Chase Elliott punched his Round of 8 playoff ticket in style, winning his fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup Series road course event.
The new sensation of NASCAR racing in the rain was countered with the familiar sensation of Chase Elliott visiting a road course’s victory lane.
Elliott defended his title at the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading 27 of 109 laps to capture victory in the Bank of America Roval 400. The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has now won each of the last four races held on road courses. Only four-time champion Jeff Gordon has done better in that regard (six from 1997-2000).
“We definitely don’t show up just expecting to be good,” Elliott said of his team’s road course dominance. “We show up trying to be better than we were last time. I thought we did that today. I thought our car was better than it was here last year. I thought I was better than I was last year. Didn’t pile drive the barriers this time. That was good. (We were) able to finish it off the right way, which is always encouraging.”
Elliott previously took home the win at Daytona Internation Speedway’s road course in August after sweeping the traditional pair at Sonoma and Watkins Glen last season. NASCAR will return to that pair and the Charlotte Roval (half-oval, half-road course) next season, but NASCAR has placed three additional road courses on the 2021 schedule, including the Circuit of the Americas, Road America, and the course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But Elliott is more concerned about the upcoming Round of 8, as he tries to make his first championship round since making his full-time NASCAR entry in 2016.
“(I’m) excited to have the opportunity. I think it’s going to be a really big challenge for us to move on, as I think it is for everybody in this round unless you just have a bunch of wins,” he said. “I think today’s win is big. Getting those extra five points can be the difference. We just have to bring our A-game, push ahead, really try to execute three solid weeks.”
Elliott’s streak appeared to be in jeopardy after the second stage. He had finished second to Ryan Blaney, but a loose wheel on the ensuing pit stop forced him to revisit as the field went back to green, shifting him back to 38th. But a mere 30 laps later, Elliott had the lead back from teammate Alex Bowman.
He had to let it go shortly after with a caution emerging for debris on the track, but he later passed Erik Jones with 17 laps to go, holding it for the rest of the way. His final trek included another restart after Brennan Poole’s stalled car brought out another college, but he was able to clinch the victory by a healthy 3.895-second margin over Joey Logano. Jones finished third ahead of previous playoff clincher Kurt Busch, while Blaney, the winner of the inaugural race in 2018, rounded out the top five.
Elliott’s success echoed his endeavor from a year prior, when he overcame a wreck in the treacherous first turn of the Roval to capture the victory. This time, he dealt with the loose tire and rain in the forecast, forcing teams to use a special tire with more grip throughout the afternoon. Unlike the relatively flooded Xfinity Series event, the Charlotte rains were relatively calm throughout the race, though there will still numerous spins and on-track incidents that helped determine the rest of the playoff picture.
The Cup Series’ Round of 8, the last elimination stage before the final at Phoenix, gets underway at Kansas Speedway’s Hollywood Casino 400 next Sunday afternoon (2:30 p.m ET, NBCSN).
- Defending Cup Series Kyle Busch was eliminated from contention. Contrasting pit strategies allowed Busch to take the lead with 19 laps to go, but he lost it to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Jones a lap later. Busch was running in the top ten before fuel woes forced him to pit on the penultimate lap. Busch is the first defending champion to miss the Round of 8 since elimination rounds were introduced in 2014.
- Elliott joined Kurt Busch (Las Vegas) and Denny Hamlin (Talladega) as Round of 12 race winners who clinched through a race victory. Logano, Martin Truex Jr. (7th on Sunday), Alex Bowman (8th), Kevin Harvick (11th), and Brad Keselowski (18th) all joined them through points. Harvick maintains the series’ point lead, 13 tallies ahead of Hamlin.
- Among those eliminated was Clint Bowyer, days after he announced he would retire from the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to join the Fox Sports booth. Bowyer lost his power steering early in the race, but still managed to earn a 10th-place finish. He was sent to the infield care center due to exhaustion but was checked out shortly after. Bowyer is one of five drivers to post top-ten finishes in each of the first three visits to the Roval (joining Elliott, Blaney, Logano, and Bowman)
- Aric Almirola (16th) and Austin Dillon (19th) were likewise eliminated from championship contention.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags