Chase Elliott gets win at Talladega, punches ticket to NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Round of 8
Chase Elliott had dominated the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series points standings before falling on hard times in the playoffs, sitting on the cutoff line going into Sunday’s race at Talladega.
A last-lap pass gave Elliott a late lead, and he outraced Ryan Blaney to the checkered flag to take the YellaWood 500 and clinch a spot in the Round of 8.
With a lap to go, Elliott pulled his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from the bottom lane to the top lane and got a huge push from behind by Erik Jones. The momentum pushed Elliott to .046-second win, his fifth of the 2022 season and the 18th of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“It was a wild last couple laps,” Elliott said after the race. “I wasn’t super crazy about being on the bottom and fortunately I got just clear enough off of [Turn] 2 to slide up in front of Erik, and he gave me some great shoves, obviously a Team Chevy partner there. Just had a good enough run to get out front and then was able to stay far enough in front of Ryan at the line to get it done.
Michael McDowell was third, followed by two more Playoff drivers, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin.
Chastain and Aric Almirola led the most laps on the day – each out front 36 laps – in an afternoon that featured the most lead changes of the season (57) set by 17 different drivers.
Although it was a typically dramatic superspeedway ending, the action was tame by Talladega standards. Only one of the six caution periods was for a multi-car accident. Two were scheduled “stage breaks,” and the other two for single car incidents.
The final caution -which set up the two-lap shootout ending – came for Daniel Hemric’s stalled car on pit road.
That bunched up the field again and ultimately positioned Elliott (who restarted on the inside of the third row) to make his run forward. Blaney, who led 31 laps in the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford , had been trading the lead with Jones in the laps immediately before that final caution flag.
“I thought about it,” Blaney said, of making a different move for the lead. “The second lane was kind of the strongest, definitely the second half of the race. And I thought about (throwing a block on Elliott) but when you go to the middle without a Ford or teammate behind you, the chances of getting split are so high.
“As much as I trust Chase, I don’t trust him enough for him not to take me three-wide and leave me in the middle, so I chose to stay down in front of (fellow Ford driver) Michael (McDowell). He was awesome at pushing me on the last restart and giving me great shots. Just a little bit too late.”
It was a big boost for Elliott, who had a rough outing last week in the opening race of the Round of 12 in Texas. Elliott crashed out and finished 32nd and came into Talladega ranked eighth – after earning the regular-season championship and leading the standings for a season-best 23 weeks prior to Sunday.
The opening four 2022 Playoff races have been won by non-Playoff drivers – an unprecedented occurrence. Elliott’s advancement to the next round is the first “automatic” move by a Playoff-eligible driver.
Beyond Elliott, Blaney now leads the points standings, with Chastain in third, followed by Hamlin and Joey Logano, who finished 27th on Sunday. Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson – who finished 18th at Talladega – is sixth, followed by Daniel Suarez and Chase Briscoe in that final eighth place position.
Rookie Austin Cindric is tied with Briscoe in points in ninth place. William Byron (-11), Christopher Bell (-33) and Alex Bowman (-54) complete the current Playoff 12.
The next race, the Bank of America ROVAL 400, is Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) – the final road course event of the season. Larson is the defending race winner. Blaney won the inaugural race at the Charlotte ROVAL and Elliott is a two-time winner there as well (2019 and 2020).