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Chase Elliott’s Cup Series Season on the Brink After He Literally Ran Out of Gas
Did the weekend debacle at Watkins Glen International seal the fate of the Hendrick Motorsports superstar?
For Chase Elliott, Watkins Glen International will always hold significant weight in the memory bank. The iconic track delivered NASCAR’s most popular driver his first Cup Series win and Hendrick Motorsports’ its 250thcareer Cup Series victory back in 2018. The moment was made all the sweeter when seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson — Elliott’s forever hero — lined up in his car behind Elliott to push the rookie around the track after he ran out of gas just before his victory lap.
But despite that triumphant feat, the racing gods reminded the 27-year-old native of Dawsonville, Georgia this past weekend that the Glen can taketh away just as easy as it giveth.
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Though Elliott had been making progress during Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen Cup Series race, instead of revving into another epic, dream-worthy memory, Elliott and his team conjured up an embarrassing nightmare that’ll live on in infamy.
Heading into Lap 55 of the event, Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports team behind his No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro had roughly 36 laps to go in the race, but they’d never see the finish line because Elliott literally ran out of gas, and this time, Superman was not going to swoop in and save him.
A heavily expletive-peppered clip from inside Elliott’s No. 9 cockpit during the race captured the tense moment Elliott and his crew chief Alan Gustafson realized Elliott’s best chance of punching his 2023 playoff ticket had just gone up in high-octane fumes.
“I just hit it [the reserve fuel switch], I just hit it,” Elliott said over his team radio. Immediately following that, Gustafson replied, “Copy, you’ll pass me twice now.” A few moments later, Gustafson’s tone seemed to shift as he said, “You gotta pit this time, this time.” Elliott could then be heard saying that he was “sputtering” and, as his car started to lose power, Bubba Wallace in the No. 23 Toyota Camry whizzed past him. Realizing the extent of the mishap, Gustafson could be heard saying, “F-----g bad information” before Elliott dejectedly responded, “I am out of gas.”
“I know,” lamented Gustafson. “Just come to us whenever you can. It’s f-----g wrong information.”
After the race, Gustafson was asked about the fuel incident, but the crew chief refused to shed any light on how the fiasco transpired.
“That’s internal stuff,” Gustafson curtly responded, according to NBC Sports. “I’m not going to go over our internal struggles in the media. I’m not going over internal stuff in the media, and I’m certainly not going to educate everybody else on the problem.”
Whether it was bad info or just bad strategy to pit early on the 2.45-mile course, in the end, the result is the same: pure and utter embarrassment for NASCAR’s golden boy. In a season that has been full of shortcomings — including being sidelined for six weeks as he recovered from a snowboarding accident — for Elliott and his No. 9 team at Hendrick Motorsports, watching a tow truck lumber up to push his vehicle the remaining mile of asphalt so he could essentially pencil in a 32nd-place finish takes the cake.
That said, running out of fuel wasn’t the only reason for Elliott squandering arguably his best chance of winning a race to propel him into the postseason. In the qualifiers, Elliott was lackluster, but he took the blame for his weak performance that earned him the 15th spot for his starting position.
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“Hopefully, I can figure out how to drive the vehicle faster,” noted Elliott after qualifying, reports NBC Sports.
Then, as if a portent of things to come, Gustafson spoke about how a riskier strategy had to be employed because fewer cautions are thrown in a road race, and Elliott’s car was noticeably slower than his competitors — an irksome combo that would ultimately hinder him from moving through the field.
“To win, you have to have very little margin,” revealed Gustafson. “That’s what winning is. You’re going to make sure you exploit everything to the highest percentile possible. So, anytime you’re trying to push, you’re cutting margins. So, that gets riskier and riskier.”
Gustafson had Elliott pit on Lap 17, which was earlier than most of the racers. After Elliott went from 13th to sixth, it appeared that the gamble was paying off, but clearly his fuel tank had a heartbreaking surprise in store for Elliott and Gustafson.
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While Elliott was not made available to the media after the race, instead, four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon spoke to the press about the situation.
“Clearly [a] miscalculation with the 9 car, and that was huge,” stated Gordon in his presser. “He [Elliott] came in a little bit short the first stop, and so they were trying to stretch it to get closer on the strategy of others. ... The fuel just wasn’t there. It was really unfortunate.”
Looking ahead, only the coveted final race at Daytona International Speedway remains, but Elliott fans who are expecting a miracle to power him to a first-place finish might want to recall the very words that their mild-mannered hero uttered before heading into the Glen.
“To show up there [Daytona] and be in a must-win situation is like going to Vegas and having to hit the nearest slot machine for the jackpot,” Elliott said, according to The Sports Rush. “That’s just silly.”