Chase Elliott stepped in for Michael Annett on Saturday in the No. 1 Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Chevrolet, driving the red, white and black Camaro to a solid fourth-place finish in the Pennzoil 150 for NASCAR Xfinity Series cars at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Annett, who had surgery on his right leg following the Atlanta race earlier this season, is still recovering and was not able to start the event. With five races remaining in the regular season, Annett remains solidly in the playoff hunt, just 10 points behind the 12th and final playoff spot. Stage One Finish: 9th Annett practiced the car on Friday, but did not feel well enough to start Saturday’s race. Elliott, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and first NXS champion for JR Motorsports in 2014, was recruited early Saturday morning when it was determined that Annett could not participate. Elliott qualified the No. 1 Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Camaro in 25th position, getting used to the NXS machine. It didn’t take long for Elliott to begin moving forward, as he gained eight positions on the opening lap of the 62-lap event on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at the historic speedway. On the opening lap, Elliott had to avoid debris after several cars hit one of the tall “turtle” curbs off Turn 6 after being forced wide. Elliott came on the radio under the caution to report that he had “hit something heavy” and felt it underneath his feet and the cockpit, but crew chief Mike Bumgarner told his driver the spotters reported no visible damage to his car. Once the race restarted at lap 4, Elliott put his head down and began moving up the order, cresting the top 15 at lap 9. The Georgia native was running 12th at lap 16 when the caution waved again for debris, and he told Bumgarner that the car was “not bad when I drive it right, I still haven’t put a single lap together to my liking.” Bumgarner called Elliott to pit road under that caution for four tires and fuel, and the Allstate Peterbilt Group pit crew performed a speedy pit stop to pick up three positions for their driver. Several cars stayed out, and Elliott lined up in ninth for the two-lap run to the green-and-white checkered flag. Elliott maintained ninth position and finished there. Having already pitted and being reminded to save fuel when he could, Elliott remained on the track for the start of the 20-lap Stage Two. Stage Two Finish: 21st On the restart, Elliott lined up in the sixth position and was soon in the middle of a three-wide run to the 90-degree Turn 1. After jostling his way through, Elliott was able to get a decent run toward Turn 7, only to spin off the nose of another car. Getting the No. 1 Chevrolet pointed in the right direction, Elliott rejoined the field and crossed the line in 21st position. Over the next three laps, Elliott made it back up to 15th before the caution flag waved yet again at lap 29. Under the yellow, Elliott radioed that he smelled smoke in the cockpit and thought it was from his first water bottle, which he’d tossed out of the car on pit road at the end of Stage One. He also reported that his Allstate Peterbilt Group 50th Anniversary Chevrolet was still good and that he was working on sorting out his braking zones. Staying on track during the caution flag, Elliott advanced to 13th for the restart and had worked his way to 11th on lap 37 when Bumgarner called him back to pit road for a scheduled green-flag stop. Taking on four more tires and fuel to the end, Elliott returned to the track in 21st position. A caution for a stalled car on the front straightaway waved on lap 38 and Stage Two would end under the yellow flag with Elliott still in 21st position. The remainder of the field made their pit stops under the stage break, which advanced Elliott up the running order. Under yellow, Elliott told Bumgarner that he was getting better and developing a better rhythm for the final 22-lap segment. Final Stage: After the field made its pit stops, Elliott found himself in fifth position for the restart to begin the final stage. Again under green, Elliott battled through the opening complex of corners and kept moving forward, taking fourth on lap 45. Five laps later, Elliott passed Ty Gibbs for third and maintained that spot until a closing Justin Haley swept past with just three laps remaining in the race. Elliott held off a charge from JRM teammate Noah Gragson over the closing laps to cross the finish line in fourth position. It was the second top-five finish for the No. 1 team on a road course this season, following Annett’s strong third-place run at Road America last month. By not being able to compete on Saturday, Annett dropped one position in the driver points to 12th, 10 markers behind Riley Herbst with five races remaining in the regular season. Austin Cindric won the race, with AJ Allmendinger, Haley, Elliott and JRM teammate Gragson in the top five. Austin Dillon led the second five ahead of Myatt Snider, Herbst, Harrison Burton and road-course ace Andy Lally.
“I felt like I made some gains. I was really bad to start the day, really slow in the Cup car and really slow in qualifying, so it was good to run up front today. I didn’t have anything for Austin (Cindric), the 16 (Allmendinger) or the 11 (Haley), but I feel like I made a lot of gains everywhere from the start of the morning. It took me a while to put a good lap together, and at the end we had some good speed. I found out at 8 this morning that the No. 1 team needed a driver today, and I hope Michael (Annett) feels better soon. I appreciate everyone at JR Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to get some more laps in before Sunday.” - Chase Elliott