Mission accomplished: Chase Elliott qualifies for his first Sprint Cup race
Chase Elliott survived a rainout scare at Martinsville Speedway, where on Friday night he qualified for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Elliott lapped the historic 0.526-mile Virginia short track at 96.919 miles per hour in his No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. That speed was good enough to get him the 27th starting spot in Sunday’s STP 500.
"That was goal No. 1, to get in, so definitely a big relief for us," said Elliott, the reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. "We’re excited. It’s a weird feeling being excited about qualifying wherever we qualified — 27th — but we’re in the show. First Sprint Cup race, with NAPA on board, so excited about Sunday."
The weather was Elliott’s biggest enemy on Friday. Intermittent rain in the morning and afternoon delayed Sprint Cup practice. It was a nervous time for Elliott, because had qualified been rained out, he would have missed the race. With no owner points and no prior qualifying attempts, Elliott was at the bottom of the 45-car field in terms of eligibility. He truly had to go or go home.
And go he did, easily making the race.
In the day’s only practice, Elliott was 29th fastest.
Next year, Elliott will replace Jeff Gordon behind the wheel of the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Chevrolet that Gordon has campaigned full time since 1993.
Gordon, an eight-time winner here, knows Elliott could have a difficult weekend in his first Sprint Cup race.
"This is a tough race track, especially without testing," said Gordon. "I kind of love it because he’s (Elliott) being challenged in a big way, and I think he’s very capable of living up to that. … Hendrick car, his talents and our setups, I have all the faith in the world that under normal circumstances that he’d shine this weekend. But it’s certainly going to be a steep learning curve."