Marcos Ambrose

‘What a thrill’: Chase Elliott breaks through with first career Cup win

6 Comments

Chase Elliott held off NASCAR’s defending Cup champion for the last 31 laps to earn his first career Cup Series win Sunday at Watkins Glen International.

Elliott took the checkered flag over Martin Truex Jr. after Truex ran out of gas on the last lap.

The win comes in Elliott’s 99th start, just like Kyle Larson’s first victory two years ago. It is the 250th win for Hendrick Motorsports in Cup and snaps a 37-race winless streak.

The top five was completed by Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

“Holy cow, what a thrill,” Elliott told NBCSN. “I don’t know what to say. Just so thrilled, just so emotional. So much relief. Working all three years and hadn’t won one. Came here with a great opportunity today and I was able to get it done. … I hope my buddies back home are ready to get rowdy tonight because it’s going to be a good one.”

The victory for Elliott, 22, echoes the first win for his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who won on a road course in 1983 at Riverside International Speedway. The elder Elliott never won at Watkins Glen in Cup, but he claimed his only Xfinity win on the road course.

Bill Elliott served as a spotter for his son Sunday.

Just like his father, Chase Elliott broke through for his first win after having finished second eight times before visiting victory lane. He placed second earlier this year at Richmond.

“It took us some kind of hard times to get here,” Elliott said. “I had to have a good group around me to keep pushing me and keep making me realize that we weren’t in those positions by accident. And, it was funny this morning. I woke up and I watched the video. (University of Georgia football coach) Kirby Smart had a speech about having pressure is a privilege. And, I had that on repeat this morning in the bus, just thinking about it. I thought we had a chance today and wanted to make sure that if we were in a position to try to capitalize, and we did. What a day. … This is one hell of a day.”

It is the first win for Chevrolet since Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 in February.

The victory came on the 43rd birthday of Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott claimed a stage win for the third straight race.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Kyle Busch placed third after a pit fueling issue during the last caution forced him to pit again from the lead and restart in 31st … Daniel Suarez earned consecutive top fives for the first time in his career … William Byron placed eighth, giving him consecutive top 10s for the first time in his career.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Joey Logano was eliminated after being involved in a Lap 2 incident that damaged an oil cooler on his car … AJ Allmendinger placed 15th after he had to pit to repair damage sustained when he ran into the back of Logano on Lap 2 … Jimmie Johnson placed 30th after receiving a pit penalty during the Stage 2 caution, driving most of the race with a broken rear-view mirror, and being involved in a wreck with 11 laps to go.

NOTABLE: Chase Elliott is the youngest Cup driver to win on a road course … He joins Steve Park, AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose as drivers to earn their first Cup wins at WGI.

WHAT’S NEXT: Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET on Aug. 12 on NBCSN.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Watkins Glen in last three seasons

Leave a comment

In Modern Day NASCAR, no race is disposable. The dominance of the Big 3 is altering a lot of strategies, however, and it changes how one want to approach the fantasy game. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are locked in a tight battle to lead the points and earn 15 bonus playoff points that go along with it, but the real concern for them is in accumulating race victories.

That changed the way they approached Sonoma this June. Instead of battling for segment wins, the Big 3 opted to challenge for the overall victory at the end. That race was run with limited caution flags, so the strategy played out perfectly, but there are a lot of unknowns on road courses. An ill-timed caution can play havoc with one’s NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, so this is a good week to take a few risks and perhaps even leave one of the Big 3 in the garage.

1. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 5.00)
Busch has been close to perfect at Watkins Glen. In 13 starts there, he’s scored two wins and 11 top 10s. He is also the only driver in the field with three consecutive top 10s on the New York road course – including a second-place finish to Joey Logano in 2015. He’s been just as strong at Sonoma and his fifth-place finish there was his seventh straight road course top 10.

2. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 5.33)
This will be Kenseth’s first road course race of 2018; Trevor Bayne got behind the wheel at Sonoma. It appears that the No. 6 is improving, but so far Kenseth has been able to score only results in the teens. That trend will likely continue this week, but in some fantasy games that might still make him a good value.

3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 7.33)
Busch has been one of the most consistent drivers all season. He has not contended for top fives like his teammate Harvick or brother Kyle, but at the end of the race he finds a way to get to the front. That has been his pattern on road courses as well with his last five races at Sonoma and the Glen landing between sixth and 11th.

4. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 8.33)
Keselowski thought he had this race won in 2012 when he nudged Kyle Busch out of the way on the white flag lap on a track made slippery by oil from Bobby Labonte’s car. He was beaten to the finish line by Marcos Ambrose. That wound up being one of three consecutive runner-up finishes at the Glen. Keselowski came close again in 2016 with a third-place result.

5. Joey Logano (three-year average: 9.00)
Logano was one of the best values on road courses from 2014 through 2016. He scored five consecutive finishes of sixth or better – including a victory at the Glen in 2015. He slipped to 12th last June at Sonoma, was 24th at the Glen in August and 19th in the most recent road course race. It’s time to look elsewhere for a fantasy value worthy of challenging the Big 3.

MORE: Rotoworld Go Bowling at the Glen Cheat Sheet

6. Clint Bowyer (three-year average: 9.67)
For the past five years, Bowyer has alternated top 10s with results outside the top 15 at Watkins Glen and if the pattern holds, he will struggle this week. Since finishing fifth at Sonoma this spring, he has scored only one more top 10 in five races in the Cup series. That does not bode well for his chances.

7. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 10.67)
From 2010 through 2015, Hamlin struggled on road courses. He failed to score a single top 15 in that span with an average finish of 29.2, so his turnaround in 2016 came as a surprise. He finished second at Sonoma that year and won at the Glen. Last year, he swept the top five on the combined road courses and followed that with a 10th at Sonoma this spring.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 11.00)
At Sonoma this spring, Truex became the first Cup driver to win back-to-back road course races since Kyle Busch in 2008. The odds of him getting three in a row are high since three of his previous five attempts on twisty tracks ended 25th or worse.

9. AJ Allmendinger (three-year average: 12.33)
Allmendinger didn’t take command of the 2014 race at Glen until lap 61, but once he grabbed the top spot he refused to let go. That victory locked him into the playoffs and he hopes the same thing will happen this season. His missed shift and blown engine at Sonoma this June is still etched in his brain, but he has always been much better at the Glen with a career average of 9.3 to Sonoma’s 26.3.

10. Chase Elliott (three-year average: 13.00 in two starts)
Elliott would like to get out of the Glen with a top 10 so he can take some momentum to Michigan. In two starts on this lightning fast road course, he’s missed the single digits both times with 13th-place finishes. He enters this weekend with back-to-back top 10s on the flat tracks of New Hampshire and Pocono. Many experts think the same skills apply on the road courses as drivers have to brake before the corner and accelerate at the apex.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Only four active drivers have won poles at the Glen in the past. Kyle Busch leads with two poles. AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson have one each. Throughout the history of this track, scoring multiple poles has been difficult with only three drivers ever stringing three together. In all likelihood, the pole will go to someone new, so make your selection after practice is in the books.

Segment Winners: There is simply no way to predict who will be victorious at the end of segments on road courses. Strategy played such a critical role in the Sonoma race this June that the leaders gave up the opportunity to lead at the end of each stage in order to gain track position. In three road course races in the past two years, no one has won more than one stage.

The most likely segment winners this week will be drivers who believe they are going to make the playoffs, but have not yet won a race to lock themselves in. They not only need the potential stage bonus, but also the points that are awarded at the end of each segment in order to protect their position in the standings.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Ryan: Plate race insanity needs more common sense driving

4 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Before delving into an analysis of something inherently irrational, let’s revisit some timeless wisdom from an Australian sage named Marcos Ambrose.

“This is crazy racing. We can legitimize it all we want, but it’s insanity on four wheels.”

It might be the finest encapsulation to date of restrictor-plate racing — and the sheer madness has only gotten worse since Ambrose’s brutal honesty after the April 26, 2009 race at Talladega Superspeedway that ended with a car in the catchfence and seven injured fans.

Now compounded by stage racing, playoff berth implications and the Peltzman Effect (the Cup Series has never seemed safer, and thus drivers naturally are inclined to be riskier than ever), this might be the most aggressive era in the 30-year history of plate racing.

The exorbitant costs of overtime hours in fabrication shop tell that story, as do the box score incident reports (“2,3,4,9,10,11,12,13,14,17,19,21,22,41,42,43,48,88,95,72,78,1,7,15,32,34 accident turn 3”) that read like a drunken night of bingo

There were six major wrecks involving an aggregate 70 cars in two races at Daytona International Speedway this season, and all happened within roughly 10 yards of the lead.

That’s unacceptable, even by the often untenable circumstances mandated by plate racing.

Spare us the righteous indignation about the “proper” methods of blocking. It stirs echoes of what Ambrose told us about the logic of applying behavioral norms to lunacy.

Just drive better, guys.

Or maybe smarter.

This isn’t aimed solely at Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who took the brunt of the criticism for another less than stellar display of driving Saturday night. The wrecks were a replay of several ill-conceived moves made at the Daytona 500, and not all of them involved Stenhouse.

He was the first to note that he couldn’t take umbrage at William Byron for a block that started the chain reaction in Saturday night’s first crash because the Roush Fenway Racing driver had done the same thing in February.

In both Daytona races this year, there often seemed a rush to go … nowhere. Though some of the moves were driven by midrace points being at stake, there still were a disproportionate number of contenders eliminated by crashes within the first two stages.

Wrecks are part and parcel to plate racing, which is built around large packs running inches apart, but the pileups historically have started because of bobbles deep within the long trains of cars.

Now they often begin at the front because of an overarching belief that plate races can won only by dictating the action from the point.

“To win these races, you really need to be the leader,” Stenhouse said after leading a race-high 51 laps. “To win the stages and really kind of control the field. I felt like when I was in the front, I could really kind of control the field and make them do what I wanted to do. That’s why everybody was so aggressive trying to get to the front.”

The absurd conventions of plate racing often make drivers take bizarre actions, such as slamming into each other in the corners at 200 mph. NBCSN analyst Kyle Petty once referred to that bump drafting era of the mid-2000 as Cup drivers’ “meth habit”, and the single-minded, hell-bent desire to stay up front constantly in 2018 seems just as addicting.

There’s a fine line between “managing” lanes of traffic and blocking them, yes.

There also is a fine line between reasoning and rationalization.

It seems in the rush to lead every lap if possible, what’s been lost is that drivers have options, even if they are less than perfect.

Instead of throwing a late block on a car closing at more than 200 mph, you can choose to stay in your lane and swallow the loss of positions.

Instead of staying in the accelerator when a car darts in front, you can choose to lift off and pull out of line.

Of course, there are the consequences of losing several spots, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will lose the race. Yes, it’s harder to claw back to the front with the current horsepower/spoiler package (a handling combination endorsed by drivers, by the way), but it isn’t impossible.

Race winner Erik Jones rallied from a lap down from crash damage (and also fell backward after missing his stall on the first pit stop). Runner-up Martin Truex Jr. lost the draft midway through Daytona and yet was in the lead for the final restart.

They earned the rewards available after many of their peers took unnecessary and early risks that did little but damage their series’ reputation for showcasing elite talent.

“NASCAR is built on beating and banging, but I think what you’d like to see is aggressive moves that don’t result in the incidents we saw,” NASCAR chief racing development officer and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “Certainly we like the aggressiveness of drivers going for wins, that’s what the sport is founded on, but you hope you can avoid some of the contact we saw Saturday.

There are conflicted feelings about the results of the Coke Zero Sugar 400, which produced the best postrace interview of the season in first-time winner Jones and also a litany of underdog finishers. The final two laps were just as scintillating even with 80% of the field essentially eliminated from contention.

But it isn’t a good look for NASCAR’s alleged 40 greatest drivers to turn their vehicles into battering rams with all of the precision and skill of a group of fourth-graders in bumper cars.

And then make those same mistakes time and again at the world’s most famous racetrack in hopes of a better outcome.

It sounds like another way to define insanity, actually.


Another contributing factor to the craziness of plate races? The rule outlawing advancing position by running beneath the yellow line, which restricts the amount of real estate with an imaginary boundary that drivers treat like a wall to help pin the competition.

The rule was created to stem the preponderance of multicar crashes that resulted from drivers racing on the apron and often off Turn 2 onto the backstretch.

But it receives much more attention when it determines race winners as it did Friday after Justin Haley dipped below the line to take a checkered flag that was awarded to Kyle Larson.

O’Donnell said drivers were informally polled about the yellow line rule last year, and the feedback was unanimous in wanting to keep it.

“Chaos would ensue” without it, O’Donnell said. “You never want to have to make that call (that decides a win), but that’s the rule.”

There almost certainly will be further discussion of the yellow line between NASCAR and drivers in the wake of the Daytona call (Ryan Newman, who has long challenged the validity of a racetrack with an out-of-bounds line, raised questions about in Saturday’s drivers meeting about the legality of Haley’s pass), but expect things to remain status quo.

The rule can’t be enforced arbitrarily, allowing last-lap passes that heretofore weren’t legal would undermine the integrity of a race.


It appears the rules for the cars also will remain static when NASCAR returns to Talladega Superspeedway in three months after a lackluster visit to the 2.66-mile oval in the spring.

NASCAR increased the width of the spoiler by a few inches on both sides at Daytona and also returned horsepower to where it had been in Speedweeks.

O’Donnell said driver feedback was positive about the impact on being able to maneuver, which should bode well after drivability had been a major problem at Talladega.


Saturday night was a major reminder that plate driving is the biggest weakness in Truex’s game, but the defending series champion almost seemed relieved despite letting the win slip away on the final restart.

“All in all, I think for us it was a good night, and did all the things we needed to do,” he said. “I’ve just got to work on my mirror driving skills. I’m not real good at it. And just happy to get through here alive and finish.  I joked all week that I hadn’t finished this race in eight or ten years, and that’s not ‑‑ I mean, it’s kind of funny but it’s not really.  It’s true and sad.”

Actually, it had been only four years since Truex had finished on the lead lap of a July race at Daytona, but the results probably run together in his 0-for-54 streak in plate races.

He has joked before that he needs to be “more of a jerk” to win at Daytona and Talladega. But if the Kryptonite in your stock-car skillset is being unable to guess how to drive like the annoying masses who refuse to merge and hog the left lane of every highway in America … well, we can think of worse deficiencies.


An overlooked nugget from Saturday night: Was that the last time we’ll see an Earnhardt race at Daytona?

After seven Cup starts this season, Jeffrey Earnhardt has no races scheduled after his 11th Saturday. He hung around for an extended selfie session he held in the pits with friends and sponsors. “We might have abused our pass limit, but thankfully we got NASCAR to allow us to bring all these guys out here,” he joked.

It could be remembered as apropos goodbye as a salute to a family legacy that became synonymous with the 2.5-mile oval in triumph and tragedy.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Sonoma in last three years

Leave a comment

The last nine races at Sonoma have been won by a different driver each time. Only one driver enters the weekend with back-to-back top-fives on this track and three others have consecutive top 10s. Given the importance of strategy and track position, repeating at this track is incredibly difficult.

Those stats should predict a fresh face in Victory Lane, right?

Unfortunately a brief glance at the drivers with the best average finishes over the past three years reveals that the two dominators of 2018 – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – head up the list. If a fantasy player thought this was going to be a good week to vary their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, it’s time to rethink that position.

There are a couple of surprises among recent top performers, but the cream tends to rise to the top of NASCAR events. Anchor this week’s team with solid marquee drivers and use dark horses as a way to differentiate those selections from the competition.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.67)
Harvick won last year’s edition of this race, but it is not the first time he has run well at Sonoma. He finished fourth in 2015 and was sixth the following year. Making those runs even more impressive is the fact that he has started outside the top 10 in each event and had to drive his way through the field.

2. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 4.33)
Along with Harvick, Busch is the only other driver with a current three-race streak of top 10s at Sonoma. He won there in 2015, followed by a seventh and fifth in his last two outings. He may be a better value than Harvick this week, however, because he has an equally impressive record at Watkins Glen International with a second in 2015, a sixth in 2016 and a seventh last year.

3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 6.33)
It has been three years since Busch scored a top five at Sonoma, but what he lacks in raw power is made up for in consistency. In his last seven attempts on this track, he has finished outside the top 10 only once and that was a 12th in 2014. He won on this track in 2011 and finished second in 2015.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 6.67)
It appeared Logano had found the handle on this track. He scored his first top five in 2015 when he crossed under the checkers fifth. That was followed by a third in 2016. Last year was difficult for the driver of the No. 22; he qualified poorly in 18th and managed to climb only to 12th at the checkers.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.00)
Sometimes a switch seems to flip for a driver on a given track. That is what happened to Hamlin in 2016 when he was on his way to Victory Lane before contact from Tony Stewart in the final corner. He hung on to finish second – snapping a six-race streak of results outside the top 15 – and backed that up with a fourth last year.

6. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 10.67)
Newman’s consistency has aided in his making the top 10 list a few times this year and the same is true at Sonoma. Without a top five to his credit in the past five years, he has swept the top 15. That makes him a good utilitarian pick. He will probably not score maximum points, but is also unlikely to lose a lot at Sonoma.

6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.67)
There are so many different things that can go wrong on a road course and Johnson has had too many disappointments in 2018 to make him a fantasy favorite. Sonoma and Watkins Glen reward skill behind the wheel over raw horsepower and handling, however, so there is still a chance that he could earn a top five if the team is mistake-free.

8. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 12.33)
Keselowski makes the top-10 list despite having a 19th-place finish in his three-year average. That indicates just how difficult it is to sustain momentum on road courses given the various strategies that play out in a given race. The good news for Keselowski fans is that he finally earned his first career top five in eight starts last year with a third.

9. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.67)
McMurray has been consistent recently at Sonoma, but that is a fairly new trait. In his first 12 starts on this track, he had two top fives and no other top 10s. His average finish before 2015 was 16.7 despite finishing fourth in the 2014 race. He was 11th in 2015, 17th in 2016, and 10th last year – so he could be a good value if he practices and qualifies well this weekend.

10. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Some of Menard’s earliest racing experience came in the Trans-Am series and that seems to have stuck with him. While he barely makes the top-10 list this week, he is perhaps the most consistent driver in recent years with four results of 11th through 16th in the last five races. Now that Team Penske is supporting his effort with the Wood Brothers, he should easily contend for a top 10.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: This is a good week to go out on a limb where the pole sitter is concerned. McMurray has won two of the last five poles on this track, while his teammate Kyle Larson took the top spot last year. Two JTG-Daugherty Racing drivers also have recent poles with Marcos Ambrose securing one in 2012 and AJ Allmendinger leading the field to green in 2015.

Segment Winners: There is absolutely no way to determine who is going to take the segment wins this week because it will all come down to strategy at the close of each stage. Since Harvick and Kyle Busch have scored the most segment wins, however, you may as well keep riding that momentum.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Bump & Run: Should NASCAR look at future street race for Cup?

4 Comments

Should NASCAR run a Cup race on a street course?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. It’s the best avenue for getting into some major metropolitan areas where NASCAR belongs (Seattle, New York, perhaps Denver) but has little chance of gaining a foothold with a permanent facility. It would add a wrinkle to the right-turn racing that has delivered some great action for the past decade at the two road-course stops in Cup. And despite there being a lack of current momentum, there is past evidence it’s worked for lower stock-car series in cities as large as Los Angeles in the past.

Dustin Long: It would be a good move to get into markets the sport doesn’t race in now, but the key question is what will the racing be like? For those who imagine it would be beating and banging on a tight circuit, well, there’s less of that now on short tracks, in part, because of how little contact damages fenders and can create tire rubs. Open up the fenders then that could encourage the type of racing.

Daniel McFadin: Please? There’s precedent for it with the old NASCAR Southwest Tour holding three races in the streets of Los Angeles from 1998-2000. I sincerely believe a stock car race on a street course would be a better product than IndyCar could ever provide. With the close quarters, it would encourage more beating and banging and there’s no pesky penalties for “avoidable contact.” Like this year’s Roval race, let’s just try it once.

Dan Beaver: Absolutely. NASCAR’s schedule is already among the most diverse in all sports. To be crowned the champion, the driver should be able to show skill on every type of track. My vote is Central Park, which would give NASCAR their much-coveted venue in the Big Apple. For that matter, they should also run on a dirt track.

What is a memorable road course moment that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: Because it’s Sonoma weekend, I’ll pick Marcos Ambrose stalling his car while leading and trying to save fuel under caution with seven laps remaining in the June 20, 2010 race. The massive blunder dropped Ambrose from first to seventh for the final restart, and it was historically significant for two major reasons: 1) It was the most agonizing of seven winless trips to Sonoma for Ambrose, a two-time Cup winner at Watkins Glen and one of the greatest road-course drivers in NASCAR history; 2) The gaffe handed the victory to Jimmie Johnson, who led the final seven laps for his only win on a road course in NASCAR.

Dustin Long: Tony Stewart‘s last Cup win in 2016 was a last-lap thrill ride at Sonoma. Stewart led starting the final lap, lost the lead to Denny Hamlin after contact in Turn 7 and got it back after making contact with Hamlin on the final corner. 

Daniel McFadin: Anytime I’ve encountered someone who decries NASCAR as just a bunch of guys going in circles, I make sure to show them video of the last lap of 2012 Cup race at Watkins Glen. It’s everything you’d want on the last lap of any race: the leader getting spun, NASCAR not throwing a caution, multiple lead changes, cars going off track and a drag race through the final turn. I think it was the watershed moment for road course racing in NASCAR.

Dan Beaver: The 1991 Sonoma race. Whether Ricky Rudd deserved to be black flagged for spinning Davey Allison on the next-to-last lap might be open to debate, but the timing of the penalty – more than a full lap later, with Rudd in sight of the checkered flag – was startling. Equally surprising was the fact that NASCAR decided to penalize Rudd just the one position he made up with that contact  – restoring the running position from before the contact.

Between these two groups, who would you take this weekend at Sonoma — The field or Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch?

Nate Ryan: Repeat season won’t be ending anytime soon in NASCAR: Take the Big Three.

Dustin Long: Considering that Harvick, Busch and Truex have won three of the last five Sonoma races and the other two winners (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) aren’t in the series, it’s hard not to take the Big Three.

Daniel McFadin: The field. There’s been nine different winners at Sonoma in the last nine races and only once in the last seven races has the winner started in the top five. I think we’re in store for the most unpredictable race of the year that hasn’t been on a restrictor-plate race.

Dan Beaver: The field: There are so many variables on a road course that this is one of the best opportunities for the field to beat Harvick, Busch, and Truex by employing an alternate strategy.