MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Chase Elliott had spent lap after lap pursuing race leader Christopher Bell, trying to find, or create, a way around him.
Turned out, he didn't have to do a thing.
Elliott grabbed the lead when Bell wiggled with 17 laps to go and held off teammate Johnny Sauter to win the NASCAR Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday.
"I was trying," Elliott said. "There were a couple times I really tried to pass him and got into him pretty hard and was trying to kind of root him up out of the way. He was doing a really good job of controlling his momentum and my momentum coming to his bumper.
"His bumper was getting awfully blue as the day went on. I was going to try to be a little more aggressive if I got back to him, but had a little help from his misfortune, which happens. I've been on both ends of it, so we'll take it."
Elliott, who lost out to Sauter on the 0.526-mile oval in October, held off one challenge from the defending series champion and pulled away for his second victory in 12 career starts in the series. Sauter finished second, followed by Bell, rookie Noah Gragson and Ty Dillon.
Sauter, who unlike Elliott is a contender for the truck series title, played it safe and might have been kicking himself later.
"To be completely honest with you, before that last caution came out, there was an opportunity to get by Chase, and I cut him some slack," said Sauter, who was seeking a record fourth victory at Martinsville. "… In hindsight I should have probably went ahead and did what I needed to do."
The exciting finish was set up by a mistake Bell made with 17 laps left that handed the top two spots to Elliott and Sauter.
Bell had led for 90 laps, much of it with Elliott on his rear bumper looking for an opening. The break came when Bell, frustrated that rookie Austin Cindric was slowing him down while trying to stay on the lead lap, finally nudged Cindric heading into a turn, causing Cindric to lose traction then Bell to get loose as well. It created an inside lane for Elliott and Sauter to move into the top two positions.
"It's miserable to know that you're leading the race and I was having to run real hard to keep those guys behind us," Bell said, "so it was a pretty stressful last stage there with (Elliott) being a little bit better than I was. But up until that point, we had held them off."