Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – For Chase Elliott, Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway was a strong run that ended with a sigh of relief—that he finally got a finish worthy of the position he maintained throughout the afternoon.
In fact, with a quick early pit stop on Lap 255 of 312, Elliott cycled out ahead of eventual race winner Kevin Harvick. Elliott couldn’t stay in front of Harvick, who passed him on Lap 279 for what was then fourth place, but he managed to hold third behind Harvick and Kyle Busch to post his best finish of the season so far.
“Yeah, we had a good car,” Elliott said. “It was solid, you know? (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) made a good call there at the end, and we had a good pit stop there to get into the lead (ahead of Harvick), and I just felt like I needed a little bit of drive there to put the power down in front of him.
“I had a pretty good turn those last two runs, and before that I wasn’t turning good enough and (didn’t have) too good of forward bite.
“He (Harvick) was definitely the car to beat, and it felt like there were a lot of laps left. I tried my best to hold him off as long as I could, but I felt like him and Kyle had just a little bit on us. We’ll go to work and try to get better for California.”
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUES SOLID, CONSISTENT RUN
With three straight victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kevin Harvick deserves top billing in the Stewart-Haas Racing camp, but Aric Almirola has been strong and steady through the first four races of the season.
In his debut season with SHR, Almirola was less than a half-lap away from winning the DAYTONA 500 when contact from race winner Austin Dillon sent his No. 10 Ford into the Turn 3 wall. Almirola finished 11th and followed that performance with a 13th at Atlanta and a 10th last week at Las Vegas.
The trend continued on Sunday at ISM Raceway, where Almirola ran seventh as all four SHR cars finished in the top 10 for the first time in the organization’s history. Remarkably, Almirola has turned an average qualifying effort of 24.8 into an average finish of 10.2 through four races.
“We just keep plugging away,” Almirola said. “(Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and the guys made a lot of good adjustments on the car throughout the day. We started off OK, and then we started dialing ourselves out the first few stops.
“We got some track position there with that two-tire call (on Lap 194 of 312) and got our Smithfield Ford Fusion up front and it really liked the clean air. Our car got a lot better up there. I’m proud of everybody. We just keep building on it. Top-10 ‘em to death. Just keep scoring points and doing what we do.”
DENNY HAMLIN FRUSTRATES THE RACE WINNER BEFORE LOSING THE LEAD
Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wasn’t as fast as the No. 4 Ford of race winner Kevin Harvick, but Hamlin did an admirable job of keeping Harvick behind him for 46 laps in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.
In fact, Hamlin’s ability to frustrate Harvick’s repeated attempts to pass enabled JGR teammate Kyle Busch to catch and pass both of them for the lead. Ultimately, Busch finished second after a slow pit stop, and Hamlin came home fourth.
“I did my best to hold him (Harvick) up and frustrate him, and I probably frustrated him towards the middle part of the race,” Hamlin said. “I was just trying to lead as many laps as I could, but I knew it was just a matter of time before he got around me. It was a fun race overall and definitely good to be competitive.”