Talladega win provides much-needed boost to Chase Elliott and Chevrolet

Chase Elliott’s wildly popular victory Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway was a statement-maker for Chevrolet and Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports team – a not-so-subtle reminder that Chevy’s bowtie brigade will have a say in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship, too.

Elliott led teammate Alex Bowman and Chevrolet rookie Ryan Preece across the finish line under caution Sunday in the GEICO 500, earning Chevrolet its first victory in the 10-race old 2019 season and Hendrick’s first one-two finish since the 2016 season. In a year so far dominated by five-win Toyota and four-win Ford efforts, Elliott’s work was crucial personally, team-wise and manufacturer-wise.

And judging by the Talladega crowd reaction, there is no question this was a win well-appreciated for the Georgia-native Elliott.

“I honestly can’t describe it to you,” a grinning Elliott said. “After the race was over, just kind of the way it ended, I was in la‑la land down there when I was looking for the checkered flag. Every time I stood up, the crowd stood up. Every time I got fired up, they got fired up. That’s something you can’t ever take for granted.

“Like I said, people might not always like you. It’s days like today, those moments, that you’ll cherish and never forget. Certainly I won’t. These races are too hard to win to not enjoy those moments.”

Elliott paced a bowtie brigade that included not just the make’s first 1-2-3 sweep of the year but a resounding superspeedway statement with six of the top eight finishers – also including rookie Daniel Hemric (fifth), Kurt Busch (sixth) and Brendan Gaughan (eighth). Chevy drivers also swept all three of the race stage wins with Ty Dillon winning the first and Elliott winning both the second stage and then the race.

In all, Chevy drivers led 74 of 188 laps, including Elliott’s race-best 45 laps, in halting a seven-race winning streak at Talladega by rival Ford. It’s only the second time this season a Chevy driver has led the most laps in a race – the last time it happened Kyle Larson led a race-best 142 laps but finished 12th at Atlanta.

Each of the manufacturers went into Sunday’s event stressing the need for their respective teams and drivers to work together unselfishly – big picture in focus. And certainly Elliott’s victory was a trophy-winning by-product of the teamwork emphasis.

“I felt like it was a team win, for sure,’’ Elliott said. “The large majority of the day we were working together as a bowtie group, as Team Chevy. I felt like we executed that well.

“I think we could make it better, too. Just because it worked out, I don’t think we need to be content in the results. I think we need to realize we can do a better job.

“There’s certainly power in numbers at these races. When you have guys being selfless, wanting to push and make the lane go, it makes a difference. Certainly worked out for us today. I know it didn’t work out for some. It felt like it all kind of happens for a reason. Yes, there was a lot of effort that went in. I felt like it was executed pretty well.”

Both for Elliott, personally, and his championship Hendrick team, Sunday’s results spoke not just about an important superspeedway showing but also about potential. Elliott earned the first three wins of his young career last season and following those up Sunday was a confidence boost only a trophy can fully give.

Elliott is the only current member of the four-driver Hendrick team with a victory in the past two years. It’s been two years since seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson earned his last win – at this week’s upcoming venue in Dover, Del.  Bowman and second-year Cup driver William Byron are still looking for their first Cup win.

Not only is Elliott’s teammate Johnson the all-time winningest driver (11 victories) at the one-mile Dover International Speedway, it is where the NASCAR champion last celebrated in victory lane, two years ago. It’s also a place where Elliott scored one of his three wins last season – giving the Hendrick team plenty of confidence heading forward  into the weekend.

“Those were certainly great wins last year,’’ Elliott said. “I felt like any time you can win and win often is a big deal. I felt like we won pretty often in that span of a couple months last year, which was great.

“I still don’t think we’re winning often enough. I feel like we need to be contending more. I see some of our competitors being in contention more than we have been throughout the season. I think we can certainly do a better job.

“To have a win this early in the year I think is nice. And just because we won at Dover and Kansas last year doesn’t mean we’re going to go run good there, too. You know that.

“It’s going to be hit‑or‑miss. We’re going to go there, see what we have. We didn’t run good at Richmond, which was unfortunate. Had a good day today, need to ride that as best we can next week.”