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How the NASCAR Cup race at Texas was won and lost

The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 took several twists and turns

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Elliott snapped a 42-race winless drought on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway but the race will also be remembered for all those who didn’t win the race and what denied each of them respectively.

Ultimately, Elliott was undeniable in his resolve and execution over three overtime restarts against the likes of Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain and Brad Keselowski, but each of those teams represent what could have been as well.

It was a race that got turned figuratively upside down on numerous occasions, the importance of track position and cautions flipping the race with every incident, but naturally coming down to a series of restarts instead.

Denny Hamlin

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Denny Hamlin had the race won, lost, won and lost again more than anyone else on Sunday.

Hamlin inherited the lead when Kyle Larson lost his right rear tire but lost his track position on a Lap 151 restart when he couldn’t get going on low air pressure, regained track position through attrition and timely cautions, only to lose the race battling Elliott on the second overtime.

“We were side by side, but I was on the inside which is where I needed to be going into Turn 3,” Hamlin said. “He wasn’t that strong in the high lane of 3 and 4 either so I thought we were in a good spot there. I didn’t need that caution for sure.

“We were in a good spot to win. Just had so many untimely cautions out front and then the one where we lost control (of the race) and that certainly was not helpful.”

NASCAR deemed Elliott the leader by .002 and just like that, Hamlin was then in the disadvantageous lane for the ensuing restart where he spun on the outside of Elliott.  

“I know that he washed up,” Hamlin said of Elliott, “but I didn’t think it was out of bounds by any means, especially racing for the win there. I think it was a mix between a bad aero spot and a car that just never ran good up there all day. I got loose every time I tried to run up there.

“The combination equaled a crash.”

Brad Keselowski

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

 Had the race stayed green for the final 32 laps, Brad Keselowski very well may have ended up in Victory Lane because his tires had almost 20 laps less on them than Hamlin and Elliott ahead of him.

Keselowski was already marching through the field, and was working on Elliott for second when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun with 14 laps to go, which sent the race into multiple restarts and overtimes but also denied the RFK Racing No. 6 a chance to work on Elliott and Hamlin head-to-head in clean air.

“There was some fall off, not a ton, but these NextGen cars are hard on the right rear tire and when they fall off, you would see guys lose control of their cars,” Keselowski said.

Maybe Keselowski doesn’t get Elliott, or maybe it takes so long that he can’t appropriately work on Hamlin, or the passes abuse his front tires.

Either way, it was a missed opportunity, even if it turned out to be a good day for the 6 team with a runner-up.

“Strong day for us, scored a lot of points,” he said. “We persevered through some struggles early on to get out track position to have a shot there at the end.”

Hamlin felt like the race was setting up to be him versus Larson.

“We were the best two cars,” Hamlin said. “On one hand, I though, that’s one less team we have to beat, a really good car, but at the same time, you want to race them and beat them at their best because we’re competitors. As it turned out, neither one of us were there at the end, so that’s NASCAR racing.”

Ross Chastain

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying
Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

The race was decided, Elliott driving away to the win, but Chastain was digging out of Turn 2 trying to get all he could to make a draft run down the backstretch.

He got loose out of the corner and William Byron couldn’t slow down in time, and turned Chastain into the wall, triggering a race ending caution since the white flag had already been displayed.

“I don’t want to do that to anyone,” Byron said. “But I was just far enough inside that that I was there. I had a run, and it’s the last lap. We always race really well, so I don’t want to do that to him. Unfortunately just kind of came together there.

“Nothing you can really do about that. It’s just racing. I had a run, and I was there, and it happened.”

Chastain was released from the infield care center and declined to talk about that matter. Chastain went from second to 32nd, and without a win yet, those are valuable points left on the table.

As for Byron, he didn’t quite have the speed Larson and Elliott had, but routinely hung around the top-10 and was in the mix for the final several restarts to have a shot if the right things played out in the end.

“We didn’t have a great car,” he said. “But we’ll keep working and improve and get better. Just didn’t have what we needed. But we grinded and made something of it.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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