Skip to main content

After dominating the first half of the race, Chase Elliott came home with an underwhelming 10th-place finish in Saturday’s Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway.

Elliott looked like the car to beat out of the gate as he led the first 185 laps and won the first two stages in the process. Yet after losing the lead on pit road to William Byron following Stage Two, Elliott struggled to maintain his commanding pace and slowly faded out of contention for the rest of the night.

Elliott started from the pole and showed no intention of looking back. He led the most laps to start a Martinsville race since Darrell Waltrip in 1980, but teammate William Byron stayed within striking distance the whole time. The two Hendrick Motorsports drivers proved early on that they were the class of the field, and the race was shaping up to be a battle between them.

Even after surrendering the lead to Byron, Elliott still showed he had the speed to give Byron a challenge for the win. The long green flag runs of the surprisingly tame race played right into Elliott's advantage as he showed long-run speed throughout the first two stages.

But in the later stints of the race, even when Elliott seemed to put down fast laps, he never managed to turn it into a pass for position.

Elliott slowly dropped through the pack before a slow pitstop on Lap 313 dropped him from fifth to completely outside the top 10. As Elliott found himself mired back in the top 15 with a much faster car, he only managed to barely claw his way back into the top 10 before Todd Gilliland’s late-race caution bunched the field back up.

Elliott’s inability to pass seemed quite puzzling at first, especially after he had proven how quick his car was. Conversely, the inability to pass seemed to be the theme for the entire field Saturday night, which is extremely uncharacteristic for Martinsville. After the track put on some dramatic, action-packed Truck and Xfinity Series races earlier in the weekend, the new Gen 7 Cup cars struggled to even get two-wide with each other when racing for position.

While the Gen 7 car clearly played a role in the lack of competition, the cold temperatures made it harder for the track to collect rubber. These issues compounded to make passing virtually impossible for drivers and Elliott’s struggles put the magnitude of the issue on full display.

Elliott managed to get up to 8th on the final restart before losing position to ultimately finish the night in 10th. However, his struggles speak to the growing pains that the new car is experiencing from a competition standpoint. If the fastest car for most of the weekend -- and with a driver who has previously won at the track -- can’t make passes, it shows how difficult passing was for every driver on the .526-mile track.

Since his blazing fast hot lap in qualifying to his domination of the first two stages, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott showed he had a race-winning car at Martinsville. Yet, his pit crew’s inability to get him track position struck once again -- but this time it was in a race where track position meant everything.

As the brand-new Gen 7 car continues to evolve and develop its identity and nuances, expect NASCAR to make the changes to make short-track racing get back to its competitive reputation.

Until then, Elliott’s night at Martinsville will be looked back for what it could have been. His slow demise seemed nearly out of his control, but he paid the consequences nonetheless.

Still, there were some significant outcomes in the race overall from a team perspective. First, Hendrick Motorsports led 98.5 percent of the laps (397 of 403), the team's highest percentage ever led in a single race, according to Racing Insights.

And something else that likely brought a big smile to the face of team owner Rick Hendrick is the following achievement:

Elliott remains as the only Hendrick driver without a win this season, but he maintained the points lead by a three-point margin over Ryan Blaney as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol for the always unpredictable dirt race this coming Sunday.

With so many unknowns about how the new car will race on dirt, it should be fun to watch how Elliott and the rest of the field perform.

Follow Austin Dickey on Twitter @AustinIsWriting