Chase Elliott took the lead from Erik Jones on Lap 92 and never looked back and collected back-to-back Bank of America ROVAL 400 victories Sunday at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Elliott finished 3.895 seconds ahead of Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top-five.
Elliott picked up his third NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and back-to-back on a road course after the Hendrick Motorsports driver also won on the inaugural Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway Road Course in August.
Elliott: “I just had another really fast NAPA Camaro and really appreciate the effort. I feel like road courses have been fortunate to us the last few trips, but I feel like we just try to get a little better every time and tweak on the small things. I feel like I tweaked on some small things and got a little better than what I was here last year, which was good.
“And, I’m just really proud of the effort. I appreciate everybody at Hendrick, Chevrolet, Mountain Dew, Kelley Blue Book, UniFirst, Hooters and all of our partners that make this deal go.
“And, it’s always special to win here at Charlotte with the shop being right across the street. I appreciate all the effort there. The best way to get into the next round is to win and so, hopefully we can do something with it.”
William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Cole Custer and Clint Bowyer completed the top-10. Truex was battling Kurt Busch for fourth when the he spun with two laps to go.
The four drivers who entered the race outside the cutoff position in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs were officially eliminated.
Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and Aric Almirola will not move onto the semi-final round and a shot at this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Ho Hum Day For Playoff Drama
Heading into this weekend’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, it was looking like we’d have to see one of the four drivers below the cutline to make it to the Round of 8 have to win Sunday’s race. Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon both trailed the eighth and final transfer spot to the third round by 21 points. Clint Bowyer was 37 points back with Aric Almirola 48 back himself.
But, it was entirely possible still for that to happen.
Five of the last six years have seen someone new bump their ways back in on the final race of the second round. Despite that, the largest margin someone made up without winning though was 19 points. So, for someone new to make it back in, it would have to be historic.
That’s why the drama was minimal for Sunday’s cutoff race.
Austin Dillon was only 37th and 23rd respectively in the two stages. He finished 19th.
Aric Almirola was just 21st and 36th respectively himself. He finished 16th.
Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch had chances of winning early but when the strategy flipped at the end of Stage 1 for when the track dried out and drivers were electing to go from wet tires to the slicks, when John Hunter Nemechek brought out the caution on Lap 22, three laps from the end, Bowyer and Busch had to flip flop their plans.
They were going to chase stage points and were running in the top six at the end. With that caution, they had to give the points up and pit for slicks. The problem was, almost everyone else had already done so too, so they restarted midpack.
That meant the second stage was the same. Why go for points now? It was all about positioning yourself for the win. That’s exactly what they did.
Unfortunately, Bowyer got into Busch at the end of Stage 2 to end Busch’s chances early. He tried to stretch his fuel in the final stage but failed and finished 30th. Bowyer, came up just short too (10th) with the same four drivers below the cut line finishing there.
Kyle Busch Eliminated
Kyle Busch was trying to become just the 11th repeat NASCAR Cup Series champion. Unfortunately, the warning shot that he issued after the final race of the first round that he would get eliminated from championship contention in the Round of 12 rang true. Busch, finished 18th in Sunday’s race and becomes the first repeat champion eliminated before the Round of 8 in the six year history of this new format.
The 10 previous repeat champions in back-to-back years were Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Lee Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly. The last time that this happened other than Johnson’s five year reign between 2006 and 2010 was Jeff Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. That’s only happened just three times in the last 31 years and will extend to 32 years with Busch now not making the Championship 4 after five straight years of a final round appearance.
Busch, hasn’t won a race all year anyways and despite finally finding some speed again, the lack of an insurance policy (playoff points) caught up to him. He had one stage win all regular season, so between that and his two bonus points for finishing in the top 10 of the regular season points standings, netted him three of them for the postseason.
That wasn’t enough for him to advance past the second round despite Busch finishing in the top seven in five of the six races run this postseason.
“It’s just been the year,” Busch said after his playoff exit. “Nothing has played out and been on our side. It’s just been unfortunate circumstances, a lot of bad luck. These guys on this team never give up and they fight all year long, every race and every lap.
“A terrible year for me. As other sports greats could say there are many other drivers that would love to have a year that we’re having.
“But man, it’s just frustrating to know how good we are and what we’re capable of and being champions from last year to not come out here and succeed and be able to win.”
His race on Sunday saw him climb up to the top six in the opening stage, but as the track got drier and more and more drivers pit for slicks, couple that with a caution coming out with three laps left in the opening stage and setting up a one lap shootout, Busch had to pit. He would have been a sitting duck on the wet tries.
So, their plan went from scoring points to just winning. That’s why he pit from a top 10 spot at the end of Stage 2. They wanted to set themselves up for a race win and to advance to the Round of 8 by virtue of that.
Instead, contract with Clint Bowyer on the second to last lap of the stage cost Busch as he had to pit with damage. Busch, wouldn’t give up though and they nearly made a miraculous comeback. He inched closer and closer as the final stage moved on and was fourth when the caution for debris came out on Lap 85. The top three would pit under that caution but Busch remained out to stretch his fuel from Lap 64 on.
It was a gutsy move but didn’t work since the speed just wasn’t there to hold everyone else off. He finished 30th as his winless streak extends to 32. Busch’s three ROVAL finishes have been 32nd, 37th and 30th respectively.
He’s now hoping to end the year with at least a win. He’s won every year since he’s been in Cup, but if he wants to extend a 16 year win streak, a win over the next four weeks is needed.
“Certainly it would be nice to do more, and to have a win for this year would be the only consolation prize for the way this year has gone,” he said.
“But do we even have a shot to win? I don’t think we have a shot.”
Busch noted that changes could be coming before the end of the year in order to do so.
“There’s certainly been times this year where I’ve thought, ‘Man, there’s something wrong with me, I’m not doing it right, I don’t know what I’m doing’ or the car is not quite right or I’m not trusting what the car is really doing and telling me so I should just driver it harder – and I’m crashed,” he said.
“I don’t know what to think.”
Rough Day For JGR Cars
Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson didn’t mince words on the media zoom call this week. He said it was absolutely “unacceptable” that they had just eight wins this season. Following 19 wins in 2019, a drastic dip in victory trophies in a one year span was frustrating.
Well, if he was frustrated heading into the ROVAL, he has to be even more frustrated now.
The Toyota cars struggled all race. It started before we even got going when Erik Jones’ No. 20 Toyota had an electrical problem. He’d have to start last as a result. Jones, rebounded to finish in the top 10 but he was really no where to be found much of the day before.
Denny Hamlin has three separate issues and finished 15th.
Martin Truex Jr. was only 27th in Stage 1 after pitting under the late stage caution for slicks. He did finish fourth in Stage 2 but was hit with a speeding penalty at the end of the stage pit stop. He got into Kurt Busch while battling for third in the end and spun. That dropped him to seventh in the final finishing order.
Finally, Kyle Busch, like Truex, changed strategies at the end of Stage 1 and was run over by Clint Bowyer at the end of Stage 2. He’d finish 30thth.
This was a forgetful day for JGR.
Elliott and Truex’s Road Course Dominance Continues
Heading into Sunday’s race, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. had won seven of the last eight Cup Series races on road courses. That streak extends to eight of nine with Elliott winning his fourth straight in fact.
They had an up-and-down day. They looked good early too but faded with mistakes after that only to rebound to dual top 10 finishes in the end.
Elliot took the lead on Lap 8 with Truex coming up to second. Unfortunately for them, once the strategy changed for guys electing to pit from wet tires to slicks, it was all downhill.
Elliott, was 20th in Stage 1. Truex, was going to finish fourth but with changing strategies, he came home 27th. In Stage 2, both came back up to finish 2nd (Elliott) and 4th (Truex Jr.). Despite that, Elliott had a loose wheel following his pit stop during that stage break and had to come back down to pit as we were going green. Truex, was speeding.
They’d rebound with their road racing prowess and show why they’re the best on these tracks.
Second place finisher, Joey Logano, says Elliott is in his own zip code right now.
“We better find a way,” Logano said of catching Elliott on road courses. “It’s not even close. Whatever they’re doing… I got a good view of it for a while behind him, some things I saw.
“Boy oh boy, I saw cars do the same thing and not go as fast. He’s light-years ahead of everyone, like I said. Like I said, his teammates aren’t even close. It’s crazy to think about whatever it is. Seems like long runs is definitely his strength.
“But, hey, we’re going to have to because plenty of road courses next year. We’re going to have to figure something out because right now he can kind of cruise around. He got out there, managed his gap to me about 20 car lengths ahead of me. I knew that was happening. The harder I pushed, he’d go a little bit faster. Eventually it was really easy for him to pull away the last five laps. That just goes to show how good they are right now.
“I’m not trying to take anything away from them. They deserve all the credit. They are the best at road course racing right now by a lot. We got to work that out.”
Jones Continues Playoff Hot Streak
Erik Jones has to wonder what if. What if Jones made the playoffs in 2020. This is the second time in four years that he didn’t and in the two previous years that he did, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver struggled. In six combined first round races, Jones had five finishes of 30th or worse.
This year, he doesn’t make the playoffs and he’s having a career run now in them.
Jones, has five top eight finishes in six tries including four of which being in the top five. On Sunday, Jones’ No. 20 Toyota wouldn’t even start at the beginning. They were dealing with an electrical problem. His windshield wiper was working but wasn’t turned on. So, a crewman hopped in to diagnose which, is a penalty and cost him his starting spot.
Jones, would start last now. He’s still fight up to finish 10th in Stage 1 but fall to 19th in Stage 2. In the end, there he was in the top five again as he would come away in third.
He’s showing the owners out there that they should give him a chance in 2021 since he’s a free agent.
Byron Stays Hot Too
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are brutal. It’s hard to advance on through the three rounds to the Championship 4. Unless you have a ton of playoff points banked, you have to be damn near perfect.
William Byron is finding out the hard way. The Hendrick Motorsports driver just scored his fifth top six result in the last eight races with a sixth place run Sunday in the Bank of America ROVAL 400.
But, Byron isn’t necessarily thrilled with that finish out of his No. 24 Chevrolet. If not for a penalty, he felt like he would have had a shot at a win in fact.
“Yeah today was a tough one,” Byron said. “I’m really frustrated with the speeding penalty. I felt like I was to the good and I obviously wasn’t so I’ll have to go back and look at it.
“Overall, today was a good day though. We led a lot of laps and felt like our car was capable of running up front with (Chase Elliott). I would have liked to see what we could have done there at the end and battled with him.
“Either way it was a good day for us and we’ll go on to Kansas and try get a win.”
This streak started with a fourth place finish in Dover 2. He’d win a week later to stamp his name into the postseason in his first career Cup victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona back on Aug. 29. He then back that up with a fifth place result in the opening playoff race at Darlington for the Southern 500.
But, a 21st place finish at Richmond and getting caught up in a chain reaction crash in Bristol (38th) ended his championship hopes.
While they could have packed it in this round, he comes away with two top six finishes in three starts in the Round of 12, both coming in the two wild card races at Talladega and the ROVAL.
Kurt Busch Heating Up
Heading into the Round of 12, Kurt Busch was 12th out of the 12 driver sin the playoff standings. It was a tall task to think that he could advance past this round. Busch, had no top five finishes in his last 12 starts and had no victories in well over a year. For this round, he likely was going to have to alter the course of that.
He’s done just that.
Busch, won the first race of the round in Las Vegas then backed that up with a top five in the final race of the second round on the ROVAL to give him two top five finishes in three tries. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver brought his No. 1 Chevrolet home fourth in the Bank of America ROVAL 400. From 1 top five in his last 21 races entering the Round of 12 to two in three tries.
That gives him high confidence heading to the Round of 8 now.
Busch, has four straight top 10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season including seven of the last eight tries. He won the last race on them in Vegas. We have two 1.5-mile tracks to kick off this next round too.
Can Busch be the Cinderella of the playoffs and steal a spot into the Championship 4?
Option Tire Needed For NASCAR Races
Formula 1 has it. They’ve got like three options for tires during the course for a race weekend. The NTT IndyCar Series has it to. They have a Black tire (primary) and Red tire (alternate). The options for both series are for alternate tires to be faster in speed but fall off faster too. The primary tires are slower, but they last longer.
It calls for strategy options.
Sunday, NASCAR had that by chance. They had the wet tires at the start of the race but as the track dried, it allowed teams to swap them out for slicks which are vastly faster. It created an interesting strategy play.
Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer were going for stage points early. Everyone else went for the track position for the next stage. They all elected for the slicks at the competition caution or after. Bowyer, was second. Truex was fourth and Busch sixth. But, with John Hunter Nemechek getting off course in Turn 6 on Lap 22, it forced that trio to change strategy. We’d have a one lap shootout for the stage win and with them on the wets still, they had to pit.
It created drama that was much needed and showed that NASCAR could use an option tire to manufacturer much needed drama and strategy for races.
Track was better on Sunday than Saturday
Joey Logano doesn’t typically have many nerves before a race. It’s his job. Racing cars is his livelihood. But, the nerves in his brain were on overload into Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400.
See, it’s a wildcard race. A cut off race at that. One that would take place in the rain. Following how Saturdays Xfinity Series race went in Charlotte, Logano wasn’t very calm ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff race.
“I typically don’t get nervous before races, but this one had me pretty nervous because, I said earlier before the race, I’ve never felt less prepared for the battle ahead,” Logano said.
“Typically a guy over-prepares, tries to make sure he see everything coming at me before it happens. But this one I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t know what it was going to be. I asked as many questions to Austin Cindric, watched the Xfinity race yesterday from a suite. I did everything I felt like I could do and I still didn’t feel comfortable, especially being on the cut line of what was going to happen.”
Logano, said the conditions on Sunday were the big reason to why things went better than Saturday. The Saturday NXS race was run in intense downpours. It made the track treacherous and we saw numerous crashes. Sunday, was in dry conditions for much of the race but the start was wet due to heavy rains this morning.
But, there’s still one thing to fix if we’re to race in the rain again though Logano notes.
“Yeah, I thought it went way better than I thought it would. I think yesterday for the Xfinity guys, that was an extreme case. That was probably too much rain.
“But today the only negative I saw of anything today is that they got to fix the running water. It never stopped running across the racetrack. If they can figure out a way to drain that better through three and four and a little bit down the backstretch into the rear chicane, you can fix that and we’re good. I don’t know how easy that is to fix. I’m not a construction guy. If they can fix that, good to go.”