ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Even a start near the back of the pack couldn’t prevent Chase Elliott from continuing his uncanny success on road courses.
Elliott started in the 34th position but still found a way to win the NASCAR Cup Series at Road America on Sunday to wrap up a playoff spot. The 25-year-old Hendrick Motorsports has seven career Cup Series victories on road courses, putting him in sole possession of third place in NASCAR history.
“I really have no idea,” Elliott said about his success on road courses. “I feel like it’s just good cars. Our team as a whole has been good at road courses the whole time too, Kyle (Larson) won at Sonoma. I feel like drivers are only as good as what they have to drive. Fortunately I feel like I've got the best stuff and just got to make it work.”
Elliott started so far back because a couple of cautions hampered his qualifying attempts on Sunday morning.
It ended up not mattering as Elliott won by 5.705 seconds over Christopher Bell. Busch was third, followed by Kurt Busch and points leader Denny Hamlin.
Kyle Busch took a brief lead on a restart on the 46th of 62 laps, but Elliott caught up to him at Turn 11 and had passed him by Turn 12. The restart followed a caution that came when Anthony Alfredo spun off course.
Elliott stayed in front the rest of the way. His only trouble came as he was celebrating his victory.
After he's already done one celebratory burnout on the front stretch, Elliott heard fans asking him to do another Elliott said afterward that “I don’t know if I ever felt that much peer pressure in my life to do a burnout.”
So Elliott did a second burnout and wrecked his tires in the process.
“All these people were chanting ‘Burnout!’ at me,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t going to say no. So I did. I blew the back tires off of it, then ran out of gas and had to have a push."
Elliott, the 2020 series champion, gave Hendrick Motorsports its seventh victory in its last eight Cup races. Hendrick had its six-race winning streak snapped last weekend when Kyle Busch won at Pocono for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hendrick drivers have won 10 of the 20 Cup Series races so far this year.
Elliott needs only two more road-course victories to catch Jeff Gordon, who has the record with nine. Tony Stewart won eight Cup Series events on road courses.
He already is the first person ever to win Cup Series races on five different road courses: Watkins Glen, Charlotte, Circuit of the Americas, Daytona and Road America.
“I think he's a very intelligent race-car driver,” said Elliott's crew chief, Alan Gustafson. “I think that's what puts him in a really good position at road courses, where there's a lot to process and a lot that goes on. It takes him a bit of time to kind of get that all together and figured out, and then when he does, it's not just a feel. He knows what he's doing. There's a lot of thought and process behind what he does, so it's very repeatable.”
NASCAR had three road courses on its Cup Series schedule from 2018 to 2020, and never had more than two in any year before that. This year’s schedule features seven races on road courses.
This race also offered good news for Bell, who had his first top-five finish since placing fourth at Richmond in April.
“It’s been a trying last two months, but we feel like we’re getting back on track here," Bell said. "There’s no reason why we can’t be running up front every week.”
This marked the first time NASCAR has brought its premier series to Road America since Tim Flock won a rainy Grand National race in 1956, and the long-awaited return attracted over 100,000 spectators for the entire four-day event.
Those fans braved Fourth of July temperatures that reached the 90s.
“This is a massive road course, and there were people everywhere around the course,” Elliott said. “It's exciting, man. When we change the schedule up and go to new places, you bring energy and excitement that our series deserves to have. I think we saw that today.”
Road America, which opened in 1955, is located on 640 acres about halfway between Milwaukee and Green Bay. The 4.084-mile course features 14 turns and is surrounded by about 1,600 campsites.
The course wasn’t unfamiliar to the entire field because Road America has hosted an annual Xfinity Series event since 2010. Kyle Busch won Saturday’s Xfinity Series event at Road America, giving the Joe Gibbs Racing driver four Xfinity wins this year in as many starts.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports