Chase Elliott said it was going to be “really hard” to pull up next to Brad Keselowski and pass him for the win in the STP 500 at Martinsville.
“It was just going to have to be ‘Get to his bumper and play some games’ — and hope it went my way,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s Hendrick Camaro was ultimately unable to get to the bumper of Keselowski’s Penske Mustang despite applying real pressure early in the final run to the checkered flag, and Keselowski pulled clear over the final 15 laps.
While Elliott felt his No. 9 Chevrolet was the better than Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford early in the final segment (the race restarted for the final time with 45 laps to go), he and Keselowski would eventually even out, and it became a matter of which driver hit their marks better lap after lap.
“I felt like our cars were pretty close,” said Elliott, who led 49 laps.
“We had a really solid car, and this was the best shot we had to win to date this season. So when you have cars like that and performances like today you really need to capitalize. Obviously, our struggle last week at Fontana was a bummer, so to come back and be able to run inside the top five all day long and be, I thought, as competitive as the winner of the race was an improvement. Ultimately this is an important racetrack (Martinsville features in the playoffs).”
Elliott took the lead for the first and only time on Lap 324 — the first laps he’s led this season — after repeatedly working Keselowski over. He led until a caution flew on Lap 373 brought the field down pit road. Keselowski’s pit crew put him back out front.
With Keselowski fending off all challenges, the lead never changed hands again, and Elliott finished runner-up — his second top-five at Martinsville and a season-best result.
“I tried to kind of root him off the bottom there at the beginning of the run, and that was probably my best shot,” said Elliott. “That one run I was able to get by him, it was definitely a slight advantage of being out front, being able to work traffic your way.
“Yeah, I tried to move up, tried to get some runs. Moved up with about five [laps] to go and was making a little time, but obviously not enough time, and was just trying to get back to his back bumper. Thought maybe I could root him out of the way or something.”