Analysis: A potential Chase Elliott hot streak is on the horizon


Chase Elliott’s standing in the championship hierarchy is a peculiar one. He’s the reigning series champion but also, at times, second-fiddle within his own organization with Kyle Larson having emerged as the new Hendrick Motorsports bellwether. The tracks on which Elliott has won this season, COTA and Road America, are road courses without direct representation on the playoff schedule.

Despite his traditional stat line, he’s shown flashes of brilliance in his top-end performances on tracks he’ll soon visit down the stretch:

  • He turned the fastest lap of any driver this spring in Las Vegas.
  • Hendrick produced the fastest car of any organization at Talladega, a race in which Elliott led three laps and a track on which he’s a previous winner.
  • One of his three runner-up finishes on ovals this season came at Martinsville, where he turned in a race-best adjusted pass efficiency (60.5%).
  • His fifth-place Phoenix result out-finished his median lap ranking (ninth) for the race and served as the top mark within Hendrick.

Considering he’s been to victory lane at six of the seven facilities left on the trophy trail, it’s more possible than meets the eye that Elliott is capable of conjuring “Mr. September” or “Mr. October” vibes. Regardless, what is clear is that after opening the playoffs with finishes of 31st (Darlington) and 25th (Bristol) within the first round, he isn’t garnering the recognition he deserves as a viable title candidate.

So, let’s put some respect on his name:

Against all playoff teams on playoff tracks in the regular season, Elliott and his No. 9 team ranked in the 88th percentile or higher in four key statistical categories — surplus passing, weighted positional gain on green-flag pit cycles (noted as GF Offense), weighted retention rate on green-flag pit cycles (GF Defense) and weighted retention rate on yellow-flag stops (YF Defense). This symbolizes a team that hardly errs with its track position. Elliott’s mistake on a lap-181 pit stop at Richmond was certainly a race-altering miscue, but such a thing is rare for him across a much broader scope.

Elliott’s passing, namely on long runs is both a source of offense in its totality — he’s earned a pass differential 200 positions beyond his statistical expectation — and defense, representing a kind of efficiency, avoiding the side-by-side jostles that thwart tangible on-track progress. That makes Hendrick’s habitual gray-area explorations in the inspection line more tolerable. Omitting Talladega, he turned in positive adjusted pass efficiencies on each of the remaining non-drafting tracks in his most recent starts. He’s one of four drivers who can make this claim, the others being Larson, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman.

But can he distant himself from them or other playoff drivers? Does he have that capacity?

“It’s a fine line, right? I feel like you always want to grab that extra gear if you have it to pull,” Elliott said. “A lot of times you don’t. I think you can very easily reach too far and get yourself in more trouble than what you would if you really executed what you had to work with.

“I think it’s recognizing those things. ‘Hey, can we be better? Do we have that gear to pull? Can we step it up a notch?’ If the answer is yes, OK, let’s do it somehow, some way.”

It seems Elliott does have another “gear” we can quantify. The chief difference between him and the three others who can reliably pass at each remaining track is that a much higher ceiling for potential can be observed.

Dating back to April, the chasm between Elliott’s median lap and best lap of every race was observable. Nearly 22 weeks later, that’s still the case. The No. 9 car ranks fourth in average median lap time, while simultaneously faring second best among each car’s average best lap rank. This team has seemingly more speed than it routinely shows, and if that heightened speed sustains across any stretch of this playoffs, he’d instantly surpass two Joe Gibbs Racing cars and contend somewhat evenly with his more celebrated stable mate:

Elliott turned the fastest lap in seven races this season, the highest tally in the series (Larson turned the fastest lap in five races). But he ranked first in single-race median speed just once — in February’s race on the Daytona road course, where he failed to convert his performance into a victory.

This, too, feels like a disconnect just begging for a course correction. One could come as soon as this weekend’s race in Las Vegas. The 1.5-mile track is an intriguing touchstone for Elliott’s career.

After not leading a single lap in any of his first five Cup Series starts there, he finally cracked P1 in the fall of 2019 and has registered at least 12 laps led per race ever since. His 20.6-place average finish belies it a place of strength for the 25-year-old — only Joey Logano’s 9.6-place career-long average running position there tops Elliott’s 9.9-place mark. Barring a severe drop in form, he’ll be a fixture at the front of the field.

From there, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval loom — the latter on which Elliott has won the last two contests — before a semifinal round consisting of Kansas, Texas and Martinsville. It’s a run-up to the season finale that may see individual favorites based on track characteristics and horsepower packages, but Elliott is one of a few well suited for all courses.

And if his ceiling for potential this season hasn’t been reached, there’s room for a form of dominance we haven’t seen from him since around this time last season.

Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.

Winners and losers at Charlotte Motor Speedway


A look at winners and losers from Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway:


Ryan Blaney — Blaney stopped his winless streak at 59 races and gave team owner Roger Penske his second major race victory in two days. Blaney had the best car but had to fight through restarts late in the race to win.

William Byron — Byron, the winningest driver this season, barely missed getting victory No. 4. He finished second and scored his fifth straight top 10.

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex logged his third top five of the season.

23XI RacingBubba Wallace was fourth and Tyler Reddick fifth, giving 23XI Racing a pair of top-five finishes for the first time in a points race.


Jimmie Johnson — The seven-time champion admitted having problems adjusting to the Next Gen car on a 1.5-mile track. He crashed early and finished last.

Legacy Motor Club — It was a bad night for Jimmie Johnson and his team’s drivers. Johnson finished last in the 37-car field. Noah Gragson was 36th. Erik Jones placed 32nd.

Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin — Two drivers who had strong cars didn’t make it to the finish after crashing near the halfway point. Hamlin said Elliott “shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

NASCAR Xfinity Series results: Justin Allgaier wins at Charlotte


CONCORD, N.C. — Justin Allgaier finally broke through for his first win of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season Monday night.

Allgaier stretched his last fuel load over the final laps to finish in front of John Hunter Nemechek. Cole Custer was third, Austin Hill fourth and Ty Gibbs fifth. Gibbs ran both races Monday, completing 900 miles.

The win also was the first of the season for JR Motorsports.

Charlotte Xfinity results

Xfinity points after Charlotte