Chase Elliott scored the first stage win of the season for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday.
That is not an incorrect sentence. Elliott’s win in the second stage of Sunday’s race is the first time all 2018 that a Hendrick car had won a stage — or a race for that matter. Sunday’s race at New Hampshire was the 20th race of the season. Or, if you prefer, the second race of the second half of the season.
Yeah, it’s been quite the drought.
Not only did Elliott get a win of sorts on Sunday, it was a relatively banner day for Chevrolet. The manufacturer got three cars in the top 10 for the first time in a non-restrictor plate race since Pocono on June 3. And there was some legitimate speed shown by a Chevy driver not named Kyle Larson. That’s a bright spot.
Chevy’s lack of a win on Sunday means it has been 19 races since Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win; the most recent win by a Chevy driver. Elliott said after the race that he was “shocked” the team performed as well as it did. He finished fifth.
“I really have no idea where that came from,” Elliott said. “I hope it wasn’t dumb luck. Hopefully we can keep it rolling because it’s really nice to be able to go up there and lead some laps. I know it wasn’t the right part of the race, but still, leading laps for us is big compared to what we’ve been doing.”
That’s why Sunday could be a springboard for Chevy even if it’s the only race of the season at New Hampshire. Chevy hasn’t been good anywhere but restrictor plate tracks so far this season. Maybe the tide is changing?
“Just proud of everybody,” Ryan Newman said after finishing sixth. “Not the end result that we want, but a huge improvement and that is something we want. We will keep digging.”
Almirola fumbles another opportunity for a win
Aric Almirola probably had the best car at Chicago. He didn’t win.
He might have had the best car at New Hampshire on Sunday. He definitely had one of the best. But he never had the chance to race for the win.
Almirola was the race leader when the final caution of the race came out with over 40 laps to go. He exited the pits in third thanks to a stumble by his pit crew as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick got out in front of him.
Almirola needed a good restart to keep up with the two guys ahead of him. He got the opposite of “good.” He bogged down off the start and slowed the low line considerably as the leaders sprinted away. He recovered to finish third but it’s easy to wonder what could have been if Almirola had a good pit stop and a good restart.
“I laid back off of Harvick’s bumper a little bit, was trying to time the restart to roll up to him and Kyle,” Almirola said. “Kyle went right at the beginning, maybe even slightly before. He went right at the beginning, if nothing else, of the restart zone. It caught me off guard.”
Almirola has previously said he and his team have to be perfect to counter Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. They weren’t perfect on Sunday.
Ross Chastain needs a shot in a better ride
It’s time for Ross Chastain to get a shot in a top-tier Xfinity Series ride or a better Cup Series ride.
Chastain was 26th on Sunday and finished just behind Bubba Wallace, who drives for Richard Petty Motorsports. He was ahead of both Michael McDowell and David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports drivers.
Chastain, who drives for Premium Motorsports in the Cup Series, has finished in the top 30 in 17 of his 18 Cup Series starts this season. That’s impressive given the quality of Premium’s equipment. It’s some of the cheapest in the series.
If progression in NASCAR was merit-based then Chastain would probably be in a better ride. It’s not. So he’s not given that he doesn’t have a big-dollar sponsor attached to his hip. That’s a shame. He at least deserves a shot somewhere.
Kurt Busch’s hopes for win ended with ‘fundamental mistake’
Kurt Busch’s final green-flag pit stop ended any chance he had of winning. The pole-sitter had one of the faster cars throughout the race on Sunday but when he pitted in the third stage Ryan Blaney was on pit road at the same time.
That was a problem. Blaney was in the pit stall right behind Busch. As Busch approached his own pit stall Blaney’s team was finishing up their stop. Blaney was set to exit right when Busch was about to pull into his stall.
Busch stopped for Blaney, who let Busch past and then left his pit stall. The stop meant Busch fell from being the leader of the race at the time to seventh when he rejoined the track.
Typically crew chiefs make sure they aren’t pitting at the same time as the cars in their immediate vicinity. A miscommunication apparently happened with Busch’s crew and Blaney’s crew.
“You just aren’t supposed to pit on the same lap they do under green,” Busch said. “That was a fundamental mistake.”
Busch finished eighth.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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