Chase Elliott has faced must-win scenarios for much of the past two months and he closed out on another one Saturday night in winning the 50 lap Snowball Derby Last Chance Race.
Unlike the NASCAR victories at Martinsville and Phoenix to clinch the Cup Series championship, Elliott didn’t need to win but it was the most commanding way imaginable to advance into the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
Elliott started 11th and methodically worked his way through the top-10, breaking into the top-four by lap 20, and taking the lead from Augie Grill on 35 and pulled away with a comfortable margin.
Did it still feel like he was in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs?
“I never thought of it that way until you said so,” Elliott said. “It’s one of those scenarios where you perform or go home, just like it was at the end of the playoffs for us, too. Really, proud of the effort and all my guys working hard this morning and throughout the afternoon.
“We never got too down and out and kept improving.”
Grill, Derek Griffith and Chandler Smith all advance into the 53rd Snowball Derby alongside Elliott, the latter driving from the rear of the field after his impound disqualification on Friday.
“The good lord kept me navigate through the traffic and we made it all the way through and made a good statement,” Smith said. “We have a good hot rod for tomorrow. I always beat myself up in practice. That’s what Saturday usually does to you, here, but we got back to our notes and went back to Thursday and here we are.
Grill felt like he should have made the top-30 in time trials if not for messing up his lap, but he’s glad he ran the Last Chance Race because they found some mechanical gremlins that would have otherwise eliminated them early on Sunday.
“We caught some wind of some stuff here, and we’ll fix that and get it to turn better,” Grill said. “I believe we’ll have a really good racecar. We’re a little bit off what Chase Elliott was running there, but he’s Chase Elliott.”
Griffith made the field for the third time in a row, but this was the first time he needed to go through the last chance.
“I knew we had a good car,” Griffith said. “The qualifying results had me confused because we had a good day until qualifying and that was the bad part. I knew we had a good race car and came on through. It helped to have a green to checkers because crazy things happen in this race, but not tonight.”
The most notable elimination was 2018 race winner Noah Gragson, who just completed the deal to race this weekend with Richie Wauters, and with support from James Finch. Wauters brought brand new Senneker car and they just couldn’t figure it out.
“We just never got a handle on it,” Gragson said. “I was just starting to get comfortable in our pace and felt like we had a pretty good car. It was super finnicky, and it only reacts to changes negatively. I’m very thankful for the opportunity with Wauters and James, Billy Ballew. The Phoenix Construction group worked their butts off and I’m proud of the opportunity to work with them.
Now, Elliott will turn his attention to winning on Sunday after turning 50 laps in race pace to prepare for the Snowball Derby.
“It’s obviously really hard to tell right now, because it’s cool and dark,” Elliott said. “It’s a little different situation with the earlier start time tomorrow. Overall, I was pleased with our balance. The main thing tomorrow will be staying out of trouble and staying on the lead lap with starting at the back. It’s not the easiest scenario, but it’s very much achievable, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Reminder: He won the Cup Series championship after starting back at the rear in Phoenix, too.
LAST CHANCE RACE RESULTS
- Chase Elliott
- Augie Grill
- Derek Griffith
- Chandler Smith
- Sammy Smith
- Noah Gragson
- Hudson Halder
- Carson Hocevar
- Kodie Conner
- Austin Nason
- Connor Okrzesik
- Kason Plott
- Justin T. Johnson
- Kyle McCallum
- Gabe Sommers
- Kyle Bryant
- Dalton Zehr
- Casey Johnson
- Ryan Crane
- Colten Nelson
- Perry Patino