Chase Elliott wins at Daytona for third straight road course triumph
Daytona Beach, Fla. — Chase Elliott was already NASCAR royalty. Now he's also the sport's road king.
Elliott won the Cup Series' first road course race at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, holding off hard-charging Denny Hamlin following a late restart and notching his third consecutive victory away from ovals.
"I had a phenomenal car. I don't think I did anything special today," Elliott said.
NASCAR's most popular driver, the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, also won on road courses at Charlotte and at Watkins Glen last year. He got a tougher challenge than many expected down the stretch in his latest roadie.
The 24-year-old driver had a 10-second lead with 10 laps to go and was pulling away when Kyle Busch blew a tire and brought out a caution that gave his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., a chance.
But Elliott stayed out front on the final restart. Hamlin got to his rear bumper on the last lap, but couldn't do enough to mount any significant pressure.
"I kept him honest there," Hamlin said. "He had such good drive off (the corners) I couldn't do anything with him."
Hamlin finished second, followed by Truex and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Elliott, Hamlin and Truex had the cars to beat all afternoon. Truex's chances took a huge hit near the end of the second segment. He was caught speeding on pit road and forced to start the last stanza at the back of the pack. Hamlin also got stuck behind slower cars early in the final stage.
Making up that kind of ground on a 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course was a nearly impossible task, especially considering Elliott was turning mistake-free laps at the front of the field.
But that late caution gave both a shot, albeit an unlikely one given Elliott's road repertoire.
Another top contender, points leader Kevin Harvick, got turned around while braking into the "international horseshoe" and never recovered. Harvick finished 17th.
Kaz Grala was seventh in his Cup debut. Grala stepped into the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing after Austin Dillon tested positive for COVID-19. Dillon needs two negative tests 24 hours apart before being cleared to return.
"This is far beyond my wildest dreams for this event," Grala said.
Ryan Newman was 19th in his return to the scene of his most harrowing crash.
Newman delivered a special message to safety workers minutes before the race started. Newman spoke over his radio to the control tower, a clip that was later played during the NBC broadcast.
"Hey everyone, just want to say a big thank you," Newman said. "This is a special day for me. I owe a lot of it because of all the things that you guys did back in February. It's enabled me to … come back into this racetrack and do what I love.
"Thank you for your support, not only for me personally but all the things you do for all us drivers. It goes a long way, and I want to say thank you from the deepest of my heart. Thank you."
Newman had to be cut from his No. 6 Ford after wrecking while leading the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.