NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Road America

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Road America

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The NASCAR Cup Series made its first visit to Road America since 1956 Sunday in a July 4th weekend showcase on the long road course. The race was an exciting affair that produced a different winner for each stage and put Chase Elliott back on top as the road course master. William Byron and Kyle Larson started the race on pole with favorites Elliott and Kyle Busch coming from deep in the field after encountering problems in qualifying. It didn't take long for those two to make their way forward and take command at the front, however. Elliott took the lead for the final time on lap 46 and never looked back, streaking away for the final 17 laps to a win over Christopher Bell by more than five seconds. It was his second victory of the season – both on road courses.

A return to Atlanta Motor Speedway is on the schedule for this week. Ryan Blaney stole the win out from under Kyle Larson at the track earlier this season, who led 269 of the 325 laps that afternoon. Only six races remain in the regular season before the field of championship contenders is set with the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Multiple cautions keeping Elliott from turning in a decent qualifying lap didn't matter Sunday as Elliott won his second race of the season. The road-course master moved from 34th starting position to the top 10 by the end of the

The NASCAR Cup Series made its first visit to Road America since 1956 Sunday in a July 4th weekend showcase on the long road course. The race was an exciting affair that produced a different winner for each stage and put Chase Elliott back on top as the road course master. William Byron and Kyle Larson started the race on pole with favorites Elliott and Kyle Busch coming from deep in the field after encountering problems in qualifying. It didn't take long for those two to make their way forward and take command at the front, however. Elliott took the lead for the final time on lap 46 and never looked back, streaking away for the final 17 laps to a win over Christopher Bell by more than five seconds. It was his second victory of the season – both on road courses.

A return to Atlanta Motor Speedway is on the schedule for this week. Ryan Blaney stole the win out from under Kyle Larson at the track earlier this season, who led 269 of the 325 laps that afternoon. Only six races remain in the regular season before the field of championship contenders is set with the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Multiple cautions keeping Elliott from turning in a decent qualifying lap didn't matter Sunday as Elliott won his second race of the season. The road-course master moved from 34th starting position to the top 10 by the end of the first stage and then drove to a comfortable lead. By the time the race was over, he had led a race-high 24 laps and won in NASCAR's first visit to Road America since 1956. Both of Elliott's wins this season have come on road courses, and his win on Sunday was his seventh finish of first or second in the last eight road-course events, including the Busch Clash. Elliott heads home this week to Atlanta Motor Speedway where he has four top-10s from six series starts.

Kyle Busch – Busch grabbed his fourth Xfinity Series victory of the season at Road America on Saturday, and then didn't even attempt to qualify for Sunday's race after moving to a backup car. The last-place starting position didn't slow him down much, however. By the end of the first stage, he had climbed into the top 20 and then finished the second stage in 10th. Busch went on to continue that pace in the final segment to lead four laps and finish third in an impressive afternoon. Avoiding the trouble that sent him to the backup car may have offered him a better chance to win, but he certainly made the most of his circumstances. Up next is Atlanta, where he has two prior wins and finished fifth earlier this season.

Kurt Busch – Busch's turnaround continued Sunday at Road America – the week it was learned that his team would be sold to Trackhouse Racing. With a future not secured given the news, Busch said he wanted to focus on getting into the playoffs and sending Chip Ganassi out of the series a winner. Just a few weeks after looking like he would need to win to get into the playoffs, Busch leaves Road America with a 25-point cushion in the battle for the 16th and final playoff position. His fourth-place finish Sunday was the third in the last four races for Busch. Ahead lays Atlanta, where Busch has three career victories and 15 top-10s from 30 tries. He crashed out there earlier this season and will be on a mission to continue his momentum. 

Tyler Reddick – Reddick qualified fourth for Sunday's race and proceeded to turn that into one of his best races of the season so far. He finished the first stage fourth and then went on to win the second segment. He led five total laps and finished the day in eighth. The finish was his 10th top-10 finish of the season and helped him maintain his 15th-place spot in the playoff standings, 75 points ahead of the cutline. Reddick and Richard Childress Racing are quietly keeping themselves in championship hunt, and continuing to race like he did on Sunday will give Reddick opportunities to snag a win before the season ends. He started 29th and finished 26th at Atlanta earlier this season, but could benefit from an improved starting position this week.

Christopher Bell – Fantasy players may not have expected much from Bell at Road America despite him winning on a road course earlier in the season. He failed to finish in the top 20 in the two road-course visits following his win. Those who didn't write him off were rewarded on Sunday. His qualifying effort was unremarkable at 13th, but he raced quite well to finish the first stage in the top 10 and then went on to finish second behind Elliott. That top-five was his third of the season and second top-10 in the last four races. This coming week will be another test for him, though. In two Atlanta races he has a best finish of 18th. A top-15 run would be a good effort to continue building upon as the playoffs approach.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson drops to the downgrade column this week after late contact with a teammate left him scrambling at the end of Sunday's trip to Road America. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been a sensation this season with four victories, including an emphatic win at Sonoma. He started Sunday's race on the front row alongside teammate Byron and looked set for another top finish, until late contact with Alex Bowman sent him tumbling down the order. Larson only clawed back to a finish of 16th despite two top-five finishes in the opening stages. Despite a less than perfect weekend, Larson may still be the favorite at Atlanta where he was the runner-up earlier this season and has led 411 laps in his last two races.

William Byron – Sunday's trip to Road America set up a great day for Byron, but it fizzled out in the final stage. Byron started the day off by winning pole for a Hendrick Motorsports front row with Larson alongside. Byron took command early and won the first stage and then went on to finish second behind Reddick in the second. He led 15 laps in total, but the wheels came off in the final stage when he spun an dropped down the order. That spin proved costly as he only managed to finish 33rd despite being one of the cars that could have won. He will try to get back on the rails this week at Atlanta where he scored his first top-10 series finish at the track earlier this year with an eighth-place finish.

Alex Bowman – Bowman started Sunday's race in position to score stage points and leave the weekend with a top-10 finish. He qualified 10th and then went on to finish eighth in the first stage and was working to finish out the race when he tagged and spun teammate Kyle Larson. As if hitting his teammate wasn't bad enough, Bowman sustained some damage to the front of his car and elected to pit to make minor repairs and refuel to ensure he could make it to the finish. That on-track miscue cost him that top-10 finish for the weekend and left him just 22nd. This week's trip to Atlanta could be what he needs to right the ship, however. He scored his first top-10 at the track earlier this season with a third-place result.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick must be relieved to put Road America in the rearview mirror and look forward to the remaining races of the regular season. The former champion was virtually nowhere in qualifying and the race. He missed scoring stage points in the opening segment after qualifying 25th. The second stage gave a bit of hope when he finished that segment seventh. Late in the final stage, the team elected to pit to grab fuel in case a caution arrived, but that reprieve never came, and Harvick drove home to a relatively anonymous 27th-place finish, his worst result since crashing out at Circuit of the Americas. With three career Atlanta wins and a 10th-place finish there earlier in the year, this weekend should be a good opportunity to get over the poor Road America trip quickly, however.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Cindric – Cindric showed a brief glimpse of what fantasy managers might come to see each week when he joins the series full time next season. He has made a name for himself in the Xfinity Series, especially on road courses, and is starting to make himself known in Cup as well. Cindric impressively qualified in the top five for Sunday's race. He then moved forward from there and got out front to lead two laps. An car issue lost him position and exposed some mechanical issues that dropped him from contention, but he had already made an impression. While Sunday didn't have the number of laps and finish he was looking for, Cindric is learning valuable lessons that could make him a challenger straight out of the blocks next season.

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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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