After fighting back in traffic for most of Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway, it suddenly looked like things were about to go Chase Elliott’s way.
A gamble on fresh tires, a frantic run through the field on fresh tires and a lightning fast pit stop had the Dawsonville, Georgia native restarting sixth at the beginning of the final segment of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race with 119 laps left to go.
In fact, Elliott restarted alongside Joey Logano, who had dominated the race and had held the top spot among the four title contenders up to that point.
On the restart, while the field fought for position, a spin by Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell off turn four brought the caution out just as one lap was completed.
On the next restart, things went south for Elliott.
As the green flag flew on lap 200, Elliott was looking for position, and moved down to block the oncoming Chevy of fellow title contender Ross Chastain. The two made contact, sending Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy spinning down into the inside wall.
Elliott’s car was left with suspension damage, which his crew made hasty repairs to, getting him back on the track one lap down to the leaders.
But the damage left his car hard to handle, and at one point Elliott was three laps down.
While Elliott eased his wounded car over the next 112 laps, Logano went on to win the race and the title, with Chastain finishing the race in third, taking second in the championship standings. Christopher Bell finished in 10th in the race, and third in the title rundown.
Elliott nursed his car home to a 28th place result, two laps down – and dead last of the Championship 4.
“Yeah, just disappointed, obviously, ended our day and ended our chance at a win or a championship,” said Elliott. “Just disappointing.”
“With the 9 (Elliott), I felt like I got position on him, to the left side, the dogleg, and he turned left,” said Chastain of the incident.
Elliott didn’t have much to say about the contact with Chastain.
“I’m not sure what happened (with Ross Chastain),”Elliott said. “I haven’t seen it. Unfortunately it ruined our day.”
It was not the ending the 2020 series champion had hoped for to the day. Elliott came into the race with a series leading five victories on the season, along with being the regular season champion. He was the favorite among odds makers prior to the start of the race.
“I felt like we just kind of peaked right there before we crashed, and I felt like we got our car driving pretty good, we just had our best pit stop of the day, so that was all really solid,” said Elliott. “And heck, we were right there next to the 22 (Logano).
“I thought we had a shot at it all the way up until we didn’t, and that’s unfortunately the way it goes sometimes.”
Despite the strong 2022 run, Elliott said he is not ready to think about 2023 right now.
“I don’t really care about 2023 right now,” Elliott said. “We had five wins on the season, and we had — you tell me what the stats are. That’s how you would assess it, right? I know we won five races. That’s more than we did last year.
“But do not tell me what the countdown clock is (to 2023) because I don’t want to know.”