Chase Elliottâs exceptional start in Sundayâs Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway was undone by an apparent broken axle in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
The issue became clear after pit stops during a Stage 2 caution. After a four-tire stop, Elliottâs No. 9 didnât fire off just right, and the Hendrick Motorsports driver immediately brought his machine back down pit road.
The team further diagnosed the issue as the race went green, dropping Elliott from a potential top-five position to 37th and more than 10 laps down. The team eventually took the car to the garage in an attempt to repair it, changing the rear gearing.
RELATED: Race results
Elliott returned to the track on Lap 236, 52 laps down and in last place. He finished 36th and exits Martinsville 44 points behind the cutoff line and last among the remaining eight title-eligible drivers.
âJust disappointing for a day like that,â Elliott said. âWe know better and we can do better than that.â
Elliott qualified second for Sundayâs race at the .526-mile track, but started at the rear of the field after a blown engine in Saturday practice forced the team to make a swap. He drove his way through the field in impressive fashion, earning three stage points in Stage 1 by finishing eighth and clawing his way into the top five before the issue.
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The two mechanical issues during Martinsville weekend comes on the heels of an early exit at Dover during the opening race in the postseasonâs Round of 12. Now the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 group has opened the Round of 8 with a thud, which crew chief Alan Gustafson said was cause for concern.
âWe canât break parts,â Gustafson told NASCAR.com. âYou canât win these races if you donât finish them. Certainly canât gain any points if you donât finish them. Yeah, we gotta finish races. We canât continue to do this. This is not acceptable and weâre not going to get very far if we donât finish, so thatâs a lot to clean up in my opinion. Yeah, not good.â
Asked if next weekendâs event at Texas Motor Speedway was a must-win, Elliott said it was âcertainly the case.â Elliott hasnât finished worse than 13th in seven Monster Energy Series starts at the Fort Worth venue, but Gustafson said execution meant more than any track record there.
âAll you can do, in my opinion, is do the best you can do, right?â Gustafson said. âOptimism, stats, history â all that (expletive) does not matter. It doesnât pay any points. Youâve got to go, and youâve got to perform.â
Contributing: Zack Albert in Martinsville