SALEM, Ind. – Chase Elliott continued his string of impressive performances in the ARCA Racing Series as he won his first pole in the series, led 41 laps and finished third in Saturday’s 200-lap event at the historic Salem Speedway.
In just six ARCA career starts, the 16-year-old driver of the No. 9 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet has posted three top-five finishes and six top-10s. And in what has become the norm for the second-generation driver, he was a contender for victory for much of the race.
“I thought Salem went pretty good,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely a bummer to have that good of a car and not finish it off with a win, but I’m proud of my Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com team’s effort.
“The ARCA Racing Series has been awesome to race in, and I definitely have a new respect for those guys that compete in the series as well as the competition level. I think Lance (McGrew) and I both learned a lot this year. The cars and the power are just different. I was impressed with the progression we made from the first race at Salem in April to this past weekend’s event there.”
Racing in the ARCA series for the final time this season, Elliott set the pace in the final practice session on Saturday afternoon with a best lap of 116.102 mph. Then he bettered that during qualifying by running a lap at 116.760 mph to earn the pole award.
When the green flag waved for the evening race, Chris Buescher took the lead from Elliott on the opening lap. Elliott maintained the runner-up spot until the first caution flag flew at Lap 19. During this caution, the Dawsonville, Ga., native reported to crew chief Lance McGrew that his No. 9 Chevy was in good shape. When the race resumed, Elliott began trying different lines in an effort to overtake Buescher for the lead, pulling alongside the leader at times but not quite completing the pass.
On Lap 47, the second caution was displayed for a multi-car incident on the frontstretch that involved series points leader Buescher, which forced him to pit road for repairs. As a result, this put Elliott in the lead.
The race resumed under caution on Lap 48, and McGrew opted not to pit, so Elliott was the leader when the event went back to green on Lap 53. He led through two more caution periods, but when the green flag flew again at a Lap 68 restart, Elliott found himself at a disadvantage to the drivers who had pitted for fresh tires.
By Lap 88, the No. 09 of Frank Kimmel II had taken the lead from Elliott and before the next caution flag was displayed at Lap 116, Elliott had fallen back to sixth position.
McGrew brought Elliott down pit road for four tires and fuel with left side tire pressure adjustments. The Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com pit crew gained Elliott a spot on pit road, and he was fifth when racing resumed at Lap 122.
Two laps later, Elliott passed Buescher for fourth and one lap later, he took third from Kimmel.
McGrew opted to stay out during the next two cautions as Elliott’s tires were relatively fresh. On Lap 157, Elliott continued his charge to the front, passing Spencer Gallagher for second and looking to take the battle to race leader Tom Hessert.
Hessert was able to hold the lead while Elliott turned his attention to Buescher, who was challenging for second place and riding on fresh tires.
Tires prevailed, but Elliott still held on for a strong third-place finish behind Hessert and Buescher.
Next up, Elliott will drive his No. 9 Aaron’s Dream Machine/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet in the Sept. 22 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.