Chase Elliott drives backward after Texas win that could get him going in the right direction again


FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott drove backward on the track after an emotional victory that could really get the 2020 Cup champion headed in the right direction again.

It was a lot of relief for the 28-year-old driver who is part of NASCAR’s winningest team, and a tribute to Alan Kulwicki, who more three decades ago was an old-school driver much like Elliott’s father was.

After 42 races over 18 months without a victory, the younger Elliott won in double overtime Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, crossing the finish line under the track record-matching 16th caution that came out after he had already taken the white flag as the leader. He then copied Kulwicki’s trademark celebration with a victory lap driving the opposite way.

“It’s been a dream of mine to pay respect to the late Alan Kulwicki,” Elliott said. “It was pretty emotional for me. He beat dad back in the day.”

Elliott won in the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, which for the second of three scheduled races this season had the orange paint scheme with Hooters as the primary sponsor. That is the restaurant chain featured on owner-driver Kulwicki’s car his last two years of racing, including his 1992 Cup title that he won only because of bonus points for leading one lap more than race winner and series runner-up Bill Elliott in that season finale.

“As soon as the race was over, I was like, man, we finally got our opportunity to do it and pay respect to him and the partnership,” Elliott said. “Just kind of to see that whole deal come full circle with his championship run, outrunning my dad, they’re now a partner of mine, ended a long winless drought for them and myself too, and our team. Really special in a lot of ways. Pretty fitting when you look at it.”

Kulwicki got his last race victory at Pocono on June 14, 1992, and died in a plane crash the following April at age 38.

Texas was the fifth win this season, and the 306th overall, for Rick Hendrick’s team that a week earlier marked the 40th anniversary of win No. 1 with a 1-2-3 finish at Martinsville, where Elliott finished behind William Byron and Kyle Larson.

Elliott was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver the past six years, even after last season when he went without a victory while missing six races because of a snowboarding accident and serving a one-race suspension. He finished 17th, his only time out of the top 10 and without a playoff berth since becoming a full-time Cup driver in 2016, but still had 15 top-10 finishes.

His first victory since Talladega in October 2022 was his third consecutive top-five finish this season.

“I don’t feel like we go to the racetrack and just struggle and don’t run well. We have run well,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “Our average run position throughout the year is fourth. That’s a pretty elite position to be in. I just feel like for us to get back to winning consistently the way we want to, like anything else, I think we’re 90% of the way there. But that last 10% is super hard to get to the level that the 24 has been at recently. … We just need a little bit more. I don’t feel like we’ve been failing, so to speak.”

The No. 24 car is Byron, who has a Cup-high three wins this season after his series-leading six wins last year that included Hendrick’s 300th at Texas last September. Those are among 15 team wins between Elliott’s victories, with 2021 Cup champ Larson getting the other six.

Now Elliott has finally gotten back to Victory Lane for the 19th time in his Cup career.

“Nice to feel like you’re helping out,” Elliott said. “From a team perspective and the 40th (season) for Rick, just appreciative of him for sticking with me and continuing to believe in me, and to make sure that I know that. He does a great job of that. I’m grateful for it. Just glad I can contribute and we can contribute as a team to the company as a whole. That’s a lot more fun when you’re doing that.”

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AP NASCAR: https://apnews.com/hub/nascar-racing



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