How Chase Elliott finally snapped his NASCAR winless streak

Chase Elliott hadn't won a NASCAR Cup Series race for 18 months but he was back in Victory Lane on Sunday

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The last time Chase Elliott won a NASCAR Cup Series race on an intermediate oval, it was during the height of Covid-19 pandemic. The last time Hooters won a race, he was not even born.

Despite winning five races during the Next Gen car’s debut season, Elliott struggled with bad luck in the eighteen-plus months since that fifth victory at Talladega on October 2, 2022.

He reached the 2022 Championship Round but was taken out of contention by a spin, then missed seven races early in 2023 when he fractured his tibia while snowboarding, the low point in a winless season as he missed the playoffs and finished a career-worst seventeenth in the standings.

After 560 days and 47 races of frustration, he has finally reached the end of the tunnel after surviving a chaotic Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

The race was marred by wrecks that resulted in 14 cautions excluding the two stage breaks, the second most in track history. Despite the carnage, his Hendrick Motorsports team, riding the high of a dominant 1–2–3 finish at Martinsville the week prior, seemed poised to add a second straight win as Kyle Larson won the opening stage before his right-rear wheel suddenly detached at speed.

With Larson out of the picture, Elliott survived the melee to take the lead with 30 laps to go. He and Denny Hamlin battled for the position, during which two more accidents occurred, until the latter spun with just two laps remaining to set up overtime. A second overtime was called after Kaz Grala and Harrison Burton crashed together, keeping Elliott on his toes yet again.

Elliott and Ross Chastain comprised the front row for the second restart, and they raced side by side until Elliott managed to clear him for first exiting Turn 4. As Elliott drove off to start the final lap, Chastain was clipped by Elliott‘s team-mate William Byron to end the race under yellow.

“I’ve just been really proud of our group for sticking together. I know that when you have a couple bad years, a period of time that things aren’t going well, it is so easy to jump ship and to start bailing out on one another,” Elliott said about his #9 team.

“I think that the win’s great, all that stuff is fantastic, but I’m truthfully most proud of the journey and the group of people that we have climbed back up together with. We’ve made each other better. They push me to be a better driver and a better person.

“I just feel like we’re all in a really good place, and we have been. It’s nice to see all the hard work pay off. Those guys really deserve to win. They’ve been busting it for a while, have been doing a really good job.”

The win marked his first top-five finish at an intermediate track in the Next Gen car era. Despite the long drought, his Hendrick colleagues feel it was not a sign of him faltering in the years since his title.

“We don’t as a company think Chase Elliott has ever been gone,” opined team president Jeff Andrews. “We had some things to work on with the team, the support we were giving them.

“As I said before, he and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) spent a lot of time this winter on rebuilding that team, putting the right folks in that team, people that believed as much in that team as Alan and Chase did. I think when you get all the folks pulling together and rowing the boat in one direction, you start to see the results like we’ve had so far with that team in 2024.

“Certainly, Chase is back. I think the bigger picture is what we’ve seen in 2024 is exactly the momentum we want to see built with that team. They’re headed in a good direction, now have an opportunity in the playoffs. We’re going to keep working as an organization to get even stronger than where we’re at now.”

Chase Elliott celebrates after winning the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 in Texas | NASCAR
Chase Elliott celebrates after winning the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 in Texas | NASCAR

Hooters’ first Cup win in nearly 32 years

Besides his personal winless streak, Elliott’s victory also marked the first for his car’s primary sponsor Hooters since the late Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 Champion Spark Plug 500 at Pocono on 14 June 1992, a stretch of 11,627 days or 31 years and 10 months. Kulwicki, who went on to win that year’s championship over Elliott’s father Bill, was also responsible for Hooters‘ other three Cup Series victories at the 1991 Bud 500 and 1992 Food City 500 at Bristol.

Since then, however, the restaurant chain struggled to return to Victory Lane. Following Kulwicki’s death in a plane crash during the 1993 season, the sponsorship bounced between multiple drivers including Loy Allen Jr., Elton Sawyer, Rick Mast, and Brett Bodine before pulling out of the sport in 2003.

The company returned to NASCAR for a one-off tribute livery to Kulwicki by Greg Biffle in 2016 before becoming a permanent mainstay the following year with Elliott. Still, it would not be until Sunday that he finally broke through for Hooters‘ elusive fourth NASCAR victory.

Elliott celebrated the win by doing a Polish victory lap, going around Texas in a clockwise direction in tribute to Kulwicki, a Polish American, who did the same during his wins.

“It’s one of the coolest parts of the post race for me. Hooters has been a great partner of ours for a number of years now,” said Elliott.

“It’s been a dream to pay respect to Alan Kulwicki, do a Polish victory lap in the Hooters colours. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and just have not had the opportunity to do that. Came close a few times.

“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.’ Hooters has been around for a long time. #

“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 kind of look at it.”

Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen is Total-Motorsport.com's resident NASCAR aficionado and is also the off-road reporter for The Checkered Flag.
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