Chase Elliott downplayed his Hendrick Motorsports team’s engine failure in opening practice Saturday morning at Martinsville Speedway, which will force him to start at the rear of the field in Sunday’s race.
“Obviously, an unfortunate way to start the day for sure, but kind of one of those things that is what it is at this point,” said Elliott. “Everybody is working hard to get our car back put together to get some practice in this next one. At this point, that’s the most important thing.”
Four minutes into the session, flames erupted from underneath the No. 9 Chevrolet. Elliott, who had completed just five laps, brought his car to a stop on the backstretch and climbed out unharmed. He did not get back on track before the end of the 50-minute practice.
Since the team had to change engines, Elliott will drop to the rear of the field for the start of the First Data 500 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Qualifying for the first race in the Round of 8 takes place Saturday evening.
Elliott is still championship eligible and enters the penultimate round six points below the cutline.
“I think just to keep things simple for us, we need to try to win,” said Elliot of his Martinsville outlook. “If you’re not in position to win, get as many points as possible, and I just think that keeps things simple for you. I’m going to be trying to be as far forward as I can be at each particular moment, and try to make the smartest decision that I can throughout the day to get us there. Obviously, stage points are important, but I’m going to try to get as far forward as I can and get the most points possible at any given point in time. Yeah, starting in the back will be unfortunate for that first stage, but nothing I can do about it now.”
In the first race of the previous round, Elliott suffered a mechanical issue at Dover, which sideline him early. Based on what happened in Martinsville, Elliott doesn’t believe the two issues are related.
“I don’t think they’re related, so I don’t know if that’s good for bad,” said Elliott. “Anytime you have two engine problems in four weeks, that’s not good for sure. But I do know that we’ll do a diligent job of trying to figure out what the problem was and hope that we can find a problem.
“Sometimes with engine failures or part failures in general, you break something [and] the worst thing that can happen is you don’t know why or what broke. We just need to make sure we do a good job of figuring out what caused the failure — if we can find it — and I think if we can do that, I think we can correct it.”