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Chase Elliott has spent the past two-plus years scrutinized like no other driver in NASCAR. That's what happens when you're the sport's Most Popular Driver, a former champion who spiraled into a career-worst 42-race winless streak.

It was a path, Elliott admitted, "that hasn't always been fun."

Sunday was a large step toward recovery. Elliott earned his first Cup Series victory since 2022, surging to the front at Texas Motor Speedway as contenders Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain bowed out with mistakes of their own in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400.

"It was so crazy," Elliott said of the finish. "This place is so sketchy."

It was a day where the wrong amount of aggression swallowed you up, this bumpy and oft-criticized 1.5-mile oval tying a track record with 16 caution flags. But that's where Elliott shined the most, a driver who has seemed passive since a return from last May's Coca-Cola 600 suspension finding the right way to move forward when it mattered.

"Having things go our way with the cautions," Elliott added. "Having the lead, the pushing and shoving that went on, was in our favor on the closing restart."

It meant outracing Hamlin cleanly, the driver who caused Elliott to lose his temper that fateful Sunday at Charlotte. It meant outdueling the sport's most aggressive driver, Chastain, before clearing him on a green-white-checkered restart.

Most importantly, it meant finding confidence with a Next Gen car that hasn't played to Elliott's strengths. Texas marked the first top-five finish for him on an intermediate with this generation of car (the chassis debuted in 2022).

"I look at it as a credit to [my team]," Elliott said of sticking with it. "I think they've made me better and they've pushed me to be better, helped me identify some of my faults and some of my bad habits, and been patient with me as I've addressed them, or at least started to."

That includes Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who resisted calls to make a crew chief change last offseason after Elliott and Alan Gustafson missed the playoffs for the first time since being paired together. Indeed, it was Gustafson who made the right strategy call early on in this race, gaining Elliott track position on a green-flag pit stop cycle when the caution came out before the No. 9 car had stopped.

Just like that, Elliott vaulted into the top 10, in clean air and with a clean slate to come to the front. What followed was redemption for him in more ways than one, putting sponsor Hooters in victory lane for the first time since they started backing the No. 9 car.

Back in 1992, Hooters was on late Cup champion Alan Kulwicki's Ford as he edged Chase's father, Bill, for the Cup title by just one position on the track. Who would have guessed their next win would be the younger Elliott taking the sponsor around backwards in a Polish Victory Lap, honoring the Hall of Famer who died in a plane crash in April 1993.

"Just kind of to see that whole deal come full circle," Elliott explained. "With his championship run, outrunning my dad, they're now a partner of mine, ended a long winless drought for them and myself, too, and our team.

"Yeah, really special in a lot of ways. Pretty fitting when you kind of look at it."

Traffic Report

Green: Hendrick Motorsports. It's been one heck of a 40th anniversary season thus far for HMS. The team has won three of the past four races and five overall, more than any other Cup organization. Three of their four drivers have playoff bids already in hand while Kyle Larson has a healthy point lead atop the standings.

Yellow: Tyler Reddick. Reddick had a solid fourth-place finish, his fourth straight top 10 as 23XI Racing continues to impress. What he lost was a shot at the win after an awkward late restart found him giving up control of the race to Chase Elliott. Every week, it's something small like that, from pit road mistakes to on-track slip-ups, which keep Michael Jordan's team one rung below the top tier.

Red: Michael McDowell. Front Row Motorsports looked good early, putting two cars inside the top five until McDowell pushed it a little too hard going for the lead at Texas. The resulting DNF was McDowell's third finish this year of 35th or worse, putting him behind the eight ball in the playoff race. At some point, this year's Daytona 500 front row starter needs to cash in on these opportunities.

Speeding Ticket: Kyle Larson's pit crew. The race may have had a whole different outcome if Larson was allowed to continue cruising out front. The pole sitter led 77 of the first 116 laps until a bad pit stop led to a loose wheel that ultimately came off the car under caution.

"At first, I thought I had a flat," Larson explained. "It was wanting to spin … and in the mirror, I [saw] the wheel go."

The mistake caused a two-lap penalty with additional suspensions upcoming. Larson was never the same and wound up 21st on a day he could have dominated.


What's got people talking is not one but two whiffs at the win near the end of the race.

First, it was Hamlin, losing control on the outside of Elliott and crashing hard on his own coming to the white flag lap.

"I just got loose up in Turn 3," Hamlin said after the race. "It's something I've been fighting all day … I knew the likely scenario was I wasn't going to make it out of the corner with as much speed as I was carrying.

"It's just trying to go for the win. I got loose and spun out."

Then, it was William Byron making contact with Chastain, ruining the No. 1 car's runner-up effort after an attempt to pass Elliott for the lead fell short.

The resulting caution from that incident ended the race, pushing Chastain back to 32nd in the running order as he left the racetrack without comment.

"I just had a big run," Byron explained. "Ross and I race really well, and I didn't want to wreck him there, but he blocked me late, which is understood … I hate that that happened, but it's the last lap and I had the run, so I am going to just take the run."

We'll see if Chastain takes some payback down the road.