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Chase Elliott captured the checkered flag at the 2018 Gander Outdoors 400 race at Dover International Speedway.
The No. 9 car only led the race for 11 laps, but he was able to move to the front of the pack during a late caution on Lap 397. Elliott held off Denny Hamlin during the overtime restart to earn his second win of the season.
Sunday’s race was the first of the round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Kevin Harvick came through with bonus points by winning the first two stages and leading a race-high 286 laps.
NASCAR at Dover Results
1. Chase Elliott
2. Denny Hamlin (-0.265 seconds)
3. Joey Logano (-1.055 seconds)
4. Erik Jones (-1.74 seconds)
5. Kurt Busch (-1.803 seconds)
6. Kevin Harvick (-1.853 seconds)
7. Austin Dillon (-1.929 seconds)
8. Kyle Busch (-2.011 seconds)
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-2.049 seconds)
10. Daniel Suarez (-2.505 seconds)
Full results via NASCAR.com
With just 52 laps remaining, Aric Almirola moved into the lead with a terrific restart after a caution because of debris on the track:
WHAT A RESTART. @Aric_Almirola’s back out front after battling with @keselowski.
@MonsterMile | #NASCARPlayoffs https://t.co/yvVF9NXJTl
Almirola would stay in that position until there were seven laps to go when he went into pit row for new tires. That came one lap after a caution flag because of Clint Bowyer smashing into the wall and his car releasing large amounts of smoke.
Kelly Crandall @KellyCrandall
“How many more times this year can this happen?” asks Almirola as the caution comes out with 8 to go
“It’s fine. It’s fine. We’ve got a good car.”
“I guess we had another loose wheel, this sucks,” Bowyer told NBCSN after his wreck. “I’m so sick for Aric, that was his race to win.”
Things got worse for Almirola from there, as he spun out during the 396th lap in a wreck with Brad Keselowski. The No. 10 car was able to salvage a 13th-place finish, though he’s still searching for his first Monster Energy Series win since 2014.
Elliott took advantage of the late leaderboard shake-up. He started the two-lap overtime period on the outside, giving Hamlin a chance to stay underneath and steal the win.
Instead, Elliott immediately pulled away and had no problem finishing two clean laps to get the crucial victory:
FOX: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
CHASE ELLIOTT WINS IN DOVER! Retweet to congratulate the No. 9 team.
Full results: https://t.co/6LWByjiE2G
#Di9 | #NASCARPlayoffs https://t.co/OrhBVn8Uic
“We had a penalty early and fell behind, luckily had a good enough car and strategy to get back,” Elliott told NBCSN (h/t Performance Racing Network). “What a day, thanks to those guys, that man right there (Rick Hendrick), he’s done so much for me. Wish my mom and dad were here, but it’s been a hell of a day for me.”
The win was huge for Elliott’s hopes to win the playoffs. He started the day five points behind Ryan Blaney for the eighth spot in the standings. Blaney, Keselowski and Kyle Busch won the three playoff races during the round of 16.
After Sunday, the bottom of the playoff standings has significantly changed:
NASCAR Alerts @NASCAR_Alerts
Last four playoff drivers among Round of 12 standings are now: Aric Almirola (10 points below cutoff), Bowyer, Larson and Bowman.
Almirola moved up two spots after starting Sunday in 11th. Bowyer is the biggest loser in that group, dropping six spots after climbing up to fifth place last week.
Things will only get more intense with the pressure increasing each week. Talladega Superspeedway will host the second race in the round of 12—the 1000Bulbs.com 500—next Sunday. Keselowski is the defending champion and will be looking to bounce back after a 14th-place showing in Delaware.