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Chase Elliott likes NASCAR’s path in ‘simplifying things’

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Chase Elliott says he thinks the changes NASCAR has made this season have been good because the sport is “simplifying things.”

Elliott made his comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” with hosts John Roberts and Chocolate Myers. Elliott discussed that and his season, among other topics on the show.

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NASCAR was the first major sport to return in May from a COVID-19 break and has made several changes. There will be no practice and qualifying before nearly all races. Crew rosters have been cut. Weeknight races have been held, along with weekend doubleheaders. The schedule has been altered.

Elliott was asked about the changes NASCAR has made this year.

“I think we’re on a path right now that is really what NASCAR needs,” he said. “I see a lot of it. To me, we’re simplifying things, which is something that I think needed to be done for a long time. I think as NASCAR grew, I think it kind of overgrew it’s shoe size a little bit over the years and we overcomplicated things.”

One of the changes Elliott said that has been good is the limited number of crew members at the track.

“Yes, that can be more work, but I think what it has done is allow more crew members and myself included, I think everybody has an extra job or two, and I think what that has done is brought us closer together and brought more of that short track mentality of a small group of people that are more diverse going to the racetrack each week,” he said. “It brings you closer together because you have to work closer together to make sure everything is done and done at the level you want it to be.

“I just don’t see the need of practicing three hours every weekend. I think that is just ridiculous and way too much. I mean, heck, I think a lot of guys, Chocolate you’ve probably seen this, you go back to where you started (with the setup in practice) half the time anyways, more than half the time.

“Show up, you’re giving your best stab at what you have the most confidence in when you get to the racetrack on a Friday for practice anyways, so why not go ahead and start the event and see what you have? There is no better practice than a race and you don’t get your report card until the race is over anyway. Let’s just give our best effort in what we believe is fast and if it’s not, we see it right then and there and we can go to work on trying to improve.

“I’ve only heard one person complain about less practice, but I have a pretty strong feeling if they had won a few races by now they wouldn’t be saying less practice either. I think for the most part, it’s been a big time solid.”

Elliott enters this weekend’s Cup doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway (4 p.m. ET Saturday and 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), fifth in the points.

Chase Elliott after his victory in the NASCAR All-Star Race on July 15 at Bristol. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Things haven’t been smooth for Elliott in the last month even with his All-Star Race victory at Bristol. In the five points races since July, he’s finished between ninth and 23rd. Michigan could be a good place for a doubleheader weekend for Elliott. He’s been a runner-up there three times and and has finished in the top 10 in seven of his eight Cup starts at the track.

“I definitely think there is room for improvement, for sure,” said Elliott, who placed ninth last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think we fired off the year awesome, and I think the results showed that across the board. We were running better as a group and battling for a win like we expect and like we want to do as a company, as a manufacturer, as individual teams.

“As always, time goes on and people improve and if you get behind that curve just a little bit, it is hard to catch up. I think for us, we’ve just got to really put our focus on that areas that we talk about in our meeting and the things we struggle with the most and places like (New Hampshire) are one of them.

“It wasn’t one of those things that that wasn’t a new thing for us (Sunday). We put a lot of emphasis in trying to do better and went with a handful of different mindsets (Sunday) setup wise and this and that. Unfortunately, just didn’t really seem to be any improvement. Sometimes you have to step back and look at things from a more general perspective and look at general big trends and what is off in certain areas. I think you can dive sometimes too deep into the fine details and get lost in that.

“I think fine details are great when the big stuff is right. I just think as a group we’re off a little bit and you’re not talking much. A tenth (of a second) or two would be the difference between running ninth or 10th and battling up in the top five. When you are working that small window it is hard to not focus on the fine details, but I’m a believer in a lot of times in looking back in the general trends can sometimes help you get in the right direction, too.”

Cup playoff grid after New Hampshire

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William Byron holds a 15-point lead on rookie Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot in the Cup playoff grid after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Six races remain in the regular season.

Byron finished 11th at New Hampshire, one spot behind Reddick, but Byron extended his advantage on Reddick by five points. Byron scored six stage points, while Reddick scored none.

MORE: Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire 

Jimmie Johnson fell to 25 points behind Byron for the final spot in the Cup playoff grid. Johnson overcame a spin after contact with Clint Bowyer to run in the top 10 but lost four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 12th.

“Good fight today guys,” Johnson told his team on the radio after the race. “Overcome a lot of (stuff) again.”

The series heads this weekend to Michigan International Speedway for two races. The Cup Series races there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Ten of the 16 playoff spots have been secured by drivers who have won at least one race this year: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

Here is a look at the Cup playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Drivers shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Cup playoff grid.

Cup playoff grid New Hampshire

Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

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New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski wanted to take control of a race. Runner-up Denny Hamlin wanted to have a good run to prepare for key playoff races.

Sunday’s race provided both with such opportunities, but it is just a beginning.

With NASCAR’s schedule rearranged by COVID-19 postponements and realignments this season, Sunday started a key stretch for the field.

Nine of the last 17 races, including Sunday’s event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, will be with the 750-horsepower package. The package was introduced before this season to enhance racing at ovals 1 mile in length and shorter and also at road courses. The change was made after the low-horsepower and larger spoiler package last year led to complaints from fans about the racing at short tracks.

The 750 package, which makes throttle control pivotal — putting performance more in the control of drivers — will be run the rest of the year at the Daytona road course, both Dover races and playoff races scheduled at Richmond, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Martinsville and Phoenix.

While some competitors left New Hampshire feeling good about their chances in the title race at Phoenix — since both are flat 1-mile tracks and Goodyear uses the same time at those facilities — there’s plenty of time for others to learn and close the gap.

“I think you just have to keep working, just have to take every race as a practice session and learn everything you can from what we did today, the decisions we made coming here,” said Jeremy Bullins, crew chief for Keselowski.

Sunday’s race featured 22 lead changes, including 13 between Keselowski and Hamlin. The previous two New Hampshire races had 24 lead changes combined. 

Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano, also has been strong with this package on the flat short tracks. He won at Phoenix in March, finished fourth at Martinsville in June and was fourth Sunday at New Hampshire.

The 750 package is a lot of fun,” Logano said. “There’s a lot more that the crew chief and the driver can really add to everything. It’s not a chaos restart at the end and something crazy happens that is unexpected. You’re not going to get that at 750. 

“The good drivers and good race teams are going to win. That’s the bottom line. They’re challenging to drive. You’ve got to use both feet. You go to Kansas (with the 550-horsepower package) and all you’ve got to use is the right foot, so (the 750 package) gives a driver more tools to work with. You’ve got to think things through more. It’s not balls to the wall all day long, pushing as hard as you can on the repave and not paying a penalty. 

“You come to these short tracks and there’s a penalty for riding the brake. There’s a penalty for pushing too hard on a short run compared to a long run. You’ve got to think more.”

Although Hamlin didn’t win, he left New Hampshire feeling good after answering some questions he and his team had about their performance with the 750 package on a flat short track. He crashed early at Phoenix in March. When the Richmond spring race was moved to Charlotte, he lost a chance to learn about the car’s handling there. At Martinsville in June, Hamlin was never a factor.

“I’m encouraged by the run simply because this is the first short flat track we have some data that we can build setups for other tracks like Richmond and Phoenix, the championship race at Phoenix,” Hamlin said.

Keselowski was encouraged by how strong he was in Sunday’s event, leading a race-high 184 of 301 laps.

“Third win of the year, but first kind of win where we’ve been able to kind of take control of the race,” Keselowski said. “Gosh, that feels good.”

How some drivers have fared racing the 750 package this year

Brad Keselowski

Phoenix — 11th

Bristol — 1st

Martinsville — 3rd

New Hampshire — 1st

 

JOEY LOGANO

Phoenix — 1st

Bristol — 21st

Martinsville — 4th

New Hampshire — 4th

 

Kevin Harvick

Phoenix — 2nd

Bristol — 11th

Martinsville — 15th

New Hampshire — 5th

 

DENNY HAMLIN

Phoenix — 20th

Bristol — 17th

Martinsville — 24th

New Hampshire — 2nd

 

Kyle Busch

Phoenix — 3rd

Bristol — 4th

Martinsville — 19th

New Hampshire — 38th

 

Chase Elliott

Phoenix — 7th

Bristol — 22nd

Martinsville — 5th

New Hampshire — 9th

Winners and losers from New Hampshire

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Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Brad Keselowski His victory Sunday was his third of the year, marking the fifth consecutive season he’s won at least three races.

Denny HamlinHis runner-up finish marked the eighth time in 20 races he’s placed first or second. That’s 40% of the time.

Martin Truex Jr.His third-place finish was his third top-three result in the last four races.

Kevin Harvick His fifth-place finish was his seventh consecutive top-five performance. He has 13 top-five finishes in 20 starts this season. He’s scoring a top five in 65% of his starts this season.

Aric Almirola His seventh-place run was his ninth consecutive top-10 finish, the longest active streak in the series.

Cole Custer The rookie’s eighth-place finish is his fourth top 10 in the last five races.

Ryan Preece A 16th-place finish might not seem impressive, but it stands out for a team that had failed to finish the last four races, which included three last-place finishes.

LOSERS

Matt KensethFormer champion finished 37th after causing three cautions.

Erik JonesFell 19 points further from the playoff cutline after 24th-place finish that included a one-lap penalty for pitting outside the box.

Kyle Busch Reigning champion finished last after a tire went down and he hit the wall early in the race. It marked his third Cup finish of 30th or worse in the last eight races. He remains winless this season in Cup.

Clint Bowyer crew chief faces one-race suspension

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Clint Bowyer crew chief John Klausmeier faces a one-race suspension because Bowyer’s car had two lug nuts not safe and secure after Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Cup rule book states that having two lug nuts not safe and secure is a one-race suspension for the crew chief and a $20,000 fine.

That will mean Klausmeier will miss Saturday’s race at Michigan International Speedway with the one-race suspension. That race is the first of a doubleheader weekend next week for the Cup Series. Klausmeier will be able to return to the pit box for next Sunday’s race at Michigan.

The penalty comes as Bowyer is 12th in points. Because two drivers outside the top 16 have wins this season and are locked in playoff spots, Bowyer is 14th in the playoff grid. He is 28 points ahead of William Byron, who holds what would be the final playoff spot with six races left in the regular season.

Bowyer finished 18th Sunday.

NASCAR also announced that the cars of winner Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick each had one lug nut not safe and secure after the race. Each of the crew chiefs for those teams faces a $10,000 fine.

Earlier Sunday, NASCAR suspended the crew chiefs for Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie after a pre-race inspection discovered improperly mounted ballast. Those drivers also had to start at the rear. NASCAR also docked 10 driver and owner points for the infraction. Wallace’s crew chief is Jerry Baxter. LaJoie’s crew chief is Ryan Sparks. Wallace finished 23rd. LaJoie finished 35th in the 38-car field.