Elliott falls just short of first NASCAR Cup win at Dover International Speedway

DOVER — Everything appeared to be falling into place for Chase Elliott as he was closing in on his first career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was cheering him on from his pit box, he had the advice of teammate Jimmie Johnson — the master of Dover — ringing in his head and he had the checkered flag in sight in Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Unfortunately for Elliott, he also had the relentless Kyle Busch in his rear-view mirror.

Busch, working the high side of Dover’s steep-banked, one-mile oval, passed Elliott on the outside heading into the third turn on lap 398 and managed to hold him off at the finish by just a couple of car lengths.

Elliott finished in second place, but was dejected as he thought he let a milestone victory get away.

“I’m just disappointed in myself,” said Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott. “I couldn’t have had it any easier, I just gave it away.

“I appreciate my team and their efforts, our pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame, and I didn’t.”

Elliott started Sunday’s race from the 12th position. He knew he had a fast No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet because he posted the quickest lap in the final practice session on Saturday.

The 21-year-old driver from Dawsonville, Georgia, quickly worked himself up through the field and proved that he would be a contender for the win.

Elliott led the race three times for a total of 138 laps, including laps 340 through 398.

However, Kyle Busch chipped away at what had been a four-second lead by Elliott over the closing 40 laps of the race and pulled behind his rear bumper with five laps to go.

Elliott also had the challenge of whittling his way through lapped traffic while Busch kept on charging and closed the gap.

Gordon actually had some words for Ryan Newman, one of the drivers who fought to keep Elliott behind him near the finish, before cooler heads prevailed.

“I know Chase is hungry and he’s been trying for a couple of years to try to get his first Cup Series win,” Busch said, “but I saw that carrot hanging out there and I was going to get it.

“I just gave it everything I had and fortunately it was enough. We had a little bit fresher tires than he did and they just took us right to him.”

Johnson, who finished in third place, chased down Elliott after exiting his race car on pit road.

He said he wanted to give him a chance to collect his thoughts after suffering through such a disappointing loss.

“I knew I couldn’t make him feel any better,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to check on him and turn him around where people couldn’t see his face and let him get those first words and sentences out.

“I anticipated them being cuss words, and they were. I was just trying to let him vent a little and get those first few sentences out. I just know from my own experience it’s nice to kind of vent and get through that.”

Elliott left Dover wondering what could have been.

“When you look back obviously I could have done something different, but I didn’t,” Elliott said.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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