NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Fourth Consecutive Road Course Race

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Fourth Consecutive Road Course Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Chase Elliott won on a road course for the fourth consecutive time at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. It was his second consecutive win on the track and the second to come from adversity, too. A wet track meant the NASCAR Cup Series drivers started a race on wet tires for the first time in series history. Not much more uncertainty could have been on tap as the 12 remaining playoff drivers faced off in the final race before that field was trimmed to eight. However, Elliott started confidently and even overcame a loose wheel and unscheduled stop to work his way back to the front in another impressive road course performance. The win earned him automatic entry into the next round of championship playoffs, giving him a shot at being one of the final four drivers to race for the title.

Sunday's difficult conditions threw a curveball at the entire field, but playoff drivers hoping to come from behind to make it into the final round would have been hoping for something more predictable. Both Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch made valiant efforts to drive toward the front of the field and threaten to win and advance, but both ultimately came up short and watched their playoff hopes evaporate at the finish. Joining the pair in exiting the championship hunt were Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola. The final round of playoff eliminations gets underway this week at Kansas Speedway where the next three races will determine which four

Chase Elliott won on a road course for the fourth consecutive time at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. It was his second consecutive win on the track and the second to come from adversity, too. A wet track meant the NASCAR Cup Series drivers started a race on wet tires for the first time in series history. Not much more uncertainty could have been on tap as the 12 remaining playoff drivers faced off in the final race before that field was trimmed to eight. However, Elliott started confidently and even overcame a loose wheel and unscheduled stop to work his way back to the front in another impressive road course performance. The win earned him automatic entry into the next round of championship playoffs, giving him a shot at being one of the final four drivers to race for the title.

Sunday's difficult conditions threw a curveball at the entire field, but playoff drivers hoping to come from behind to make it into the final round would have been hoping for something more predictable. Both Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch made valiant efforts to drive toward the front of the field and threaten to win and advance, but both ultimately came up short and watched their playoff hopes evaporate at the finish. Joining the pair in exiting the championship hunt were Austin Dillon and Aric Almirola. The final round of playoff eliminations gets underway this week at Kansas Speedway where the next three races will determine which four drivers will race for the season title in Phoenix later this fall.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott drove to his fourth consecutive road course win, overcoming a loose wheel, to earn a spot in the penultimate round of playoff eliminations. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was at the front of the field at the start but spent much of the early miles in the pack after a loose wheel forced him into an unscheduled stop. It wasn't long before he worked his way forward again, however. Elliott's win was highly predictable from a fantasy perspective, but it came at the perfect time for him to guarantee his spot in the next round of playoff eliminations. The next round of races looks good for him, too. He won at Kansas in 2018 and has three top-fives in the last four races there.

Ty Dillon – A well timed stop for slick tires on a drying track left Dillon in perfect position to win his third career stage. The Germain Racing driver was the first driver to gamble on switching to slick tires, and that gamble paid off as he returned to the track and immediately turned quicker laps than the rest of the field. Unfortunately, that speed was lost after an off-track excursion in the final stage left him back at the rear of the field. He spent the rest of the distance mired in the pack and was unable to work his way back into position for a top finish. He left with a 23rd-place finish, which should have been higher. Looking ahead to this week, Dillon's best Kansas finish was 14th back in 2017. He finished 15th at the track earlier this year.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney cycled to the front of the field in the second stage on Sunday and then held off Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott in a short run to the finish to capture the stage win. The final stage wasn't as kind to him, unfortunately. While in the lead, he went off track and spun in front of the field. Upon visiting pit road to change those tires, he was then slapped with a speeding penalty that left him with an unsurmountable deficit to clear before the end of the race. That has been the story of Blaney's season in 2020, though. Just as emblematic was the trip to Kansas when he led 15 laps but finished 20th after making contact with the wall. That contact, plus a stop to make repairs, left him with another missed opportunity after he appeared to have the speed to win.

Erik Jones – Another top-10 at Charlotte this past weekend makes it four in a row for Jones. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver took a brief downturn in results after announcing that he would not be back with the team next season, but he turned up the wick once the playoffs got into full swing. Since the playoffs began, he has four top-fives and five top-10s from six races. That string of results is a statement to teams looking for drivers next season. This week could be another opportunity to show off his capabilities. In eight Kansas starts, Jones has five top-10s with a best finish of third last spring. Jones is a driver team owners should be considering for their teams next season, and fantasy players should be considering him for theirs this week, too.

Kurt Busch – Busch was one of only two playoff drivers to enter this weekend's unpredictable road course race without the pressure of needing a result. His win three weeks ago at Las Vegas earned him a spot among the final eight championship contenders as well as the right to relax this week at Charlotte. Not having the pressure likely enabled him to race to his sixth top-five finish of the season. Busch drove a confident race in tricky conditions, not putting a foot wrong as he circled within touch of the leaders all afternoon. Busch does have a road course pedigree, but his performance Sunday may give him an extra dose of confidence ahead of the next three races that will determine his eligibility to run for the championship in Phoenix. Up first is Kansas, however. He started and finished ninth there earlier this year.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch was in a precarious situation heading into Sunday's elimination race on the ROVAL, and a flat tire with side damage at the end of the second stage put him in even a deeper hole. Despite working his way back to the front of the field in the final stage, he wasn't able to hang on. His 30th-place finish was nowhere near enough to see him into the next round of the playoffs. His chance to defend his title is gone and now he must focus on simply winning a race. That is something he has yet to do, and with just four races remaining, it looks increasingly likely he won't even get that done. Busch has one Kansas win from 2016. He finished 11th there earlier this year despite leading 52 laps, the most he led at the track since 2017.

Denny Hamlin – If there was trouble Sunday in Charlotte, Hamlin seemed to find it. The trying conditions caught him out multiple times after starting on the front row. The season's seven-time winner simply could not get his afternoon pointed the right direction and he spent a lot of the race try to point his car in the right direction, too. It's a good thing he won two weeks ago at Talladega to see his way through to the next round of the playoffs. If it had come down to his performance at Charlotte, it would have been very stressful. He has one more round of elimination to navigate before racing for the championship at Phoenix. Hamlin has three Kansas wins, including the last two visits to the circuit, which means he should be a favorite this week.

Austin Dillon – Dillon had a strong start to the playoffs but wasn't able to replicate the same finishes in the round of 12. Contact from behind by Kyle Busch sent Dillon out of control and into the outside wall. That contact left him with flat tires and an impossible hole to dig out of to keep his playoff hopes alive. Dillon was able to work his way back up to 19th by the finish but that simply wasn't enough for him to earn a spot in the next round of the playoffs. Still, 2020 is a season on which Dillon and Richard Childress Racing can build. The team showed more pace than in recent seasons and even found Victory Lane. The focus for the rest of this season should be on building that base and taking another step forward. Next week is a good place to start since Dillon only has three top-10s from 14 series starts.

Matt Kenseth – Despite Kenseth's extensive experience in the series, Sunday marked the first time he would race on the Charlotte road course. He was never the greatest driver in the series when turning right and left, but he could be relied upon to score a top-10 relatively frequently. Instead, this past week he struggled under the tough conditions and found himself nose first in the tire barrier as well. It was an afternoon to forget for the former series champion and his worst finish since New Hampshire. His 34th-place finish was his fourth time finishing 30th or lower this season. Returning to the competitive series was always going to be an uphill battle. Kenseth will be aiming to use these last four races to make a case for a potential return next year. 

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Cole Custer – Custer has had a rookie season to be proud of. He won at Kentucky, made his first playoff appearance, and then overcame adversity to score his seventh top-10 of the season on the Charlotte road course. While the top finish came much too late to help his playoff hopes, Custer has been one of the plentiful rookie options for fantasy players to consider each week. Early contact in what looked like a race-ending incident presented only a minor hill for Custer to climb on his way to a ninth-place finish, his best since New Hampshire. Fantasy players should keep in mind that Custer's win earlier this year came on a similar circuit to Kansas, too. He has been good on these 1.5-mile ovals and finished seventh at the track earlier this summer.

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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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