NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Wet COTA Debut

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Wins Wet COTA Debut

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott persevered through terrible conditions Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas to win the rain-shortened race for his first victory of the season. The win didn't come easy for the current king of the road courses, however. Pouring rain and standing water on the track left drivers with little visibility and treacherous conditions to race in. Elliott led five of the 54 laps run, and he was driving hard to stretch his lead knowing that he would have to pit again to refuel before the finish. Instead, the track conditions continued to deteriorate, and NASCAR called a halt to the proceedings in a lucky break for Elliott. The win was the fifth of the season for Hendrick Motorsports and came just one week after the organization swept the top four finishing positions a Dover. 

The longest race of the season is up this Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Coca-Cola 600 is a marathon for drivers, teams and equipment. Last year's race was won by Brad Keselowski and marks a return to 1.5-mile before the teams jump right back to left and right turns one week later at Sonoma Raceway.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott came out on top of a wet and wild day at Circuit of the Americas to score his first win of the 2021 season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver kept his car straight throughout the tricky and changing conditions, consistently racing at the front of the field,

Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott persevered through terrible conditions Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas to win the rain-shortened race for his first victory of the season. The win didn't come easy for the current king of the road courses, however. Pouring rain and standing water on the track left drivers with little visibility and treacherous conditions to race in. Elliott led five of the 54 laps run, and he was driving hard to stretch his lead knowing that he would have to pit again to refuel before the finish. Instead, the track conditions continued to deteriorate, and NASCAR called a halt to the proceedings in a lucky break for Elliott. The win was the fifth of the season for Hendrick Motorsports and came just one week after the organization swept the top four finishing positions a Dover. 

The longest race of the season is up this Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Coca-Cola 600 is a marathon for drivers, teams and equipment. Last year's race was won by Brad Keselowski and marks a return to 1.5-mile before the teams jump right back to left and right turns one week later at Sonoma Raceway.

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott came out on top of a wet and wild day at Circuit of the Americas to score his first win of the 2021 season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver kept his car straight throughout the tricky and changing conditions, consistently racing at the front of the field, and lucked out when rain picked up and ended the race short of the scheduled distance. Afterward, the team said Elliott was likely two laps short of making it to the finish, but the weather came to his rescue and adds an 11th different winner to the 2021 tally. Elliott has been quick all season, and the breakthrough win may be what he needs to add more. He won the second Charlotte race last season, was runner-up in the other, and led 66 total laps in both. 

Joey Logano – Logano won his third stage of the season and first on a road course Sunday in the rain at Austin. The Penske Racing driver was one of the first to make the turn onto pit road to grab tires and then leveraged great driving to take the lead and capture the segment win. He missed stage points in the second segment, but that put him in position to score his sixth top-five of the season with a third-place finish. Logano has been the most consistent among the Penske Racing drivers so far this year and has become a more reliable fantasy option at most circuits. That may be true again this week, too. He has one victory at Charlotte and led a combined 68 laps in the two races there last year.

Kyle BuschKyle Busch overcame a wheel-to-wheel duel with Austin Cindric to emerge with the lead after the red flag and won the second stage Sunday in Austin. The prior day, he dominated the Xfinity Series race at the same track, and performances like that from him on Saturday generally lead to good outings on Sunday, too. He avoided the carnage and mistakes that befell much of the field and was one of only a handful of drivers capable of challenging for the lead throughout the shortened race. Unfortunately, the untimely end to the race caught him a bit further back in the finishing order than he deserved. Busch has one Charlotte oval win, which was the 600-mile race in 2018 when he led 377 of the 400 laps.

Kyle Larson – Sunday's runner-up finish in the Texas rain was Larson's third consecutive. Larson has continued to impress each week regardless of the circuit and Sunday's road course outing in challenging conditions was no different. Sunday's finish was his third top-five since he turned around a three-race slump where he failed to finish in the top 15. His speed nearly every race weekend so far this season has been among the best, and he arguably should have multiple wins already. This week could be a good opportunity for him to grab his second victory. He has four top-10s from 11 Charlotte starts and a best finish of fifth. He also finished second at Atlanta earlier this season, which is the most similar 1.5-mile oval to Charlotte the series has visited so far this year.

Ross Chastain – Chastain hasn't had much success to get excited about this season, but Sunday's fourth-place finish was one to remember. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led four laps and persevered to claim his best finish of the year. It was Chastain's first top-10 since the Daytona 500 and his fifth top-15 result in the last six races. Things may slowly be starting to come together for the No. 42 crew. Chastain has three prior Charlotte starts in the series with a best finish of 21st, which was in last year's Coca-Cola 600. Sunday's top finish pushed Chastain to 20th in the standings, just five points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Fantasy players should continue to monitor Chastain over the coming weeks to see if he is able to maintain his progress.

DOWNGRADE

Christopher Bell – Racing in the wet with limited visibility sometimes causes chain-reaction accidents, and that appears to have been just what took out Bell Sunday in Texas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver crashed out in the second stage after making contact and sliding off the track in the spray of cars ahead, as Ryan Blaney slowed for a cut tire. Bell remains in good shape for the playoffs with his road-course win from Daytona, but he is firmly in a slump. He has not had a top-10 finish since his fourth-place run at Richmond last month. However, he did finish ninth in the 600-mile Charlotte race last season. Another race like that would go a good way toward turning his current fortune for the better.

Kevin Harvick – Like Bell, Harvick was a victim of the chain-reaction caused by Blaney slowing ahead. Harvick was a bit behind the first incident, but was clouted from behind by Bubba Wallace. The contact put Harvick into the wall and caused enough damage to result in fluid leaks, which ultimately sent him to the garage and out of the race. Harvick is one of many veterans still looking for his first win of 2021. Sunday's DNF ended a four-race run of top-10 finishes for the former champion and leaves him with 12 regular-season races to get back on track and score a win to secure a spot in the playoffs. Harvick has three career wins on Charlotte's oval. He finished fifth and 10th in the two races there last season.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was another victim of poor visibility. While racing down the long back straight, he ran into the back of slowing Michael McDowell. Following that impact, he was rear-ended by an unsighted Cole Custer. The impact sent Truex into the air and on top of Custer's machine as the pair carried on into the inside wall. It was a quick end to a day in which Truex could have capitalized on the adverse conditions to come away with another top finish. Instead, his car left the track on the back of a tow truck. Sunday's DNF makes three finishes outside of the top 15 in the last five races for Truex. He'll work to right the ship this week at Charlotte where he has three wins, including a dominating performance in 2016 when he led 392 of 400 laps in the 600-mile marathon.

Daniel Suarez – Despite being able to exceed expectations at times this season, Sunday at COTA was not the afternoon for which Suarez and Trackhouse Racing Team was aiming. The road course and unpredictable conditions should have been a chance for him and the team to take advantage, but it wasn't to be. First, the team was forced to the rear despite qualifying 15th. Then, shortly after the start, the car experienced transmission trouble. That was only the beginning. Later in the race, he picked up a speeding and one-lap penalty for multiple pit infractions, too. It wasn't the experience the team wanted just a week after their first top-10. Suarez is now 24th in the standings heading to Charlotte where he has a best finish of sixth from six series starts.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Cindric – Cindric made one of his 2021 Cup Series starts Sunday at Circuit of the Americas and impressed quickly. The reigning Xfinity Series champion qualified third and then turned in an impressive start. On slick tires in wet conditions, he stayed out longer than the veterans and amassed more than a six-second lead before finally hitting pit road to change to wet weather tires. Cindric has proven himself to be one of the best road-course racers in Xfinity, and showed what he might be capable of when advancing to the Cup Series full time in 2022. The rest of the season will be focused on him gaining experience ahead of that step up in competition, but fantasy players may want to keep an eye on him in his remaining 2021 starts.

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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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