Chase Elliott’s title defense came to a somewhat quiet end Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway with a fifth-place finish in the race and the championship hunt.
“Honestly, really proud of our effort,” Elliott said. “I thought we had a really good car. Honestly, I thought all four guys … were good. I felt like we all kind of had our moments really throughout the day. You get a caution with 20 laps to go, it’s going to be very difficult to run down and pass the guy that jumps out front in the restart.
“But yeah, proud of our team. I felt like we had a nice game plan coming into the week. Felt like our car did a lot of the things we wanted it to do. No major mistakes, just needed to be a little better in those first few sequences of restarts and pit stops there at the end.”
The four title contenders restarted as the top four as the race went back green with 24 laps to go. Elliott had come off pit road fourth but chose the inside lane and restarted third. He never made it higher than third place in the final run to the finish and never seriously challenged the top two, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., for the big prize.
Most of the day looked promising for Elliott to potentially grab a second consecutive championship. He led four times for 94 laps. There was also slight contact with Larson off Turn 2 at one point that did not harm either car but might have ended up helping Larson.
“I thought I had a run a little bit, and I didn’t think there was quite enough room, and I thought he was going to come to the wall,” Elliott said of the incident. “So, I was like, well, I’ll try to go to the bottom really fast, and then he ended up like not moving, and then I came down. It was just a really weird set of circumstances; ended up hitting him in the right rear, and it flared the thing out. That was nice.”
Elliott praised his No. 9 team for bringing a car to contend but just needed late-race circumstances to work out differently.
“Proud of our team,” Elliott said, “a lot to build on.”