Chase Elliott (9) takes the checkered flag in front of Denny Hamlin (11) to win a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. Elliott's father, Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, was not at the race.
SHR was in control with Kevin Harvick early and Almirola late.
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The victory in the opening race of the Round of 12 playoffs locks Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet into the Round of Eight, which begins in three weeks at Martinsville Speedway. He had led 286 laps at that point. NASCAR playoff drivers took 10 of the top 15 spots. Almirola, who led 64 laps late and had his second career Cup win in sight, was running sixth off a restart when he got loose and connected with Brad Keselowski. Despite Busch's tough day at Dover, his success during the regular season, as well as in the Round of 16, earned him a total of 55 playoff points that will certainly help his cause going into the wild card race at Talladega.
The move that won the race was crew chief Alan Gustafson's decision to keep Elliott on the track with tires that were more than 50 laps old, when most of the other lead-lap cars opted to pit on Lap 393 after Clint Bowyer's Ford slammed into the Turn 4 wall one lap earlier.
Harvick leaves Dover with a five-point lead over Kyle Busch.
The mechanical failure was a continuation of the ill fortune the seven-time champion had suffered at Charlotte, where his attempted pass of Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap ended in an accident that knocked Johnson out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker.
A series of quick repairs allowed Johnson to return to the track, but the 11-time Dover victor rejoined the race 10 laps down before finishing 36th.
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Johnson's bid for a record eighth NASCAR Cup title ended last week when he was eliminated from the playoffs.
NASCAR red-flagged the race, and Elliott outran Hamlin in an overtime that extended the event four laps beyond its scheduled distance.
"Glad to see me and Chase can finish 1-2 here in a Playoff race and not have any controversy, so happy for those guys".
Leading for a total of 11 laps out of the 404 (overtime due to caution), the #9 vehicle cruised past Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano who finished in second and third, respectively.
But once he raced to his first Cup win, the second victory wasn't far behind, and now the Hendrick Motorsports star pegged as NASCAR's next most popular driver is thinking championship.
"I've had an up and down year, I feel like, and to have this race slip away (last year when he was passed for the lead late by Kyle Busch) makes today that much more sweet".
Fans and bettors lined up at the kiosk hours before the race started to wager on more than just the victor of Sunday's race.
Elliott had 12-1 odds in the first-ever race where legalized sports betting happened at the track.