With the eyes of the racing world firmly focused on the Chicagoland Speedway, Chase Elliott finished first in Joliet, Illinois.
For the No. 9 car, it was a night of threes. This was Elliot's third win of the Nationwide season, and coming into the race, he was third in the standings and started P3:
The Sprint Cup Series is off this weekend, leaving NASCAR fans to get their fix with the Nationwide Series' EnjoyIllinois.com 300 on Saturday night. For some, that would be akin to substituting the CFL for the NFL, but hey, any racing is better than no racing, right?
Elliott and Trevor Bayne took it upon themselves to make up for the drop in quality with more than enough drama.
One of the stories throughout the night was how quickly the lead was changing. Elliott led the most laps, with 85, but 11 different drivers led at least one lap.
No one driver was ever able to gain a massive advantage over the competition for a sustained amount of time. Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon and Kasey Kahne were among the fray, but in the final stages, the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 became a two-car race.
Elliott was enjoying the lead down the stretch, but he had to deal with an on-rushing Bayne, who timed his last pit of the race to have fresher tires for the end, per JR Motorsports:
Bayne has fresher tires. 17 laps to go and @chaseelliott lead down to 3.6 seconds.— JR Motorsports (@JRMotorsports) July 20, 2014
Bayne did his best to get into the lead, but credit Elliott for holding him off for the final 22 laps of the race. The two were almost running side by side at one point, but the No. 9 shut the door.
Here's how the top 10 finished. You can view the full results at NASCAR.com.
With the checkered flag, Elliott jumped up to first in the points standings. You can view the full standings on ESPN.com.
Elliott's first two wins of the year came back to back in April, but since then, he couldn't recreate the same magic.
"It's very, very cool to have those couple of wins, but we'd like to get back to that form," he said before last week's Nationwide race, per Michael Vega of The Boston Globe. "We've had our struggles since then and certainly had our struggles before those two wins, too, but we're all working really hard to get back to form."
Finishing eighth at New Hampshire last week felt good for the 18-year-old and helped to give him the confidence necessary to get to Victory Lane in Chicago.
Ryan Blaney was the leader through the middle of the race. The No. 22 car was out in front for 47 of the race's 200 laps. However, right around the 133rd lap, the ESPN2 broadcast noted he was complaining to his pit crew about about his car being loose. Not coincidentally, at around that point, Blaney slowly but surely started falling back in the field.
He headed to the pits on Lap 154 in eighth place and came back after a green-flag pit stop in 19th, a full lap down. The benefit was that he would have the tires to possibly move up the leaderboard, per Brian Berg Jr. of BehindPitRow.com:
With a much better car, Blaney was able to make up some serious time but not enough to figure in the final outcome, eventually settling for ninth.
The points leader heading into the race was Regan Smith. The No. 7 car had trouble for much of the night with handling and could only muster a 16th-place finish:
As a result, Smith was overtaken by Elliott for the points lead. He's also only a point ahead of Elliott Sadler to maintain a hold on second.
Smith will be looking to get his points lead back at next week's Lilly Diabetes 250 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For the past two years, the race has been won by a Sprint Cup driver, with Brad Keselowski taking the checkered flag in 2012 and Kyle Busch following suit in 2013.