DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — One Daytona victory down, the big one to go.
Chase Elliott won the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, edging Joey Logano for his first victory at NASCAR’s most famous track.
It was the perfect prelude to the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Elliott will start that one on the pole — and with a lot tougher competition chasing him.
“It means a lot, man,” Elliott said. “This is Daytona. I’m just happy to be here. We still have 500 miles to go tomorrow. Lot of work to do here.”
Elliott took the lead from Logano on a final restart with 13 laps to go and then blocked his fellow Sprint Cup regular on the last lap. Logano got a strong run on the outside a few hundred feet from the finish line and then banged the side of Elliott’s No. 88 Chevrolet several times, but he couldn’t get past.
“Chase obviously did what he had to do there at the end of the race,” said JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has Elliott signed on for a handful of Xfinity races this season. “I thought that was very gutsy to be able to really put such an aggressive block on (Logano). He did what he had to do. Could have turned him into the wall. Joey might have saved both of them from doing all that.
“He did what he had to do to keep the guy behind him. It won him the race. So I’m proud of Chase. Such a cool thing to be part of his career. He’s going to do some amazing stuff in his career. It’s awesome to be a little part of it.”
Elliott became the youngest to win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, getting to victory lane at 20 years, 2 months, 23 days.
Elliott calmly climbed out of his car, grabbed the checkered flag and then pumped his fist a few times in the air — the kind of subdued celebration outsiders have grown to expect from the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
Chase Elliott was equally cool after landing the Daytona 500 pole in his first attempt.
The Xfinity opener went about as smoothly. Elliott ran near the front for the second part of the 300-mile race, following Logano and Kasey Kahne around the high-banked speedway and waiting for his move.
It came late, when he got in front of Logano on the final restart.
Elliott edged Logano by 0.043 seconds. It was Logano’s third second-place finish in three races during Speedweeks. He also was second in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and one of the twin qualifying races.
“Dang it. I’m sick of finishing second,” Logano said. “Too many seconds. … I mean, second’s not bad, but kind of (stinks) at the same time. It’s three races. I’ve been so close to winning one of them. Want to get out there and make it happen.”
Kahne was third, followed by Elliott Sadler and pole-sitter Austin Dillon. Elliott, Kahne and Sadler gave JR Motorsports three of the top four spots.
Darrell Wallace Jr. was sixth, just ahead of Brandon Jones and Daniel Suarez.
The race was mostly clean, with just four cautions. It was quite different than recent years. Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot in a hard crash into a concrete wall last year in the Xfinity opener. Three years ago, Kyle Larson’s car went airborne during a last-lap crash and spewed debris into the grandstands and injured fans.
It looked as if this one could have a wild ending, too, but Elliott and Logano kept their cars straight despite all the contact.
“We hit,” said Elliott, who notched his first win at a restrictor-plate race. “I thought we were wrecked, which fortunately we didn’t. I didn’t know if we were going to make it across the line or what was going to happen. Once I realized his momentum stopped, I tried to get away from him to keep the draft from pulling me back anymore.
“Just fortunate and got lucky with how it worked out.”