Chase Elliott’s Path to Another NASCAR Championship Begins With Road Courses
As if being the defending champion and driving for one of the most successful teams isn’t enough, Chase Elliott was handed a big advantage the day that the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series schedule came out.
That’s because Elliott consistently demonstrates he has the right stuff in a sport that suddenly is about more than left turns.
Chase Elliott followed in his famous father’s footsteps
Few NASCAR drivers in the 1980s came close to matching the success and popularity of Bill Elliott, the driver known to fans as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” Elliott won only one NASCAR Cup Series season championship, in 1988, but he took the checkered flag 44 times in his career and finished in the top four in points six consecutive seasons. The sport’s fans voted him the most popular driver 16 times in a span of 19 years.
Chase Elliott appears to have learned well from his father. Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired in 2017 after 15 straight seasons as the most popular NASCAR driver, and Elliott has held the title each year since. Driving one of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevys, Elliott racked up 11 race victories from 2018-20. His five wins last season helped Elliott secure his first season championship.
Casual observers may think of NASCAR as nothing but left turns. However, there is more to Elliott’s success than just his mastery of ovals.
NASCAR’s 2021 schedule twist is a blessing for Chase Elliott
The NASCAR Cup Series schedule in recent years has consisted of 36 races each season on a variety of tracks. The ovals range from the superspeedways at Talladega and Daytona down to tracks that comparatively speaking would fit in a thimble. Martinsville and Bristol are barely half a mile, and Richmond Raceway is three-quarters of a mile.
For many years, there were also two road-course races per season: Sonoma Raceway in California is a 2.52-mile layout, and Watkins Glen International in New York is 2.45 miles. NASCAR added the Charlotte road course in 2018 but had to improvise last year by using just the Daytona and Charlotte to break up the ovals routine.
Chase Elliott turned those events into two of his five victories, keeping intact his impressive record on road courses.
Sonoma, Watkins Glen, and Charlotte are back on the schedule this season, and they have a lot of company. Seeing the year after the unprecedented chaos caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to innovate and prepare for a new generation of cars arriving soon, racing executives added three more road-course points races to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule beginning with Feb. 21 at Daytona.
Aside from the Daytona event on the heels of the traditional Daytona 500, the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be road-race venues. NASCAR had previously run on the Indy oval to mixed reviews of the quality of racing.
Given Elliott’s proficiency in that style of racing, the first four road courses should allow him to pile up victories and points that send him into the 10-race playoff, which includes a date on the Charlotte Roval that could boost him into the final eight if all else fails.
Elliott is progressing speedily toward catching Jeff Gordon (nine wins) and Tony Stewart (eight) on the list of NASCAR’s best road-race drivers.
Who are NASCAR’s best road-course drivers?
Chase Elliott comes into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series with four straight victories on road courses – each at a different location. If that doesn’t spell dominance, then nothing does. He has a realistic shot at matching the six in a row that Jeff Gordon racked up from 1997-2000.
If sportsbooks offered a prop bet of Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. vs. the rest of the field, the money would flow into Elliott and Truex. The two of them have accounted for eight of the last nine road-course wins in establishing their reputations as the best NASCAR road-race drivers.
Although he had atrocious luck on the roads last season, Kyle Busch possesses two victories apiece at Watkins Glen and Sonoma. Veterans Denny Hamlin, A.J. Allmendinger, and Joe Logano are also highly regarded.
He will race primarily an Xfinity Series schedule once again this year, but Kaulig Racing has entered Allmendinger in the Daytona road-course race as the organization toys with moving to a full NASCAR Cup Series schedule in the future.
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