Chase Elliott won at Kansas Speedway on Sunday for his second victory in three races, cementing himself as a championship threat.
Elliott needed 98 career starts before he figured out how to close out a win. The breakthrough victory 11 events ago sparked his performance in NASCAR’s playoffs and Elliott bookended this second round with wins.
His victory three races ago at Dover ensured Elliott a spot in the round of eight, and the Kansas victory showed he just might contend for the title.
The playoff field was trimmed to eight and those who didn’t advance out of Kansas were Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, both winners in the first round of the playoffs, Kyle Larson and Elliott teammate Alex Bowman.
Larson needed to win to make it into the third round and was frantically chasing Elliott in the closing laps but settled for third. He was docked 10 points by NASCAR earlier this week for an infraction at Talladega, his team lost two appeals of the penalty and he was in a must-win situation at Kansas.
Advancing into the third round of the playoffs were Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Joey Logano.
Stewart-Haas Racing has all four of its cars in the round of eight and Ford has five of the slots. Toyota has two entrants in Kyle Busch and defending series champion Truex, while Elliott is the only representative from Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports.
“This is a huge time of year. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a long ways to go,” Elliott said.
Raikkonen wins US Grand Prix as Hamilton F1 title bid denied
Kimi Raikkonen won the U.S. Grand Prix, his first victory since 2013, as a strong Sunday from Ferrari denied Lewis Hamilton’s bid for a fifth career Formula One championship.
The Mercedes driver could have closed out the season title with a result that would have left him eight points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. But Hamilton’s third-place finish, the first time he hasn’t won the U.S. Grand Prix since 2013, and Vettel’s fourth pushed the championship back another week to Mexico City.
Raikkonen, a former world champion, won a race that saw a blistering finish. Hamilton made a late charge for second, only to be denied by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who had fought through the field after starting 18th. Vettel make a key move into fourth in the final laps to keep the championship alive.
Hamilton started the day 67 points ahead of Vettel in the title chase and looked to be on course for yet another victory at the Circuit of the Americas, where he has won five of the previous six Grand Prix events. Any finish that put him eight points clear of Vettel on the day would have clinched the championship and tied him with Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio for second most in F1 history.
Hamilton started on pole position but quickly lost position to Raikkonen on the first turn. Hamilton tried to squeeze Raikkonen to the inside on the bolt uphill out of the start, but the Ferrari nosed ahead into the left turn into the slingshot downhill.
Vettel was under pressure from the beginning. He started fifth because of a three-spot grid penalty for driving too fast while under a red flag during a Friday practice.
Vettel at first looked like he tried to make up too much, too soon. A bump with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo caused Vettel to spin and dropped him to ninth, and the gap looked like it would be too much to overcome.
But the 39-year old Raikkonen, who will be leaving Ferrari after this season to join Sauber, snagged a victory that had been a long time coming.
Hamilton still takes a commanding lead to Mexico City, where he clinched the 2017 championship, but Ferrari’s weekend shows nothing will be guaranteed there either. Vettel was within .061 seconds of Hamilton in qualifying in Texas, and Raikkonen’s late-season victory shows that the red cars still have some muscle to challenge the Mercedes.