AVONDALE, Ariz. — Chase Elliott said he was “not sure” what led to the contact with Ross Chastain that sent Elliott into the wall, but that moment ended his chances of winning a second Cup championship.
Joey Logano had the dominant car, leading 187 of 312 laps to win Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway and collect his second Cup crown.
Chastain was the only other title contender to place in the top 10, finishing third. Christopher Bell, doomed by a slow pit stop late, finished 10th. Elliott was 28th, finishing two laps down with his damaged car.
Elliott’s race turned on Lap 200. He restarted on the inside of the third row and had Chastain behind him. After they crossed the start/finish line, Chastain moved down the track and started to get underneath Elliott’s car as Elliott came down the track. They made contact and it sent Elliott into the inside wall.
“Just disappointed, obviously, ended our day and ended our chance at a win or a championship,” Elliott said. “Just disappointing.”
Chastain said: “I felt like I got position on him, to the left side, the dogleg, and he turned left.”
On Lap 236, Chastain came upon Elliott’s wounded car. Chastain got by but Elliott closed to the rear bumper of Chastain’s car. Chastain managed to pull away.
Asked why he didn’t wreck Chastain, Elliott said: “Just proud of my team and appreciate the effort that they put in and the fight that we had for these last nine weeks.”
A look at the contact between Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain from Ross’ view.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) November 6, 2022
After getting by Elliott, the handling on Chastain’s car started to go away. While Bell hounded Logano for fourth place on Lap 257, Chastain was running ninth.
A caution at Lap 269 gave Bell and Chastain another shot to at Logano with a faster pit stop. Bell entered pit road fifth and exited 16th after his jackman got his finger caught between the nut and spindle. That ended Bell’s title chances.
“It’s unbelievable how much your pace is better (in clean air),” Bell said. “You take the same cars that are running 10th, 15th and put them in the front, and their pace is always going to be better.
“There were a couple things that we definitely could have done different today, but ultimately (Logano) was lights out all weekend, winning the pole and being super strong in practice. We were just kind of playing catch-up, the rest of us were playing catch-up to him. The best car won the championship for sure.”
Bell put the race in perspective after finding out Sunday morning that Coy Gibbs, vice chairman at Joe Gibbs Racing, died in his sleep.
“You wake up first thing this morning and super excited and thrilled with life and where you’re at and the opportunity given to you,” Bell said. “To receive news like that a couple hours before you get in the car is extremely tough.
“Just really kind of puts it in perspective that what we’re doing here is not the big picture for sure. Yeah, just thinking of Joe. I just can’t imagine what Joe is going through and the entire Gibbs family. That’s the important piece.”
With Bell out of a title contention, that left only Chastain.
His car improved after the final pit stop. He got to third place in the final laps and finished 1.2 seconds behind Logano.
So, could the driver who stunned a sport with his video game move at Martinsville to advance to the championship, make the move pay off again?
“With five to go, I looked at it going into Turn 3, and I knew (teammate Daniel Suarez) tried it (in a simulator) and other guys, and I just didn’t think that it worked,” Chastain said.
“I thought that the Martinsville scenario was the perfect scenario for it. My gut told me to do it at Martinsville and my gut told me not to do it here.”
Even though he fell short of his first title, Chastain didn’t walk away crestfallen.
“I can’t believe how good I feel,” Chastain said. “I finished second in the Truck Series at points in 2019 and was crying pulling in the pits off the track and just got it together kind of and then just lost my mind that night, but then had Xfinity and Cup, and it kind of took my mind off it.
“Right now, I just am proud of what we’ve done, and I feel so good. … There were no tears, no moment where I had to compose myself. It was just genuine good feeling from inside.”
As for Elliott, his mindset was different.
“Looking forward to the offseason,” he said.