NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Gets Back-to-Back Wins at the Glen

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Gets Back-to-Back Wins at the Glen

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Chase Elliott became the fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series driver to win back-to-back races at Watkins Glen International with a near perfect run this weekend. The Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified on pole for the Sunday event and then went on to dominate the afternoon. His 81 laps led was the second most in any Cup series race at the track, which underscores the muscle he flexed on the field. The win was his second of the season with just four races remaining until the playoffs begin.

This week, the series heads to Michigan International Raceway where Joey Logano led 163 of 203 total laps. Penske Racing doesn't seem to have the edge they did when that race went Logano's way, but the return to one of the faster and wider oval circuits on the schedule will show fantasy owners who they need to be looking out for in the final races as every team scrambles to make their way into the top 16 to preserve their chances to win a championship.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott started Sunday afternoon's race at Watkins Glen where he ended last season's edition – out front. He drove a mistake-free opening segment and claimed the opening stage win and then backed it up by winning the second under caution. To put the icing on the cake, he ran a nearly flawless final fuel run, holding off Martin Truex Jr., to lead the second most laps in any Cup race at the circuit

Chase Elliott became the fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series driver to win back-to-back races at Watkins Glen International with a near perfect run this weekend. The Hendrick Motorsports driver qualified on pole for the Sunday event and then went on to dominate the afternoon. His 81 laps led was the second most in any Cup series race at the track, which underscores the muscle he flexed on the field. The win was his second of the season with just four races remaining until the playoffs begin.

This week, the series heads to Michigan International Raceway where Joey Logano led 163 of 203 total laps. Penske Racing doesn't seem to have the edge they did when that race went Logano's way, but the return to one of the faster and wider oval circuits on the schedule will show fantasy owners who they need to be looking out for in the final races as every team scrambles to make their way into the top 16 to preserve their chances to win a championship.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott started Sunday afternoon's race at Watkins Glen where he ended last season's edition – out front. He drove a mistake-free opening segment and claimed the opening stage win and then backed it up by winning the second under caution. To put the icing on the cake, he ran a nearly flawless final fuel run, holding off Martin Truex Jr., to lead the second most laps in any Cup race at the circuit on his way to victory. It was his second consecutive win at the track and is just the fifth driver to do that as well. Elliott has six top-10 finishes from seven career Michigan starts. His worst finish at the track came earlier this season when he finished 20th.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex harried Elliott most of Sunday's race distance on the Watkins Glen road course but couldn't muster the edge that he needed to get close enough to make a serious challenge for the race win. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was constantly behind the Hendrick Motorsports driver throughout Sunday's race but just didn't have enough to overtake the dominant Elliott on a near perfect afternoon. Still, the team is showing that this is a driver who shouldn't be overlooked on road courses after his win earlier this year at Sonoma. Looking ahead, Truex has 10 top-10 finishes from 27 career Michigan starts but hasn't yet visited Victory Lane. He finished third earlier this season after starting 16th.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin continued building his momentum last week in Watkins Glen. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was solidly inside the top five in the final segment of the race but didn't have the pace to claw his way into the battle for the lead. The top-five finish was his fourth in as many races. Hamlin has two Michigan wins and started from pole in this race last season. He started fourth and finished 11th at the track earlier this season, but seems to be on a much better run of form now. As the playoffs approach he's one driver fantasy owners will want on their side. Hamlin's momentum is heading in the right direction as the knockout rounds begin to loom ever larger.

Erik Jones – Jones had a very productive weekend in New York. The JGR teammate worked to solidify another top-five finish, which made it his fourth in a row like teammate Hamlin. Unlike Hamlin, Jones doesn't have the wins that would guarantee him a spot in the playoffs. Finishes like last week's fourth-place run on the road course will go a long way to getting the job done for him, though. At Michigan, Jones has just one top-five finish from five career starts. That top finish was a third-place run in 2017. He had a rough outing at the circuit earlier this year and will be looking for a much better race this week with four races remaining until the playoffs.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch wasn't making any friends Sunday at Watkins Glen. The dominator through much of the season first clashed with William Byron and then got into a feud with Darrell Wallace Jr., who ended up turning Busch around as the pair banged fenders down the front straight. It was a rough and tumble day for Busch, who should have been able to run at the front and battle teammate Martin Truex Jr. and others for the lead. Busch should be careful as the playoffs approach. Having many enemies on the track as the races begin to mean more could be a disaster for his championship effort. Busch's only Michigan win came in 2011, but he does have three consecutive top-fives heading into this week.

William Byron – Byron and Kyle Busch ignited an early feud in Sunday's race, but Byron ultimately came out worse off. The two made contact in the opening miles, and Busch repaid the favor by putting Byron into the grass toward the end of the first stage. Byron disagreed with Busch's assessment of the situation and rear-ended the No. 18, doing more damage his own car than Busch's. Byron was hampered with a damaged machine for the last half of the race and was only able to work his way to the 21st position when the checkered flag flew. He and the team must put this past week behind them and get back into the groove they were in before in order to make the playoffs. In three Michigan starts Byron's best finish was a 13th-place in last season's spring event.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's week didn't get off to the best start, as the team announced a crew chief change the Monday following Pocono. Johnson now faced a Watkins Glen race weekend with a rookie crew chief, as he hoped to accelerate his charge back toward the playoff positions. That didn't happen, though. Instead, he was running in the middle of the pack when contact with Ryan Blaney sent him spinning out of position. Johnson has one Michigan win that came back in 2014. It has been four races since he has finished in the top 10 at the track, and there's a lot of work that needs to be done before this team can begin to think about the championship playoffs.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer was nowhere to be found Sunday at Watkins Glen. That is precisely the opposite of what he needed as his playoff hopes grow dimmer. The No. 14 began a backward slide following the All-Star race, and things haven't completely righted themselves yet. With just four races remaining to get into the playoffs, Bowyer needs more than the 20th-place finish he delivered on Sunday. He was a noncontender after starting 13th despite being one of the better road course racers in the series. This team's slump is beginning to pile unwanted pressure on Bowyer, and it will be a struggle as he tries to climb his way back up the standings to ensure a spot in the championship fight.

Ryan Newman – Newman has been establishing himself as a regular top-10 finisher, but Sunday's race at Watkins Glen was anything but. The Roush Fenway Racing driver didn't have the cleanest race and drove to a rather unimpressive 25th-place finish. That was Newman's fifth finish at the track outside of the top 15 in the last six visits. While fantasy owners wouldn't have expected Newman to be a top-10 contender this week, he should have been capable of a top-15. The battle for the final spot in the playoffs is getting tighter and tighter, and the chances to claim the position are getting fewer and fewer. Newman appeared to have the momentum heading into last week's race, but fantasy players should question whether he retains it heading to Michigan.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt DiBenedetto – DiBendetto had another fantastic afternoon on Sunday, claiming a sixth-place finish. While road course racing isn't his background, he has become one of the drivers who fantasy owners need to have on their radar. He has been open recently about being unsure as to whether he'll retain his ride for next season, but performances like he delivered on Sunday should serve him well as he looks to either keep his ride or find another elsewhere on the grid. DiBenedetto now has three top-10 finishes from the last four races in a team that rarely could be considered contenders. He finished 21st at Michigan earlier this season but could be in store for another career-best at the track this week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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