Sunday, June 20, 2021

CUP: At Nashville, five lug nuts drop Chase Elliott behind a driver who completed just two corners

PHOTO: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images

Chase Elliott picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet finished 13th, but was disqualified for five “loose or missing lug nuts” after completing all 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Elliott’s 202nd Cup start, was his first of the season and first since November 10, 2019 at Phoenix, 54 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 34th for the #9, the 25th from disqualification, and the 808th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 43rd disqualification, the 56th for the #9, and the 1,788th for Chevrolet.

Quin Houff picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ally 400 at the Nashville Superspeedway when his #00 Mane ‘n Tail / Spirit Untamed Chevrolet was eliminated in a single-car crash without completing any of the 300 laps.

The finish, which came in Houff’s 70th series start, was his second of the year and first since the Daytona Infield Road Course, 15 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 30th for the #00, the 615th from a crash, and the 808th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 45th for the #00, the 1,257th for a crash, and the 1,788th for Chevrolet.

Last November saw Elliott bounce back from his last-place finish in the 2019 Phoenix race to take the checkered flag and the series championship in the same event. Following a runner-up finish to Michael McDowell in this year’s Daytona 500, he endured a hot-and-cold start to the year until Kansas, where a 5th-place finish began a streak of six straight finishes of 7th or better. A 3rd at Dover coincided with the resurgence of the entire four-car team at Hendrick Motorsports, and a win in the rain-shortened inaugural event in COTA was his first of the season. Coming into Nashville, Elliott had finished runner-up in each of the last two races to a now-dominant Kyle Larson – one each in the Coca-Cola 600 and the road course in Sonoma.

Elliott and his familiar NAPA Auto Parts machine arrived in Nashville with the 3rd-fastest time, again trailing teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson. He then qualified 6th with a speed of 161.093mph (29.722 seconds), again directly behind Byron and Larson.

Starting 39th and last was Quin Houff. Houff began the weekend 36th of the 39 entrants in practice, outpacing both Motorsports Business Management entries and the Rick Ware Racing #15 run this week by Joey Gase. In qualifying, Houff took an aggressive line into Turn 1, but his car slid up the track and out of the groove. The driver fought the wheel, keeping the car out of the wall, and managed to slow his car down in a four-wheel drift. Houff brought his car in after the incident as the only driver to not post a time, and would roll off last.

On race day, Houff incurred a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. Also docked for the same reason were Erik Jones, who qualified a strong 9th in the #43 Black Entrepreneur Initiative Chevrolet, and 4th-place William Byron in the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet. Both would be joined by Ryan Blaney, who suffered minor damage to the left-rear corner of his #12 Duracell Optima / Menards Ford and had to make a stop one lap before the green flag. Blaney did not take the green in last as Houff dropped behind him along with 37th-place Joey Gase in the #15 Donate Life Tennessee Chevrolet and 38th-place David Starr in the #13 Bob Menery Toyota.

When the green flag dropped, Houff’s car was the last to cross the stripe, 3.87 seconds back of the lead. Just seconds after frontrunners Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman had to check-up for running the high lane in Turns 1 and 2, Houff’s car suddenly cut right in Turn 1 and pounded the outside wall. Houff kept his car in the fence as his right-front wheel, apparently broken off in the impact, rolled down the banking into the grass. Houff climbed from his car, his day done just 18 seconds after the green flag. “Went straight into the fence,” said the team. “Knocked the right-front tire off it.” On Lap 3, Houff’s car was towed to the garage. It wasn’t until Lap 40 that NASCAR confirmed he was out of the race.

Houff towed behind the wall after his Lap 1 crash.
PHOTO: @STaranto92

Brake issues and high temperatures made Houff far from the only victim of a hard crash. After recovering from his pre-race pit stop, Ryan Blaney’s #12 used so much brake that the rotor exploded on Lap 54, putting him into the wall off Turn 2. Just over 20 laps later, Justin Haley’s #77 Diamond Creek Water Chevrolet had a right-front tire failure of his own, and Chris Buescher’s #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford followed him into the fence after running over debris from Haley’s car. 

Originally rounding out the Bottom Five was David Starr, whose #13 blew a left-front rake rotor and cut down a tire, but didn’t draw a caution. Starr made it to pit road after his brake pedal went to the floor, and Bubba Wallace spun his #23 Door Dash / PetSmart Toyota after he ran over Starr’s debris. Wallace kept going while Starr was declared out by NASCAR on Lap 143.

Chase Elliott, meanwhile, crossed the line in 13th place, having won Stage 1 and finished 7th in Stage 2. He remained 3rd in the series standings, but closed from 73 points to within 55 of Denny Hamlin’s lead. Kyle Larson, the race winner, remained second in the standings and closed from 47 points back to only 9. But in post-race inspection, Elliott’s car was found with five “loose or missing” lug nuts (not all on the same wheel), which resulted in an immediate disqualification. This bounced David Starr out of the Bottom Five, Cole Custer out of the Bottom Ten, and dropped Elliott to 4th in the overall standings, 94 back of Hamlin.

Kurt Busch was the big beneficiary of Elliott’s DQ, inheriting the Stage 1 victory and moving from 11th into a points-earning 10th in Stage 2. Also benefitting was Corey LaJoie, who originally finished three spots behind Elliott in the #7 Pryor & Lee Chevrolet. LaJoie moved from 16th to 15th – his fourth-straight finish in the Top 20 and best run since his season-best 9th in the Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. earned one of his best runs of the season, challenging for the lead over much of the distance and finishing in 6th in the #47 Kroger / Nature Valley Chevrolet.

Behind him in 7th came Daniel Suarez, who steered Trackhouse Racing’s #99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet to its first top-ten finish since Dover and second-best behind their 4th-place run in the Bristol Dirt Race, where Stenhouse finished his own season-best 2nd. This run came just hours after it was revealed Trackhouse’s leased Charter will go to Kaulig Racing’s second Cup team in 2022. Trackhouse has since announced they will run next season with or without a Charter, but expects to acquire a Charter from elsewhere.

*This marked the first time the #9 was classified last by disqualification, and only the second time it was classified last after leading laps. The other time was March 30, 2003, when Chase’s father Bill Elliott led 43 laps at Texas before engine trouble.

39) #9-Chase Elliott / 300 laps / disqualified / led 13 laps / won stage 1 (revoked)
38) #00-Quin Houff / 0 laps / crash
37) #12-Ryan Blaney / 53 laps / crash
36) #17-Chris Buescher / 77 laps / crash
35) #77-Justin Haley / 79 laps / crash

1st) Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (2)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, JTG-Daugherty Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (10)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


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