While the box score says Chase Elliott finished 21st in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253, after seeing another race on a road course though, it’s clear that Elliott is by far the best driver on these types of circuits still. Yes, his four race win streak on them came to an end on Sunday afternoon. But, if not for that fluke caution that should have never flown, he likely would have won still too.
Elliott, led the first 12 laps. He then took back over on Lap 14 after the pit stops and would actually lead 27 of the first 28 laps overall. He was so smooth and didn’t turn a wheel wrong.
After pit road and sequences put him behind a bit, he’d pass Bell for the lead on Lap 40 and look to have the win in his sights. At the time of the caution, Elliott led 45 of the first 57 laps.
You can’t deny now that Elliott is the top road racer in the game right now and it’s honestly not all that close either.
Where Elliott may be the best driver on road courses, Toyota’s have the best race cars on them. They put two of the four JGR cars in the top three of the finishing order on Sunday including a win by Bell.
Bell, was 12th in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2 then won outright in the end.
Hamlin was third and first respectively in the two stages and finished third.
Martin Truex Jr. had the fastest car among the bunch. He went from starting 19th to finishing seventh in the first stage. He was fifth in Stage 2. If not for that late race spin, he was gearing towards a top five again as he was third before the yellow for weather.
Kyle Busch got off course on the opening lap to rebound to finish 10th in the second stage. He was in the top five in the closing laps before that ill advised yellow. In fact, all four JGR cars were in the top seven at that time.
Joey Logano says that the lack of practice time right now is making it difficult to close the gap to these guys.
“I mean, we all miss it, right?” Logano said of the lack of practice. “I actually like it. I enjoy practice. It’s fun to me. We’ll have our chance to practice on a road course when we get to COTA. Up to then, the hard part is, it’s very clear, every time we come to a road course now, it’s been the 9, then one step back is the Gibbs cars, feels like the next step back has been our car with the 22.
“It’s hard to make up that ground because you can’t just throw the kitchen sink at it because you have a bunch of theories that aren’t verified, right? On top of that, it’s hard to compare one race to the next because the temperature is different, you name it could be different.
“It’s hard to make up that difference sometimes because of the lack of practice where you can just AB something. More sway bar, less sway bar, what’s better? You can just line that up and know.
“For us, it’s nice we had the Clash last week, we tried some things there. I thought they were better. We tried some more this week. We made some gains again. So as long as we keep being methodical and inching up on it, it’s good. If you throw 10 things at it, like I said, it’s too many variables.”
Hamlin, sort of agreed. He said the on track time is helping him close the gap to Elliott for himself too.
“I think how I’ll get better is on-track time,” he said. “I think in general, the more that we run road courses, the tighter the field is going to get. Everyone is going to get better. The gap is going to shrink. Really Chase passed the 19. Those two guys got a gap fifth to 10th to 20th. That will shrink the more we do road racing.
“For me, I’m stuck at par right now. I can’t break par. I’m just right there third to fourth fastest, and that’s where I’m at. I think the more times I run, the tighter that gap is going to get.
“I think I’m catching up. I think I got 20 to 30% there today. I mean, he’s still lightning fast. I mean, honestly, when he got the lead, I beat him maybe a couple laps, but who knows. He’s probably just sitting back one-handing this thing just cruising. Who knows.
“I definitely feel like I gained a little bit today, but I still got some work to do for sure. There’s nothing I could see honestly that was, like, earth shattering, wow, he’s just killing me here. It’s a little bit everywhere. It’s just going to take time for me to figure out.”
The Busch Clash saw JGR cars look the best with Busch winning, Hamlin dominating early and Truex coming from the back to the lead before a crashing in the bus stop.
The points paying race saw more dominance out of this bunch. This is a great sign for the other six road courses on the schedule.