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Chase Elliott All-Star win helps make up for some of season’s struggles

Chase Elliott dominated at Bristol Motor Speedway to grab his first NASCAR All-Star Race victory.

When he’s been good this season, Chase Elliott has been very good, with one win, seven top five and nine top-10 finishes. And now you can add his $1 million win in Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway to that list.

“To me, this is one of those prestigious events that the Cup Series only has,” Elliott said after his first career All-Star Race win. “You’re racing against the very best over recent times and anybody’s career that have locked themselves into this event. To beat the best I think is always special.”

But even with the excitement of Wednesday’s win, Elliott was quick to point out that he and his team have also struggled this season – including six finishes of 20th or worse.

“I feel like I needed to hit the reset button, not overthink things, do what I feel is right,” Elliott said. “That’s a hard thing to do all the time. You try to get better, you try to learn. A lot of times you can take yourself down a road, this or that, that may not necessarily be benefitting you.

“But we all want to improve. I certainly have room for improvement. Tonight was a great night for us, but I still think I can do better and there’s areas I can improve on. I’m going to keep working on that.”

In addition to the winner’s check going a long way toward helping his wallet, Elliott was happy to have fans back in the stands. The racetrack capped admission at 30,000 fans -- and The Associated Press estimated 20,000 attended -- but it was still the country’s largest crowd at a sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic halted U.S. sports four months ago.

“To me, tonight felt like an event again,” Elliott said. “I feel like we’ve been missing that piece for a couple months. I mean, NASCAR is built on the fans. Once the race starts, it’s hard to engage with them because you can’t hear them. Before a race, the atmosphere was energetic again. I felt like the vibe was back.

“I felt like that fire and intensity in me was back even more so than it has been, a piece that had been missing. I think that’s driven by the people, the cars pulling in, the prerace parties and everything that you see.”

Elliott saw that fan excitement up close, admitting he “snuck up” into the grandstands to watch the All-Star Open, which preceded the main event.

“I’m looking around, seeing all these kids and families, people wearing their respective drivers, a lot of 9 gear,” he said. “You don’t realize how much impact you have on people you never met, you never will meet, who genuinely want to see me do well and they don’t even know me. It’s pretty dang cool to experience that.

“I felt like I had a special night sitting up there with them watching that Open from the grandstands, really seeing and getting back to the roots of what this sport is built on. Then to engage with them after the race, to me it made it mean that much more.”

The All-Star win helped Elliott make up for his disappointing 23rd-place finish last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

But he feels some semblance of redemption to give Hendrick Motorsports its series-record 10th All-Star Race win. And Elliott joins father Bill as the only Cup drivers to win the All-Star Race when it was held somewhere other than Charlotte Motor Speedway. The elder Elliott won the exhibition event when it was held in 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Any race is hard to win, but this is a special race to win, something that locks you in the All‑Star Race for life,” he said. “That’s extremely special to join dad.”

Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, had one regret after the race.

“I certainly wish this was a points race,” Gustafson said. “We’ve had a couple races, a stretch, that haven’t been the greatest for us. … That’s the way it goes sometimes, you just don’t get the finishes that you feel like you deserve. That’s certainly the case at Indianapolis (11th) and Kentucky (23rd) and the first Pocono (25th). We have some points to make up.”

Elliott is fourth in the standings, but he’s 100 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick.

Wednesday’s race was the second leg of a string that will see Cup teams compete in four races in 11 days. Next up are Texas (this Sunday) and Kansas (July 23), then there are nine days off before returning to action at New Hampshire on August 2.

“To be honest with you, Texas and Loudon aren’t two of our better tracks,” Gustafson acknowledged. “Those tracks we’ve circled to work hard on and try to improve. I feel like we can. I think we learned some things from Kentucky we can take to Texas. We’re looking forward to putting that to use. Loudon is a place we need to work on. We’ve had some decent runs there. I wouldn’t say we’ve got that one circled as one of our favorites.”

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