Elliott takes rain-shortened win in chaotic COTA race

Pit strategy got Chase Elliott the lead and the weather secured his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2021 season.

Elliott and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team short-pit near the beginning of the final stage and were likely to end up two laps short on fuel to make it to the finish.

Fortunately for Elliott, heavy rains brought out the second red-flag of the race and NASCAR called the race complete following the completion of 54 of the scheduled 68 laps.

 

Had the race remained green, Elliott would either have likely run out of fuel or had been forced to pit under green for at least a splash of fuel and give up the lead.

The win is the reigning Cup champion’s first of the year and now all four HMS drivers have secured at least one win this season.

"I couldn't be more excited. I've never won a rain race before, so that's cool," Elliott said. "I'm just super-proud of mine and their ability to continue to fight. When we started we were'nt very good. I just kept pushing myself and we kept making changes throughout the day where I thought we were on pace with the other guys at the end.

"I'm looking forward to next week and trying to make it continue."

Asked about being short on fuel if the race went the distance, Elliott said, "I just kept pushing myself harder harder. There were some areas on the track that were very treacherous I felt like. The backstretch was puddling up and we were started to hydroplane and some other weird stuff.

"My only option was to just kind of send it through those spots and just hope for the best."

In 14 career road course starts in the Cup series, Elliott has now won six of them, including five of the past six.

With the win, Hendrick Motorsports has now matched Petty Enterprises on the all-time wins list in the Cup series with 268 victories.

Kyle Larson ended up second, Joey Logano third, Ross Chastain fourth and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top-five.

“I’m second, so I’d like to keep going. Obviously, yeah, it’ll be pretty hard to see if we get going,” Larson said right before the race was called. “We were starting to hydroplane. I won’t be surprised if this is it.”

Completing the top-10 were Chase Briscoe, Michael McDowell, Alex Bowman, pole-winner Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch.

Stage 3

Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, most lead-lap cars pit but Kyle Busch remained on the track and stayed in the lead when the race returned to green on Lap 36.

Busch decided to pit on Lap 41, turning the lead over to Larson. Elliott also elected to pit the same lap.

Austin Cindric decided to pit on Lap 43 while Chastain got around Logano to move into the second spot on the track.

Several more drivers hit pit road on Lap 45 for a green-flag stop for fuel and tires to make it to the finish. Larson pit the next lap, handing the lead over to Chastain.

Chastain dived down pit road on Lap 47 as rain picked up around the course. Bowman took over the race lead.

Elliott moved into the lead on Lap 50 as Bowman pit – among the last to make a final stop under green.

With 15 laps remaining, Kyle Busch pit again for additional fuel and new tires after Busch said he believed he would only lose ground on the track keeping the same tires.

On Lap 54, Kurt Busch ran off course in Turn 12 and into the gravel but was able to make his way back on the track.

 

Just after the incident, NASCAR displayed a caution for poor visibility conditions. Cindric also spun out on the lap.

NASCAR displayed the red flag again on Lap 55 and never restarted the race.

Stage 2

Kyle Busch managed to stay on track despite poor visibility and held off Elliott to take the Stage 2 win.

Reddick finished third, Cindric was fourth and Corey LaJoie rounded out the top-five.

Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, many of the lead-lap cars pit but Logano remained on the track and in the lead.

Briscoe was the first off pit road among those who pit. Cole Custer was penalized for a safety violation during his top and had to restart from the rear of the field.

The race returned to green on Lap 19 with Logano followed by McDowell, Kurt Busch, Larson and Chris Buescher.

On Lap 19, Christopher Bell appeared to get into the back of Blaney, who had a tire go down. On the same lap, Bubba Wallace plowed into the back of Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford, which had slowed on the track due to visibility issues.

 

Harvick went to pit road for repairs and returned to the track but his car began leaking oil across the course and race control ordered him to stop on track.

The race returned to green on Lap 25 with Logano in the lead. He was followed by Kyle Busch and Chastain.

Chastain powered into the lead on the restart only to see Ryan Preece begin to challenge him for the top spot.

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Later that lap, Martin Truex Jr. got into McDowell, which drastically slowed him on the track only to see Custer – who had near-zero visibility – plow into Truex’s No. 19 Toyota at full speed and lifting it off the ground.

NASCAR immediately red-flagged the race to clean the track of debris and remove standing water. Neither Truex nor Custer were hurt. The red flag lasted nearly 21 minutes.

 

All the cars were brought down pit road and their teams were allowed to service the drivers for visibility issues. The next lap, teams were allowed to make regular pit stops, during which most, including Chastain, elected to do so.

When the race returned to green on Lap 29, Preece led the way followed by Kyle Busch, Cindric, Elliott and Austin Dillon.

Kyle Busch grabbed the lead in Turn 1 on the restart only to see Cindric challenge him quickly for the top spot. The two traded the lead with Busch remaining out front to start Lap 30.

Austin Dillon was assessed a drive-thru penalty on pit road for violating the track limits through the esses.

Kyle Busch pushed his lead over Cindric to more than two seconds with one laps to go in the stage.

Stage 1

Logano held off McDowell during an eventful race in the rain and earned the Stage 1 victory, his third stage win of the 2021 season.

Kurt Busch finished third, Larson was fourth and Cindric rounded out the top-five.

Reddick started on the pole but Cindric powered around for the lead in Turn 1 on the first lap as it began raining significantly.

Following the completion of Lap 1, many teams that had started the race on slick tires elected to pit for wet weather tires.

With 10 laps remaining in the first stage, Cindric finally pit for wet weather tires handing the lead over to Truex.

On Lap 8, NASCAR displayed a caution as Daniel Suarez’s No. 99 Chevrolet stalled in the middle of Turn 13.

A number of drivers decided to pit, including Truex. However, McDowell remained on the track and inherited the lead.

When the race returned to green on Lap 10, McDowell was followed by Wallace, Stenhouse, Cindric and Logano.

After the restart, Logano went four-wide and moved into second as Cindric followed him in third.

With five laps remaining in the stage, Logano had gotten to McDowell’s rear bumper and was challenging for the lead.

Logano got around McDowell in Turn 15 to take the lead for the first time on Lap 11.

With one lap remaining in the stage, Matt DiBenedetto plowed into the right-rear of William Byron and both cars suffered damage. Byron was forced to pit while pit road was closed to repair the damage to his No. 24 Chevrolet.

Nine drivers had to move to the rear of the field to start the race due to unapproved adjustments to their cars following qualifying – Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Briscoe, James Davison, Buescher, Anthony Alfredo, Erik Jones, Cody Ware and Suarez.

Blaney and Brad Keselowski were also forced to start from the rear after their teams made unapproved adjustments to their respective cars while both were pitting for a tire change prior to the start.

Cla # Driver Manufacturer Laps Time Gap Interval Laps Led
1 9 United States Chase Elliott Chevrolet 54 3:00'05.845     5
2 5 United States Kyle Larson Chevrolet 54 3:00'21.501 15.656 15.656 4
3 22 United States Joey Logano Ford 54 3:00'33.176 27.331 11.675 14
4 42 United States Ross Chastain Chevrolet 54 3:00'39.541 33.696 6.365 4
5 16 United States A.J. Allmendinger Chevrolet 54 3:00'52.963 47.118 13.422  
6 14 United States Chase Briscoe Ford 54 3:00'58.585 52.740 5.622  
7 34 United States Michael McDowell Ford 54 3:01'00.333 54.488 1.748 3
8 48 United States Alex Bowman Chevrolet 54 3:01'02.704 56.859 2.371 3
9 8 United States Tyler Reddick Chevrolet 54 3:01'04.734 58.889 2.030  
10 18 United States Kyle Busch Toyota 54 3:01'07.402 1'01.557 2.668 12
11 24 United States William Byron Chevrolet 54 3:01'09.215 1'03.370 1.813  
12 3 United States Austin Dillon Chevrolet 54 3:01'21.263 1'15.418 12.048  
13 17 United States Chris Buescher Ford 54 3:01'21.725 1'15.880 0.462  
14 11 United States Denny Hamlin Toyota 54 3:01'29.390 1'23.545 7.665  
15 37 United States Ryan Preece Chevrolet 54 3:01'30.694 1'24.849 1.304 2
16 43 United States Erik Jones Chevrolet 54 3:01'32.110 1'26.265 1.416  
17 12 United States Ryan Blaney Ford 54 3:01'34.709 1'28.864 2.599  
18 38 Anthony Alfredo Ford 54 3:01'37.066 1'31.221 2.357  
19 2 United States Brad Keselowski Ford 54 3:01'47.882 1'42.037 10.816  
20 7 United States Corey Lajoie Chevrolet 54 3:01'52.712 1'46.867 4.830  
21 96 United States Ty Dillon Toyota 54 3:01'55.070 1'49.225 2.358  
22 47 United States Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chevrolet 54 3:01'56.046 1'50.201 0.976  
23 21 United States Matt DiBenedetto Ford 54 3:02'05.568 1'59.723 9.522  
24 6 United States Ryan Newman Ford 54 3:02'16.272 2'10.427 10.704  
25 33 United States Austin Cindric Ford 54 3:02'20.548 2'14.703 4.276 4
26 10 United States Aric Almirola Ford 54 3:02'27.714 2'21.869 7.166  
27 1 United States Kurt Busch Chevrolet 54 3:02'28.630 2'22.785 0.916  
28 53 United States Garrett Smithley Ford 54 3:02'53.230 2'47.385 24.600  
29 15 Australia James Davison Chevrolet 54 3:02'54.744 2'48.899 1.514  
30 52 United States Josh Bilicki Ford 54 3:02'59.225 2'53.380 4.481  
31 78 United Kingdom Kyle Tilley Ford 54 3:03'33.243 3'27.398 34.018  
32 51 United States Cody Ware Chevrolet 53 3:00'43.426 1 Lap 1 Lap  
33 99 Mexico Daniel Suarez Chevrolet 46 3:01'58.194 8 Laps 7 Laps  
34 00 United States Quin Houff Chevrolet 38 2:20'17.552 16 Laps 8 Laps  
35 19 United States Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 24 1:21'09.782 30 Laps 14 Laps 3
36 41 United States Cole Custer Ford 24 1:21'09.817 30 Laps 0.035  
37 4 United States Kevin Harvick Ford 19 1:00'33.196 35 Laps 5 Laps  
38 20 United States Christopher Bell Toyota 18 56'04.116 36 Laps 1 Lap  
39 23 United States Bubba Wallace Toyota 18 56'05.284 36 Laps 1.168  
40 77 United States Justin Haley Chevrolet 12 35'59.442 42 Laps 6 Laps  

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