Watkins Glen takeaways: A troubling trend for Chase Elliott’s team


WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — The penalty to Chase Elliott’s team before Sunday’s race marked the third time this season infractions have cost the Hendrick Motorsports driver points.

Those lost points are significant and could impact his chances to win a second consecutive Cup title.

Sunday at Watkins Glen, NASCAR docked him 10 points for the infraction with the rear window air deflector that was discovered in inspection before the race.

That came after the 25 points NASCAR took from Elliott last month when his team failed to have the proper sealed engine in its car at New Hampshire.

Elliott’s summer woes started in June at Nashville when he was disqualified because his car had five loose lug nuts after the race. He scored 38 points that day, but the disqualification reduced his point total to one and cost him the playoff point he scored for winning a stage.

That’s 72 points he lost because of those infractions. The most a driver can earn in a race is 60 points, so it’s as if Elliott has missed one race with all the points his team has given away this year.

Watkins Glen Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott’s crew works on his car after failing inspection twice before the Watkins Glen race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

And it’s likely more than 72 points lost. Elliott has had to start at the rear five times this season. While he made it into the top 10 to score points in the opening stage each time, how many more stage points could he have scored if he had started closer to the front?

If Elliott had those 72 points he’s lost from infractions, he would rank third in the season standings with three races left. Instead he’s seventh.

What’s the big deal? He’s going to make the playoffs anyway some would say. 

Should Elliott finish the regular season seventh in the standings, he would earn four additional playoff points. But if he finished the regular season third, he would receive eight playoff points.

So, he could lose out on four playoff points. Add the playoff point he lost for the Nashville disqualification and that’s five playoff points that could be gone.

Then consider this: Had Elliott not won at Martinsville in last season’s penultimate race, he would not have advanced to the Championship 4 in Phoenix and competed for the title. Kevin Harvick finished five points ahead of Elliott and would have taken the final transfer spot if Elliott had not won Martinsville

That’s why points matter.

And why it is disconcerting how many points Elliott’s team has thrown away this season.


Kyle Larson rode on the plane with Denny Hamlin to Watkins Glen this weekend. Hamlin didn’t wait on Larson after the race since Larson was delayed with all the duties of a winner.

That’s OK, Larson rode back on the Hendrick Motorsports team plane.

Larson and Hamlin have not let their race for the regular-season championship — and the five extra playoff points that go with it — sour their friendship.

“You can still be friends with your competitors,” Larson said before the race. “When you’re on the racetrack, I want to beat him as bad or moreso than other people just because he is a friend and we are competitive. You can still be friends.. … I think when you can separate the two (on the track and off the track) that’s good.”

It’s easy for Larson to do that because, he says, “I’m a friendly person. I feel like I’m easy to get along with.”

Larson’s win Sunday at Watkins Glen moved him into a tie with Hamlin for the points lead. Hamlin has led the points since late February.

“Honestly, I like this because it’s making me keep my form through the whole year,” Hamlin said of the pressure from Larson. “It’s really pushing me to treat every race like it’s a playoff race. … Had this been a 100-point lead like earlier in the season, maybe you’re just kind of relaxing a little bit, and then all of a sudden you’ve got to turn it on when the playoffs come on. This is pushing us to go all out every race.”

Larson said he faces some challenges to claim the top spot by the end of the regular season Aug. 28 at Daytona.

“He’s so good at Daytona, too, so it would be nice to get a couple good weeks and get that point lead because I know he’s going to go there,” Larson said of Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner. “Anything can happen at Daytona, but I know he’s going to go there and he’s going to get stage points and he’s going to challenge for the win.

“I know he’s looking at me as the same. If he could go into Daytona being even or ahead, he’s going to feel like he’s got the advantage.”

Larson’s crew chef Cliff Daniels said he doesn’t mind such talk from his driver, knowing how that will motivate Larson.

We think a lot alike, and we both know if somebody beats us that we have that to shoot for and that we get to go study that much harder,” Daniels said. “If I think I’m good, I’m not very comfortable, and if he thinks he’s good, he’s not very comfortable. So he’s comfortable knowing that he needs to improve today to be better tomorrow. And I’m kind of the same personality.

“I think that’s pretty healthy that he thinks that, and I think that of myself and our team, too. We’re going to look at (Sunday) and be critical.

“I know my pit crew guys really well; they’re going to be critical of our first stop. You guys are all going to write about our second stop, but my guys at the shop on Monday are going to be beating themselves up over the first stop. Me and my engineer were already talking about things we could have done to make our car better than (Chase Elliott’s car) because (Elliott’s car) was the best car at the end of the race. Like that’s a real thing.

“Even leaving here as the winner, we already know two key areas that we can be better, and I think Kyle doing that, looking ahead at some of those races, is probably not a bad thing.”


There was a lot of talk last month from competitors about a crash test of the Next Gen car and questions about it. NASCAR stated July 19 that an independent safety panel had reviewed the data from the June 30 test crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Denny Hamlin said he wants to take a closer look at the results and have a better understanding of what the test showed.

“I won’t strap in unless I know what I’m getting strapped into,” Hamlin said before Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen. “I don’t think any of the drivers will. Hopefully in the next week or so we’re going to have those conversations and go over all the data.”

And what is he wanting to see?

“That (the Next Gen car) is not worse than our current car,” he said. “That’s it. NASCAR developed it. I just want to make sure and see that it’s not worse.

“We put SAFER barriers in for a reason — because drivers were getting their bells rung and having concussions and having issues. A lot of old drivers that raced before SAFER barriers tell me ‘I’m not right from hitting all those walls all those years.’

“If you have a car that is worse that kind of takes away the advantage of what the SAFER barrier was. Now we’re right back to where we were. As long as it’s better or equal to what we got, then I think we’re all good.”

Brad Keselowski views the matter differently.

“I think the cake is baked and we’re going to go race this thing,” he said. “Whether I’m comfortable or not matters only to the extent of being comfortable enough to focus on the performance when the car gets here.

“I’m not going to think about the safety side. It is what it is at this point.”

NASCAR informed drivers July 4 that crash testing of a Next Gen car “indicates good and comparable performance” when compared to other right front crashes with non-Next Gen cars.

The crash data review was the last item before Next Gen chassis were released to Cup organizations. Teams report they’ve been putting the car together as they wait for some parts from vendors.

This marks the first time in NASCAR history single suppliers are providing the key parts for the car instead of teams manufacturing many of those elements. 

Multiple tests are planned in the coming months for the Next Gen car. Tests with multiple teams are expected to be held at least at Daytona, Charlotte oval, Charlotte Roval and Phoenix before the start of 2022.

Truck starting lineup at WWT Raceway: Ty Majeski wins pole


Ty Majeski will lead the Craftsman Truck starting lineup to the green flag Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway after winning the pole Friday night.

Majeski claimed his fourth career series pole and first of the season with a lap of 138.168 mph around the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Truck starting lineup at WWT Raceway

Ben Rhodes, who won last week at Charlotte, qualified second with a lap of 137.771 mph. He was followed by Christian Eckes (137.716 mph), Carson Hocevar (137.057) and Stewart Friesen (137.007).

The series races at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Saturday Portland Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


There have been different winners in each of the last nine Xfinity Series races this season. Will the streak continue Saturday at Portland International Raceway?

Those nine different winners have been: Sammy Smith (Phoenix), Austin Hill (Atlanta), AJ Allmendinger (Circuit of the Americas), Chandler Smith (Richmond), John Hunter Nemechek (Martinsville), Jeb Burton (Talladega), Ryan Truex (Dover), Kyle Larson (Darlington) and Justin Allgaier (Charlotte).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Portland International Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. … Practice begins at 11:30 a.m. … Qualifying begins at 12 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 4:15 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Donnie Floyd of Motor Racing Outreach at 4:30 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed at 4:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 75 laps (147.75 miles) on the 1.97-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 12 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 4:30 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 4 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4 p.m. and can be heard on mrn.com. … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 73 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last year’s inaugural Xfinity race at Portland by 2.8 seconds. Myatt Snider finished second. Austin Hill placed third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at WWT Raceway, Portland


Craftsman Truck Series teams will be on track Friday at World Wide Technology Raceway to prepare for Saturday’s race. Cup teams will go through inspection before getting on track Saturday.

Xfinity Series teams will go through inspection Friday in preparation for their race Saturday at Portland International Raceway.

Here is Friday’s schedule:

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)


Friday: Partly cloudy with a high in the low 90s.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series (no track activity on Friday)

Friday 5: NASCAR’s $1 million question is can the culture change?


NASCAR Cup teams have paid nearly $1 million in fines this season, more than triple what they paid last season for inspection-related infractions.

The money — $975,000 after just 14 of 36 points races — goes to the NASCAR Foundation. While the fines help a good cause, it is a troubling number, a point that a senior NASCAR official made clear this week.

Stewart-Haas Racing was the latest Cup team to be penalized. NASCAR issued a $250,000 fine, among other penalties, for a counterfeit part found on Chase Briscoe’s car following Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. The team cited a “quality control lapse” for a part that “never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack.”

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week that if violations continue, the sanctioning body will respond. NASCAR discovered the infraction with Briscoe’s car at the R&D Center. Series officials also discovered a violation with Austin Dillon’s car at the R&D Center after the Martinsville race in April.

“If we need to bring more cars (to the R&D Center), we’ll do that,” he said. “Our part of this as the sanctioning body is to keep a level playing field for all the competitors, and that’s what they expect us to do and that’s what we’ll continue to do. … Whatever we need to do, we will do that.”

Sawyer also noted that the “culture” of race teams needs to change with the Next Gen car.

“From a business model and to be equitable and sustainable going forward, this was the car that we needed,” Sawyer said. “To go with that, we needed a deterrent model that would support that.

“We’ve been very clear. We’ve been very consistent with this … and we will continue to do that. The culture that was in our garage and in the race team shops on the Gen-6 car was more of a manufacturing facility. The Next Gen car, that’s not the business model.

“The race teams, they’re doing a better job. We still have a lot of work to do, but they have to change that culture within the walls of the race shop.”

While NASCAR has made it clear that single-source vendor parts are not to be modified, teams will look for ways to find an advantage. With the competition tight — there have been 22 different winners in the first 50 races of the Next Gen car era — any advantage could be significant.

Twelve races remain, including Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway, before the playoffs begin. The pressure is building on teams.

“Some race teams, at this stage in the game, their performance is not where they would like for it to be and they’re going to be working hard,” Sawyer said. “If they feel like they need to step out of bounds and do things and just take the risk, then they may do that. That’s not uncommon. We’ve seen that over the years.

“The one thing that we have to keep in mind is we’ve raced the Next Gen car for a full season. We’re in year two, just say 18 months into it. So last year, they were just getting the parts and pieces, getting ready, getting cars prepared and getting to the racetrack.

“Now they’ve had them for a year. They’ve had them for an offseason. It’s given their engineers and the people back in the shop a lot more time to think, ‘Maybe we could do this, maybe we could do that.’

“By bringing these cars back (to the R&D Center) and taking them down to basically the nuts and bolts and a thorough inspection — and we will continue to do that — I believe we will get our message across. We’ll have to continue to do this for some period in time, but I have great faith that we will get there.”

A similar message was delivered by Sawyer to drivers this week when NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in retaliation for being forced into the wall.

Sawyer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “in the heat of the battle things happen, but (drivers) have to learn to react in a different way.”

Sawyer also noted that the message on how to race wasn’t just for those in Cup.

“We have to get that across not only to our veterans, guys that are superstars like Denny, like Bubba (Wallace) and like Chase and all our of national series Cup drivers, but also our young drivers that are coming up through the ranks that are racing in the Northeast in modifieds and in short tracks across the country,” he said. “That’s just not an acceptable behavior in how you would race your other competitors.

“There are a lot of things you can do to show your displeasure. That’s just not going to be one of them that we’re going to tolerate.”

2. Special ride 

Corey LaJoie gets to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car this weekend due to Chase Elliott’s one-race suspension.

“It’s a far cry difference from when I started my Cup career six years ago,” LaJoie said on his “Stacking Pennies” podcast this week. “There was a Twitter page “Did Corey crash?” … Going from that guy just trying to swim and stay above water and trying to learn the ropes to filling in for a champion like Chase Elliott for Hendrick Motorsports, it feels surreal.”

It was a little more than three years ago that LaJoie gave car owner Rick Hendrick a handwritten note to be considered to replace Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 car after the 2020 season.

“This was the first time I’ve gotten a letter from the heart,” Hendrick told NBC Sports in February 2020 of LaJoie’s letter. “I’ve gotten letters and phones calls, usually from agents. It was really a heartfelt letter and it was really personal.

“I was impressed with him before and am more impressed after.”

LaJoie admitted on his podcast this week that he wouldn’t have been ready to drive the No. 48 car then.

“I wouldn’t have been ready, whether it be in my maturation, my game, my knowledge of the race cars,” he said. “The person that I was wasn’t ready for the opportunity like that.”

Now he gets the chance. He enters this weekend 19th in the season standings, 38 points behind Alex Bowman for what would be the final playoff spot at this time.

“It’s an opportunity to hopefully show myself, as well as other people, what I’ve been thinking (of) my potential as a race car driver,” LaJoie said on his podcast. “But I also think you have to just settle in and be appreciative of the opportunity.”

3. Special phone call

With Corey LaJoie moving into Chase Elliott’s car for Sunday’s Cup race, LaJoie’s car needed a driver. Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar will make his Cup debut in LaJoie’s No. 7 car for Spire Motorsports.

Once details were finalized this week, the 20-year-old Hocevar called his dad.

“I don’t know if he really believed it,” Hocevar said.

He told his dad: “Hey, this is actually happening.”

His father owns a coin and jewelry shop and is looking to close the store Sunday and have someone watch his two puppies so he can attend the race.

For Hocevar, it’s quite a turnaround for a driver who has been at the center of controversy at times.

Ryan Preece was critical of Hocevar’s racing late in the Charlotte Truck event in May 2022. Preece said to FS1: “All you kids watching right now wanting to get to this level, don’t do that. Race with respect. Don’t wreck the guy on the outside of you trying to win your first race. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”

NASCAR penalized Hocevar two laps for hooking Taylor Gray in the right rear during the Truck race at Martinsville in April.

Hocevar acknowledged he has had to change how he drives.

“Last year was really, really tough for me and that’s no excuse,” Hocevar said this week. “I just was mentally wrong on a lot of things, had the wrong mindset. I wanted to win so badly that I thought I could outwork stuff and it kind of turned some people away. … I wasn’t enjoying the time there. I was letting the results dictate that.

“I was taking results too personal. If we were going to be running seventh, I took it as I was a seventh-place driver and I wasn’t good enough. So I started making desperate moves. I did desperate things at times, even last year, that I’ve been able to calm down and look myself in the mirror and had a lot of heart-to-heart conversations.”

He called the Martinsville race “a turning point” for him and knew he needed to change how he drove. He enters this weekend’s Truck race with three consecutive top-five finishes.

4. Moving forward

In a way, Zane Smith can relate to what Carson Hocevar will experience this weekend. Smith, competing in the Truck Series, made his Cup debut last year at World Wide Technology Raceway. Smith filled in for RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, who missed the race because of COVID-19 symptoms. Smith finished 17th.

“That one that I got for RFK Racing was a huge opportunity,” Smith said of helping him get some Cup rides this season. “I was super thankful for that. I think that run we had got my stock up and then, honestly, getting the Truck championship helped that rise as well.

“I think just time in the Cup car is so important, and I think once that new Cup car came out, people realized that you don’t have to do the route of Truck, Xfinity, Cup. The Cup car is so far apart from anything, though it does kind of race like a truck, so I don’t think you need to go that round of Truck, Xfinity, Cup. I think a lot of people would agree with me on that.

“I’m happy for these Cup starts that I’m getting. I’m happy for that one that I got last year at a place like Gateway. I think every time that you’re in one you learn a lot.”

Smith has made five Cup starts this season, finishing a career-best 10th in last week’s Coca-Cola 600 for Front Row Motorsports. The former Truck champion has two Truck series wins this year and is third in the season standings.

5. Notable numbers

A look at some of notable numbers heading into this weekend’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois:

5 — Most points wins in the Next Gen car (William Byron, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott)

7 — Different winners in the last seven points races: Christopher Bell (Bristol Dirt), Kyle Larson (Martinsville), Kyle Busch (Talladega), Martin Truex Jr. (Dover), Denny Hamlin (Kansas), William Byron (Darlington), Ryan Blaney (Coca-Cola 600).

17 — Points between first (Ross Chastain) and sixth (Christopher Bell) in the Cup standings

88 — Degrees at Kansas, the hottest temperature for a Cup race this season (the forecast for Sunday’s race calls for a high in the low 90s)

100 — Consecutive start for Austin Dillon this weekend

500 — Cup start for Brad Keselowski this weekend

687 — Laps led by William Byron, most by any Cup driver this season

805 — Cup start for Kevin Harvick this weekend, tying him with Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list.