Fifteen laps prior to Kevin Harvick winning the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the battle for the win of the first 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff event was shaping up between Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott. Then, the tables turned when contact between both competitors knocked them both out of race-winning contention with 15 laps remaining. When the checkered flag flew, both finished outside the top 15 on the track and were left with damaged race cars.
Throughout the main event at Darlington on Sunday, September 6, Elliott and Truex were the class of the field, with both leading a combined 310 of the event’s 367-scheduled laps. At the start of the race, Elliott, who started on pole position, rocketed out of the gate by leading the first 71 laps. Leading nine more laps, Truex, who started sixth, took his turn to the front following a restart past the Lap 80 mark. He went on to lead 32 laps and claim the Stage 1 victory. His strong pace on the track continued throughout the second stage, where he led 103 laps and went on to claim the second stage.
Under 120 laps remaining, Truex was back atop the leaderboard, where he led 59 laps before Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick took turns at the front. Following a late debris caution and a restart with less than 50 laps remaining, Elliott received a push from Harvick to reassume the lead, though Truex kept Elliott’s rear bumper within his sights.
Coming to 15 laps remaining and after stalking Elliott for several laps, Truex gained a run in Turn 3 and was able to utilize his momentum to pull his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry beneath Elliott’s No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE past the start/finish line. Emerging out in front entering Turn 1 and with a faster car, Truex attempted to slide in front of Elliott’s nose to clear him for the lead and the win. Instead, they came into contact with one another and both scrubbed the outside wall, with Truex out in front.
Following the incident, Truex was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop the following lap due to a flat tire. Elliott, however, remained on track, though his chances of winning evaporated as Harvick took the lead. For the remaining 15 laps, Elliott continued to fade towards the rear of the field as competitor after competitor passed him for position. When the checkered flag flew, Elliott dropped back to 20th place on the lead lap while Truex limped home in 22nd place, a lap down.
With their results and stage points collected throughout the race, Truex is ranked in sixth place in the Playoff standings and is 16 points above the top-12 cutline to advance to the second round of the Playoffs. Elliott is in seventh place and is 12 points above the cutline.
“[Truex] had a run on me there off of [Turn] 4 and he just kind of cleared himself into [Turn] 1,” Elliott said on NBCSN. “He was close, but he wasn’t all the way clear, obviously. I hate it. Obviously, we had a fast NAPA Camaro, fast enough to contend. We needed a little pace there to extend our lead instead of playing defense, but regardless I thought we were in a good spot. I ran the bottom in [Turn] 3 and 4 to see if there was anything left down there, that’s what kind of gave him the run and then he just slid up in to my left front, I felt like and on we went.”
“Just not enough room there for both of us,” Truex, who won the first Playoff race the previous three of four seasons, said on NBCSN. “[I] Thought I had enough of a run to clear [Elliott]. I think it was close, obviously. I thought I had enough of a momentum and distance on him that he was gonna let me in there. I didn’t expect him to be on my right rear and I was committed. Once I figured he was still there, nothing I could do. Really unfortunate for our Bass Pro Toyota. Unbelievable job by the guys. A smokin’ fast race car, obviously. Lot to be proud of. I hate it for the No. 9 team. There was nothing intentional. Just two guys going for the win. Not enough room for both of us there. If it was my fault, I apologize. I really felt like I had the position to get him into [Turn] 1. It’s how it goes. We’ll see what goes on from here…It looked like we were gonna get the lead there and that would’ve been big. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. We gave it our all and come up short.”
Both Elliott and Truex, along with their fellow Playoff contenders, will return for the next NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Richmond Raceway, which will occur on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.