The downside to being one of the young guns of NASCAR is that Chase Elliott, 20, had to drink water instead of wine in Victory Lane following his win at Sonoma Raceway in Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West Chevy’s Fresh Mex 200.
It didn’t seem to matter as Elliott drank from the crystal goblet and saluted the fans after his first road-course win since 2013 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
After all, the main goal for Elliott on this day was getting laps around the 1.99-mile track in preparation for Sunday’s Toyota Save Mart 350. Winning the race was just an added bonus!
“Just getting reps, getting laps, I hope that helps,” Elliott said. “Obviously, the cars are very different. You aren’t going to run 60 laps on one set of tires tomorrow. Different, definitely different, but hopefully getting the laps will help.”
After running in the top five for much of the second half of Saturday’s race, Elliott found himself in position to pass Noah Gragson with three laps to go. The two cars made contact in Turn 7, but after a couple anxious moments Elliott took over the lead and drove away for the win.
“I didn’t expect to get a run on him up there,” Elliott said. “Looked like he got a little bit more of the curve than he wanted to in (Turn) 4 and it washed him up a little wider than he wanted to go, I think, and it kind of opened the door for us to have a run.”
Before that Elliott spent much of the second half of the race in third or fourth place, waiting for the perfect time to make his move. That wasn’t by accident.
“I didn’t want those guys to push me any harder than I was going,” Elliott said. “I just felt like it was such a long ways to go, they were all racing kind of hard and kind of rooting each other up out of the way, and I didn’t really want any part of that.”
As a result, Elliott led only nine of the 64 laps in a race that featured nine cautions, including one at the green flag that involved Todd Gilliland. Gragson led the most laps at 34, but he didn’t lead the most important one at the finish. Elliott’s winning margin was 2.336 seconds.
Can Elliott turn water into wine Sunday and walk away with his first Sprint Cup win? That remains to be seen. He will start 16th on Row 8 next to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!