Chase Elliott was within a few laps of winning his first Monster Energy Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, a win that would’ve advanced the Hendrick Motorsports into the title round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
But there was no victory celebration, nor is Elliott yet guaranteed a spot in the four-driver championship finale. Thanks to a seismic shove from Denny Hamlin, Elliott went spinning into the wall with two laps remaining, crashing his hopes for a first-ever win. Kyle Busch would win the First Data 500 and with it earn a pass to race for the Cup Series title Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Now, Elliott finds himself 26 points behind Kevin Harvick for the final provisional transfer position. That deficit places Elliott in a must-win situation where his title hopes depend on him winning either Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway or the following week at Phoenix Raceway. Anything less a win, and he’ll be one of four drivers eliminated when the playoff semifinals concludes at Phoenix.
Texas schedule and how to watch
AAA Texas 500
Time/green flag: 2 p.m/2:15 p.m.
Distance/laps: 501 miles/334 laps
TV/streaming: NBCSN (live stream)
Texas qualifying results:
Kurt Busch captured the pole position with a scorching lap that eclipsed 200 mph and was the fastest in NASCAR history on a mile-and-a-half track. Busch’s lap average speed of 200.915 mph bumped Hamlin off the top position and earned him his first pole of the season and 22nd of his career.
Kevin Harvick qualified third, followed by rookie Erik Jones in fourth and Kyle Busch in fifth. Rookie Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski completed the top five.
Elliott’s tough week continued Friday when he was one of seven drivers whose cars failed to pass pre-qualifying technical inspection, preventing them from posting a lap. Elliott, the only playoff-eligible among the group, will start 34th on Sunday.
The others who did make it onto the track were Trevor Bayne, Gray Gaulding, Matt Kenseth, Corey LaJoie, Joey Logano and Reed Sorenson. The cars of Hamlin and Harvick each needed multiple attempts to pass inspection, with both drivers getting cleared with just a few minutes remaining in Round 1.
This section will update upon the completion of the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday.