Chase Elliott continues to impress week after week.
A transmission change prior to Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 forced the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet to drop to the rear of the field from his fourth-place qualifying position. But when the green flag finally flew, Elliott backed up his qualifying effort, slicing and dicing his way into the top 25 within 25 laps. By lap 120, he entered the top 10 where he remained for much of the rest of the night.
Under the sixth caution, a strategy call by crew chief Alan Gustafson to take two tires gave Elliott the track position to restart third and quickly take second after the green flew before setting his sights on then-leader Martin Truex, Jr. But when the seventh and final caution flew, Gustafson made the call for four tires, dropping Elliott back to eighth for the restart with 33 laps remaining. He raced his way to fifth before the checkered flag flew, enough for his first career top-5 finish.
“It was a solid night. Obviously I hated to have to start in the back, but I think having a good qualifying effort allowed us to get a good pit selection,” Elliott said during his post-race availability. “I think that helped us to try to gain spots throughout the night, but the biggest thing was just having a good car. I was really happy with it, especially on the long run, and we made some gains throughout the night to try to help our short run speed.”
Despite scoring a career best finish, Elliott made it clear that he has high expectations and his team is capable of more.
“We’re definitely not satisfied running fifth,” Elliott said of his run. “I feel like we have a group of guys that are capable of doing that. We’ll keep digging at it. We have a long way to go with a lot of racing to go in the season. We’ll keep working to get where we can roll with those guys.”
The fifth-place finish was enough to earn him the Sunoco Rookie of the Race award for the fourth time in seven races. He and Ryan Blaney remain neck-and-neck in the Rookie of the Year standings, separated by a mere four markers.