LONG POND, Pa. -- You can forgive a rookie for a little impatience when his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory is within his grasp.
But Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader Chase Elliott wasn't ready to forgive himself after a fourth-place finish in the Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 on Monday at Pocono Raceway.
After a restart with 33 laps left, Elliott was battling Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead, but as the drivers fought for position through the Tunnel Turn, Kurt Busch surged past both Hendrick cars and held the top spot until the checkered flag.
Ultimately, Elliott lost the third spot to Brad Keselowski, and even though he scored his fifth top five of the season, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet was subdued in his post-race comments.
"Yeah, just definitely really proud of our team and the work that everybody at Hendrick has put in," said Elliott, who led a race-high 51 laps. "I felt like we had four really fast cars today. I hope that's a good sign for races to come. We certainly had I feel like one of our best days of the year, personally.
" ... For us to be able to contend and lead laps all day and have a car that could fight for the lead the majority of the day, I thought was great. Obviously, I made a big mistake there behind Dale in the tunnel after that restart. I wish I had been a little more patient and given ourselves a better chance, but you live and you learn."
EARNHARDT OVERACHIEVES FOR RUNNER-UP FINISH
Approximately halfway through the final green-flag run on Monday at Pocono Raceway, crew chief Greg Ives radioed to driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. "The 41 (leader Kurt Busch) needs to save (fuel) to make it. We do not. Go get him!"
But over the closing laps, the handling of Earnhardt's car tightened up, and he was unable to track down Busch, even though the eventual race winner was in fuel-conservation mode.
Earnhardt thought he could have been more effective in keeping Busch behind him after the final restart.
"I should have been able to hold that No. 41 (Busch) off on that final restart," Earnhardt said. "Me and the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) were racing pretty hard, and it gave the No. 41 the opportunity to get a run on us.
"I should have been able to defend that a little bit better. If I could have gotten in front of him, I don't think he would have gotten by us."
But Earnhardt also acknowledged his runner-up finish might have been better than the car deserved.
"We certainly finished better than we should have," he said. "Our car wasn't quite a second-place car. We started off really tight and really slow, probably about a 15th-place car.
"Greg and the guys made a lot of changes and made the car better. Don't really know exactly how much better we got it compared to the competition, but we certainly made it more competitive."
RESTARTS FOIL KENSETH'S WINNING CHANCES
Matt Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota was fast enough to lead 31 laps in the Axalta "We Paint Winners" 400 at Pocono Raceway.
The problem was that Kenseth couldn't keep the lead when the race restarted. Given that the race featured 10 cautions for 40 laps, restarts became a major issue for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
"We had a great race car," said Kenseth, whose seventh-place finish was the best among the Toyotas. "Just had really, really poor restarts, and if I did have a good restart, then there was somebody getting checked up in front of me and I'd lose more spots.
"I just gave them all up on restarts. Honestly, I think we had a car that could challenge for the win. I just couldn't figure out how to get to Turn 1... Once I got to Turn 1 and got rolling, I thought we were really competitive, but disappointing finish for how fast our car was, for sure."