Chase Elliott and his Aaron’s Dream machine team headed north for the weekend and came home with winner’s trophies from both Dixie Motor Speedway in Birch Run, Mich., and Winchester Speedway in Indiana.
Elliott had never seen the .4-mile Birch Run track before the first laps of practice on Friday but took an immediate liking to it.
“I like this place,” he said. “It’s fun.”
The Dixie Draper 125, a race that included NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader, also was the first time the CRA Super Series had been to the speedway.
Elliott qualified seventh but the invert put him on the pole for the start of the race, a 125-lap affair in which the caution laps did not count.
He led the 24-car field to the green flag, but the No. 51 of Becca Kasten got to the flagstand first, and Elliott fell in line in third place. By the first caution on lap 10 he was running fourth amid a three-way battle with the No. 131 of Nick Gullatta and the No. 20 of fast qualifier Brian Campbell. When the next caution flag flew on lap 29, Elliott was in sixth place, but by lap 33he had passed the No. 4 of Derrick Griffin for fifth and by lap 46 was back around Campbell for the fourth position.
The caution period on lap 55 gave the No. 72 of Scott Hantz a chance to take the lead away from Kasten, who had dominated all night, but his lead lasted only a couple of turns as Kasten quickly reclaimed the top spot.
Elliott meanwhile was battling side by side with Gullatta, and took the third position on lap 58 just before the caution came out. By this time, Elliott had figured out that the high side was the place to be on the restarts, which meant that third place wasn’t a preferred spot for the restart. “We’ll make it work,” he reassured his crew over the radio. Gullatta predictably got third back on the restart lap 58 while Elliott battled the No. 811 of Mason Mingus to maintain fourth. With the green flying for an extended period, Kasten cruised at the head of the pack while the battle for second through fifth began to heat up between Hantz, Gullatta, Elliott, and Mingus.
On the restart following a coution on lap 89, Elliott took third from Gullatta, who slid into Elliott trying to reclaim the spot but inadvertently did him a favor. During the next caution period, at lap 91, Elliott reported to his Aaron’s crew that after Gullatta hit him his car seemed to turn the center of the corner much better.
On the restart, Elliott made a bold move, going three wide with Hantz and Mingus. Elliott, the meat of the sandwich, bolted ahead and took the second position on lap 93. At lap 100 Elliott was closing on Kasten as the two motored away from the rest of the field. With the caution flag flew with six laps remaining, Elliott was pulling alongside Kasten. Elliott remained right on Kasten’s bumper over the final laps and was preparing for a last-lap pass for the lead when Kasten’s car ran out of gas, ending the battle and securing the win for Elliott.
“It was great to get back to Victory Lane,” Elliott said. “We’ll take it anyway we can get them. You have to cherish it.”
He also saluted his 21-year old competitor, who wound up 13th.
That was her race to win,” Elliott said. “I don’t think we could have gotten her if it wasn’t for (her running out of gas).”
With the Dixie winner’s trophy safely stowed in the hauler, the Aaron’s team headed to historic Winchester Speedway for the CRA JEGS All-Star Tour 100. It was his debut with the series but not his first time at Winchester. Last year he won the 39th annual Winchester 400, becoming the youngest driver ever to win the prestigious event.
Elliott qualified seventh while Erik Jones broke the track record in winning the pole. But the draw for the inverted start was eight, putting Elliott on the outside pole alongside Brian Ross. Elliott took the lead on the first lap of the race but settled back into the third position by lap 10. Ten laps later, Elliott moved around Ross to take the second position while Jones, the pole sitter, continued to lead.
On lap 36 the first caution of the race was displayed for the No. 76 of Wes Griffin Jr., who blew a tire and slammed into in the turn four wall.
Elliott radioed to his crew that he was pacing himself and trying not to use up his front tires. He went on to say that the car turned good and had great drive up off the corners.
On the restart Jones opted for the outside lane, which put Elliott on the inside, which again was not the preferred groove. He dropped all the way to fifth before he could work his way into line after the restart.
At the halfway point Elliott was still fifth but working on the No. 45 of Danny Jackson for fourth. Elliott took the spot on lap 53 however the top three – Jones, Cody Coughlin and Trent Snyder – had put some distance on him.
Elliott set out to close the gap, and by lap 67 had passed Snyder for third.
A lap later, the caution and then red flag were displayed when the No. 42 of Chase Finley and the No. 8 of Eddie Hoffman collided, sending Finley through turns three and four on his roof.
Neither driver was injured, but there was a 20-minute delay while the track was cleared.
Elliott lined up third, on the inside, for the restart, but he told his crew that he’d do his best to overcome the disadvantage of an inside starting berth.
“We’re going to just do our best and have fun,” he said.
Just as he did the night before in Michigan, Elliott went three wide for position on the restart and came out in front of Coughlin to take second place on lap 69. Four laps later he motored around Jones to take the lead.
He led the pack until another caution was displayed, this time for Jones, who stopped on the backstretch with a flat tire.
Elliott chose the outside line for the restart and pulled away from Brandon Watson over the final 19 laps to take his second win of the weekend and the second of his career at Winchester.
“I was really happy with our performance as a whole up north this past weekend,” Elliott said. “I felt like Friday night we had some work to do with the car to be ideal. Dixie Speedway is a great race track, and I hope to get back up there for another race.”
He also was please with his run at venerable Winchester.
“The race at Winchester was a blast, and I am really excited to get back up there for the 400,” he said. “Our car needed a little work but that’s why we went.”