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‘King of the Road’ reclaims his crown

July 09, 2021 - 00:00
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    Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America Sunday in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

After one event in “exile,” Chase Elliott once again is King of the Road.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion passed Kyle Busch for the lead on Lap 46 of 62 and cruised to victory in Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip, the first Cup race at the 4.048-mile road course in 65 years.

The win was Elliott’s second of the season and the 13th of his career. Seven of those victories have come on road courses, including this year’s debut race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Elliott had to settle for second to teammate Kyle Larson in last month’s event at Sonoma Raceway.

Unable to complete a flying lap because of two ill-timed cautions during qualifying, Elliott started Sunday‘s race 34th in a field of 40. By the end of Stage 1, he was 10th, and by pitting three laps before the end of Stage 2, he positioned himself for a frontrow restart for then final stage.

“Just really proud of our team for overcoming some adversity early and having to start in the back, having good pit stops,” said Elliott, who restarted fifth on Lap 46 after the final caution of the race for Anthony Alfredo’s spin into a gravel trap.

“Had a really fast NAPA Chevrolet. Just so proud. We’ve had a rough few weeks, so it feels really good.”

Less than a lap after that final restart, Elliott pulled alongside Busch entering the Kink (Turn 11) on the backstretch and cleared him through Turn 12. Sixteen laps later, Elliott finished 5.705 seconds ahead of runner-up Christopher Bell, who passed Busch for the second position on Lap 58.

Elliott, who clinched a spot in the Cup Series Playoff with the win, finally got a feel for the mammoth road course after frustrating practice and qualifying sessions.

“Yeah, I never felt like I got in a real good rhythm all of yesterday (in practice),” Elliott said. “For whatever reason there, after about halfway through the race, I started finding some of that rhythm, was able to put it together, piece different parts of the track.

“Finally I felt like I was able to piece most of it together. Yeah, stayed with it and glad it worked out.”

Hendrick Motorsports has won 10 of 20 races this season and seven of the last eight. Elliott has the most road course victories among active drivers, is third all-time behind Jeff Gordon (nine wins) and Tony Stewart (eight) and has won at more different road courses (five) than any other driver in Cup history.

Bell overcame a tail-end-of-the-field penalty for driving through more than three pit boxes on Lap 15.

“Here the last couple weeks, I’ve been really proud of the progress we’ve made,” said Bell, who picked up his first Cup win in the second race of the season at the Daytona Road Course. “I’m just proud to drive for everybody on this 20 group at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Excited for the future. I know there’s more to come. Like I said, there’s no reason why we can’t run up front every week.”

Kyle Busch started from the rear of the field and finished third in a backup car after wrecking his primary No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the Kink during Saturday’s practice.

Brother Kurt Busch came home fourth and increased his lead to 25 points over Chris Buescher in the race for the final Playoff position. Denny Hamlin came home fifth, giving Joe Gibbs Racing three cars in the top five.

Chase Briscoe was the top-finishing Ford driver in sixth, matching his best result of the season. Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto completed the top 10.

Austin Cindric, who qualified fifth, had just retaken the lead from Matt DiBenedetto on Lap 24 when a mechanical issue thwarted his hopes for a maiden Cup victory. Cindric ran wide in Turn 5 with a broken axle and spun shortly thereafter.

Pole winner William Byron led the first 15 laps and won Stage 1 but finished 33rd after spinning off course in the final stage. Reddick earned the Playoff point for winning Stage 2 after Elliott, Kyle Busch and Truex made strategic pit stops ahead of him.

— NASCAR reports

Elliott, who clinched a spot in the Cup Series Playoff with the win, finally got a feel for the mammoth road course after frustrating practice and qualifying sessions.

ROAD AMERICA BY THE NUMBERS

Average speed of winner: 86.271 mph

Time of race: 2 hrs, 54 mins, 33 secs

Margin of victory: 5.705 secs

Caution flags: 4 for 9 laps

Lead changes: 10 among 8 drivers.

Lap leaders: W. Byron 1-15; M. Truex Jr. 16; A. Cindric(i) 17-18; M. DiBenedetto 19-23; K. Busch 24-26; T. Reddick 27-31; K. Busch 32; M. DiBenedetto 33-37; C. Elliott 38-44; A. Almirola 45; C. Elliott 46-62