Chase Elliott was so, so close to winning his first NASCAR Cup Series race of the season just after midnight Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And it wouldn’t have been just any checkered flag either.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver was in the lead with a few laps remaining in NASCAR’s longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600, considered to be one of the sport’s prestigious, “crown jewel” events. But when Elliott’s teammate, William Byron, spun, the caution flag came out, guaranteeing overtime.
It also meant teams had to decide whether to pit and get fresh tires or to stay out and hold onto track position. As the leader, whatever Elliott and the No. 9 Chevrolet team decided, basically the drivers in contention behind him were going to do the opposite. And at that point, the checkered flag was likely out of reach for them regardless.
The team pitted while eventual race winner Brad Keselowski led the eight cars that opted to stay out. Elliott restarted 11th in overtime before working his way up to finish second. (He originally came in third, but his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was disqualified.)
Understandably, Elliott was devastated, especially after contending for the win in the previous race at Darlington Raceway. And his team’s radio audio from the end of the race creates a clearer picture of their emotions at the very end.
Thanks to the return of FOX Sports’ “Radioactive” series, we can eavesdrop on the No. 9 team at that moment and hear the heartbreak in real time (about the 3:20 mark in the video).
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After Elliott’s spotter, Eddie D’Hondt, told him about the caution, the driver responded: “That’s gotta be a joke.”
And as the team debated its pit strategy compared with what they speculated everyone else would do, Elliott’s frustration included a series of angry, NSFW exclamations. Neither he nor his teammates could believe what just happened when they were so close to winning one of the biggest races of the year.
Alan Gustafson, crew chief: “I’m [expletive] beside myself. It’s unreal.”
Elliott: “You’re [expletive] kidding me! Un-[expletive]-belivable. Always [expletive] something.”
After winning Tuesday night’s NASCAR Truck Series race, Elliott will have another shot at his first Cup Series win of the season Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FS1). The Alsco Uniforms 500 was originally scheduled for Wednesday night, but rain forced NASCAR to push the race back a day.