Elliott led 138 laps and seemed poised to break through and reach victory lane for the first time in 70 career starts. Busch seemed to have the fresher tires on the No. 18 Toyota and reeled in Elliott down the stretch. Busch gave a ho-hum race a thrilling ending and won for the second straight week.
Busch’s fourth win this season kept him hot at the right time as NASCAR’s playoffs head into the second round.
“I know Chase is hungry, I know he’s been trying for a couple of years to try and get his first Cup series win,” Busch said. “But man, I saw that carrot hanging out there and I was going to get it. I was going to give it everything I had and fortunately it was enough.”
Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch and Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne were eliminated when the playoff field was cut from 16 to 12.
Elliott was second, followed by 11-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.
Elliott, the son of Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, got the No. 24 Chevrolet caught up in lapped traffic and allowed Busch just the opening he needed to zip past for the win.
“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” Elliott said. “Golly. I couldn’t have had it any easier. I gave it away.”
Busch took his customary bow.
Elliott was crushed but found some comfort from Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports.
“That kind of shows the person he is but it doesn’t fix my lack of performance,” Elliott said.
Jeff Gordon, the retired four-time NASCAR Cup champion who also drove the No. 24, watched from the pit box and exchanged words with Newman after the race. Newman, who finished 13th, was one of the drivers that appeared to hold up Elliott on the last lap and contributed to his collapse.
Truex, Larson, Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all reached the second round.