially the second half of the run, he was catching me, and he was making a lot of time right against the wall, and I was just afraid to get up there and put it in the fence and really ruin it,” Elliott said.

“I felt comfortable running down just slightly. I could move up a little bit to make some time when I had to; I just really didn’t want to do it if I didn’t absolutely have to.”

Fortunately for Elliott, Busch’s effort stalled out in the final five laps.

“We had a great race there at the end,” Busch said. “We were trying to chase down Chase. We were close. Got kind of there, then just the car died out, didn’t have any more to go. I was afraid that was going to happen. Good day for us.”

Elliott and Aric Almirola, who finished 10th on Sunday, already were guaranteed berths in the Round of 8, thanks to respective wins at Dover and Talladega. Harvick, who came home 12th after leading 76 laps, locked himself into the next round with a second-place result in Stage 1.

Pole winner Joey Logano led a race-high 100 laps and cemented his position in the next round with a Stage 1 victory and an eighth-place finish. Kyle Busch and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. (fifth on Sunday) are still alive in the championship battle.

So, too, are Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch, as all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers advanced to the Round of 8. Bowyer finished 14th after the nose of his No. 14 Ford sustained damage on restart from contact with Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet.

Kurt Busch made the next round despite a tire violation on pit road that cost him a lap. Busch finished 18th but ended the day six points ahead of Ryan Blaney for the last spot in the Round of 8. Blaney was third in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2 but slapped the wall on Lap 204, dropped to seventh at the checkers and finished six points behind Kurt Busch for the final berth.

“I’m really happy,” Kurt Busch said. “It’s exciting for us. It’s our goal to win the championship. We’re an elite eight team when we started Daytona and here we are—we did it. It was a rough day in the pits and on the track but we had enough points from the (Charlotte) Roval and our stage races.

“It was a rough day, and we need to put it quickly behind us. We’re back on even ground. We’re in the top eight, and Martinsville (next Sunday) is the path to the championship down in Homestead.”

Eliminated with Blaney were Larson, sixth-place finisher Brad Keselowski and ninth-place Alex Bowman, whose only path to the Round of 8 would have been a Kansas victory.

Erik Jones, who was eliminated from the Playoffs in the first round, scored his second fourth-place result in the past three races.

John Hunter Nemechek scores first NASCAR Xfinity win; 

early wreck scrambles Playoffs

KANSAS CITY, KS – OCTOBER 20: John Hunter Nemechek, driver of the #42 Fire Alarm Services Inc. Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 20, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – John Hunter Nemechek grabbed his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in a race that threw the championship battle into chaos.

Pulling away with three laps after the final restart on Lap 169 of 200, Nemechek took the checkered flag 5.200 seconds ahead of Daniel Hemric to win the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway, the venue where his father, Joe Nemechek, won his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in 2004.

Though Nemechek fell far behind Hemric after sliding through his pit box during a green-flag stop on Lap 150, he caught a break when Vinnie Miller stalled near the exit from pit road to cause the seventh and final caution on Lap 164.

Nemechek powered his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet from sixth place on the restart and passed Hemric for good after a side-by-side battle on Lap 171.

“When that caution came, I knew we had a chance,” Nemechek said. “Luckily, Daniel and I raced each other hard and clean all day. We got the track position, and this thing was on rails today. I feel like we’ve been contending for wins all year. We just haven’t pulled through.

“To check the first one off—that’s the hardest one to get. Hopefully, we can go on. We’re racing for the owners’ championship at Homestead.”

Nearly 200 laps before Nemechek crossed the finish line, however, a shocking, monumental crash jolted the hopes of four title contenders and turned the Playoff standings upside-down.

Third-place starter Justin Allgaier, second in points, got loose in the second corner on Lap 1 and clipped the No. 20 Toyota of series leader Christopher Bell, turning Bell’s car into the outside wall. Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevrolet bounced off Bell’s Camry like a pinball and collected the No. 22 Ford of Playoff driver Austin Cindric.

Allgaier and Cindric were unable to continue. Bell’s team tried in vain to repair his Toyota, but Bell retired after completing two laps. Also damaged in the first-lap incident was the No. 00 Ford of Cole Custer, which fell 10 laps down while his team tried to fix the power steering.

Custer earned a hard-fought 26th-place finish but fell to seventh in the Playoff standings.

“I was the cause of the incident, unfortunately,” a rueful Allgaier said after exiting the infield care center. “That one’s on me. I’m super disappointed for everybody involved.

“Not only did we wreck our day but a lot of the other competitors. Hate it for those guys. Hopefully we can get to Texas next week and rebound from it.”

The wreck wiped out the Playoff point advantage Bell and Allgaier held at the start of the Round of 8. Bell, Allgaier and Cindric finished 37th, 38th and 39th, respectively.

“I didn’t really see much of anything,” Bell said of the accident. “Just kind of driving around there. Just heartbroken. This is one of my favorite race tracks we go to, and especially after the run I had last year (his first Xfinity win), this is the race that I was looking forward to whenever we started the year back in February.”

Bell nevertheless was well aware of the benefit his six series wins have given him, having entered the round with 44 Playoff points, five more than Allgaier.

“That’s the beauty of this format,” Bell said. “NASCAR’s done such a great job at giving us something to race for during the regular season. We’ve done our job winning six races this year, so we’ve accumulated some bonus points, so hopefully that can carry us through this bad stretch here and maybe we can find ourselves in Victory Lane later on in this round.

“If not, hopefully the bonus points will get us there.”

Cindric, who came to Kansas in eighth place and leaves in the same position, didn’t have the luxury of a points cushion.

“I’m thankful to still be in the Playoffs and still have a shot,” said Cindric. “I felt like we had a shot to win today. We’ll move on, have a week to think about it, go to Texas. Looks like we’re going to have to win (to advance).”

Hemric, who led 128 laps, leaves Kansas as the series leader, 23 points above the cut line. Allgaier dropped below the Playoff cut line behind Matt Tifft in fifth. Bell stayed one point to the good Tifft, who finished sixth on Saturday as one of eight drivers on the lead lap.

Elliott Sadler ran third to hold second in the standings, very much alive in his quest to win a first championship in his last season of full-time competition. Tyler Reddick, Sadler’s JR Motorsports teammate, came home fourth and is third in the series standings.

Shane Lee finished a career-best fourth in his 10th start of the season.