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Chase Elliott wins the rain-shortened road race of the Texas NASCAR Cup Series


Chase Elliott managed the slide and slide, the standing water and poor visibility that made it difficult for drivers to see just a few feet in front of them.

Chase Elliott won the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series at COTA.

Chase Elliott won the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series at COTA.
(AP)

And when NASCAR’s debut at the Circuit of the Americas ended prematurely due to poor racing conditions in the rain, Elliott had not only won his first win of the season, but also historic ones for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet.

Elliott’s Texas Grand Prix win after 54 of the expected 68 laps was # 800 for Chevrolet and # 268 for Hendrick Motorsports, which linked Petty Enterprises for the most wins.

“I never thought we’d win so many races,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, whose team had also earned 400, 500, 600 and 700 wins for Chevrolet. He called it “an honor” to bind Petty.

“I’m so proud of Chevrolet,” said Hendrick. “I’ve never driven anything other than √áhevrolet.”

When Hendrick pressed on which victories stand out over the years, he said, “It takes each of these victories to reach the number we have now. There are just so many. All of them are special.”

Sunday’s race will be remarkable in ending defending champion Elliott’s winless drought and getting drivers through a damp and occasionally muddy mess before ending under the afternoon’s second red flag as the rain only got worse.

Elliott’s team-mate Kyle Larson and Team Penske’s Joey Logano rounded out the top three.

“It’s not the ideal way to win but we will do it,” said Elliott, who said he also had several close calls under the difficult conditions. “If they say race we’ll go. If they call to say it’s not doable or not wise, we will.”

Elliott took his sixth career road course win, winning five of the last six road races in the Cup series. He has a total of 12 cup wins.

The race call was a disappointing end to the first run of the series on a track built for Formula 1, and organizers have to decide if they want to make the track a regular stop in Austin.

The rain started on the first lap. The toughest stretch was the long, high-speed straight as drivers risked aquaplaning or couldn’t see through the spray that was being thrown up by the cars around them.

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The worst of the fall occurred when Cole hit Custer in the back of Martin Truex Jr. – who had just met Michael McDowell – in search of a visible racing line, and Custer’s front end briefly erupted into a fireball on lap 25. Both drivers were checked at the medical center and released.

“We have nothing to do with being in the rain,” said veteran driver Kevin Harvick. “All I can say is that this is the worst decision we have ever made in our sport that I have competed in and I have never felt this unsafe in my entire racing career.”

Larson shrugged. He was in late position to challenge Elliott for victory before the race ended.

“It’s not safe to be a racing driver,” said Larson. “It got pretty crazy … that’s something to expect from racing in the rain.”

HISTORICAL POLE

Tyler Reddick took his first pole position in the Cup series in 1996 and the first pole position on the road for Richard Childress Racing since Dale Earnhardt at Watkins Glen in 1996.

Reddick was only seven months old when Earnhardt led 54 laps of this race, despite having ridden in a fall at Talladega two weeks earlier with a broken collarbone and sternum. Earnhardt waved his reserve driver off at the first pit stop of the day, but eventually finished sixth.

Reddick finished on the ninth Sunday.

COTA FUTURE?

NASCAR put old rivalries between track operators and racing series aside to secure a one-year contract for the race at COTA. Will there be more in the future?

Despite the rain on Sunday, the riders seemed to like the track and its more challenging sections due to its 20 turns and steep heights. Marcus Smith, the head of Speedway Motorsports who brokered the deal with circuit president Bobby Epstein, said the Austin circuit could become a multi-year stop on NASCAR’s schedule.

NASCAR and track officials did not report attendance numbers, but COTA said all parking spaces were full an hour before the race. Smith called the first race in Austin “phenomenal” and noted that he has an extension option in his contract.

“We’re encouraged until the weekend,” said Smith.

NEXT

NASCAR is going to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina next Sunday before road racing starts again at Sonoma Raceway

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