By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
FONTANA, Calif. – It was Georgia versus Las Vegas in the closing laps of the Pala Casino 400. While Kyle Busch triumphed with his new Richard Childress Racing ride, Chase Elliott still holds his head high after a strong runner-up result at Auto Club Speedway.
“Hard to say after one day,” said Elliott. “I was definitely really proud of our group sticking together. We ran poorly the last couple months, had a couple high spots but we were more on defense than offense.”
It truly was a hard Playoff run for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, but the hard work into the off-season with the sophomore year of NASCAR’s new NextGen Car has proven itself on the track by earning stage points in both stages in Sunday’s race. While it is just the first two races of the year, early signs point in a good direction.
“I hope this trend continues,” Elliott continued. “We have to get to some other tracks and kind of see where we stack up, but as far as today went, I was really proud of our team and really proud of the effort we put into the winter. We’re ready for the grind and I’m looking forward to it.”
Qualifying was rained and snowed out on Saturday, so NASCAR’s metric system set the starting grid for the main event, relegating Elliott to a 33rd place starting position. Auto Club’s wide facility provides many options for drivers to take their spot and own it.
“If you have your car driving good, this is a place that you can pass and fortunately, we had it fairly close.”
Unfortunately, the speedway will tear down a majority of the facility after the managing board sold all but 89 acres of the surrounding land. Recent permits show the track may be anywhere from a 1/2 mile to a 2/3 mile oval, if they are able to continue forward with the construction. Like many drivers, crew members and team owners, Elliott too will miss the great racing that Fontana had to offer.
“I hate that’s the case,” he shared. “I can’t do anything about that. That’s way above me. This was a great race track. We didn’t have that many good runs, but today was good so I guess it was nice to send it off on a somewhat high note.”
It wasn’t just Elliott’s performance but the track’s performance that ended on a high note on Sunday afternoon. It was a disheartened shrug and a bleak feeling of what would now become simple memories across the garage, but the sport races on.
“Sounds like this is it.”