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Chase Elliott remains the current king on NASCAR’s road courses.
The 2020 champion has won seven of the last 16 Cup Series road races, a stretch that includes a trip to Victory Lane in last year’s return to Road America in the No. 9 Chevrolet.
In a small sample size, that dominance hasn’t yet carried over to the Next Gen era. Confidence remains high — rightfully so as Elliott heads back to the Wisconsin road course on the heels of a Nashville victory, his second win of 2022. But Elliott concedes his Hendrick Motorsports team is looking to maintain — or regain — its recent road-course dominance.
“Really, I think we’re kind of back to the drawing board,” Elliott said Tuesday via Twitter Spaces. “We had a good package and a good system worked out with our other car. But really, that being out the window, we’re relearning just like everybody else. We hit on a good package with the other car back in 2016 or 2017 and started tweaking on it from there. And it took us a long time to get to where we were really happy and liked things and were really able to extract what we needed to out of the car.
“We haven’t been bad at the road courses this year, but we definitely haven’t gotten the car driving exactly like I want. We haven’t optimized every aspect of a road-race setup or a road-race event from the strategy side of it to being able to pit the car like we want to, to having the exact balance. Hopefully we get there, but I still think we have some work to do.”
The numbers still favor Elliott, whom BetMGM lists at 9-2 as the odds-on favorite to win Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 Presented by JOCKEY (3 p.m ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). His two wins in the first 17 races this year already equal his total victories from 2021 and currently holds the top spot in both the regular-season standings and playoff grid.
The postseason already has Elliott’s attention with just nine races remaining until the regular season concludes at Daytona International Speedway on Aug. 27. Winning the regular-season title comes with a bonus of 15 playoff points. Elliott holds a 30-point advantage over Ross Chastain for the top spot heading into Road America with Ryan Blaney just 31 back of Elliott.
“Thirty points does not — I mean you’re two stages away from basically eliminating that entire gap,” Elliott said. “So we obviously want to add to that. And I think just like anytime when you’re racing and you’re talking about points or talking about a bigger goal individually each week, if we’re in contention to win races and you’re kind of in the mix and in the fight, the points thing’s gonna take care of itself.”
Pit strategy at road courses, however, throws a wrench into those plans. Teams often elect to forego stage points and pit ahead of the stage breaks, leaving valuable points on the table in search of the bigger prize at the end of the race — a win and five additional playoff points.
Trackhouse Racing’s Chastain (Circuit of The Americas) and Daniel Suárez (Sonoma Raceway) have swept the year’s road courses so far. Road America is the first of two road races over the next five weeks, the second coming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 31. Watkins Glen International, where Elliott snagged his first Cup victory in 2018, is the last road course of the regular season on Aug. 21.
“A lot of road racing coming up,” Elliott said, “so if we don’t hit on it (at Road America), it’s a good opportunity to go in the right direction, and hopefully one of those two things happen.”