NASCAR playoff driver Chase Elliott’s Chevy blows an engine at Martinsville
Engine change will put him at the rear of the field to start Sunday’s race
NASCAR championship hopeful Chase Elliott is already deep in a hole a full day before Sunday afternoon’s First Data Cup Series 500 at Martinsville Speedway. A catastrophic engine failure in Saturday morning’s first practice session will put the sport’s most popular driver at the rear of the field for the 500-lap Cup Series race that begins round 3 of the four-round playoff series.
Yes, drivers have won at Martinsville from deep on the grid. Kurt Busch, in fact, won from 36th in the fall of 2002, and nine others have won from outside the top 20. But seldom has a championship contender had to make up so much ground on the circuit’s shortest, tightest and most fickle slab of concrete. The only good news — if there is any — is that he has 500 laps to overcome the failure, and it’s better to blow up today than Sunday.
“We broke a motor, five laps in (to practice) and it’s obviously an unfortunate way to start the day,” Elliott said after posting the morning’s 14th quickest time on the lap before he blew up. “But it’s one of those things …. kind of what it is at this point. Everybody is working hard to try to get our car back put together to get in some practice in (the following session). At this point, that’s the most important thing.”
The Hendrick Motorsports team rebounded nicely, finishing sixth in the second session.
Elliott has made only eight career starts at Martinsville, the first a 38th place in the spring of 2015 when he was a Cup Series rookie. He’s had bad runs of 38th, 20th and 27th, good ones of 3rd, 9th, 7th and 2nd last spring, and a so-so finish of 12th in 2016. Three of his eight starts have been among the top 10.
His No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro blew an engine at Dover several weeks ago, relegating him to dead-last 38th-place finish. He said it might be too early to tell if one failure was related to the other, but he has his doubts.
“Based on what happened, I don’t think they’re related,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but anytime you have two engine problems in four weeks isn’t good. I do know we’ll do a diligent job of trying to figure out what the problem was and hope we can find a problem.
“Sometimes with engine failures or parts failures, when you break something, the worst thing is you don’t know why or what broke. We need to make sure we do a good job of trying to figure out what caused the failure if we can find it. If we can do that, I think we can correct it.”
Elliott, a three-race winner this year, is among eight drivers still in championship contention entering the Martinsville-Fort Worth-Phoenix leg of the playoffs. The other seven are former champions Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., plus Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin.