Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – ELKHART LAKE, WI – In an intriguing race last Sunday at Nashville Superspeedway, Chase Elliott became the fifth two-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series this season.
As NASCAR celebrates Independence Day at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Elliott has an excellent chance to become the first three-time winner with a victory in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 presented by JOCKEY Made In America (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After all, the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is the defending winner of the race, and only the second driver to triumph at Road America in NASCAR’s premier division, the first being NASCAR Hall of Famer Tim Flock in 1956.
Consider also that seven of Elliott’s 15 Cup victories have come on road courses—two each at Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Roval and one each at the Daytona Road Course, Circuit of The Americas and Road America.
One more road course win will tie Elliott with Tony Stewart for second-most in series history. Jeff Gordon leads the series with nine victories on circuits that turn right as well as left.
At 4.048 miles, Road America is a mammoth track with 14 turns. The expansive property can accommodate a huge contingent of fans, as it did last year in the Cup Series’ return to the track.
“I felt like the people up there welcomed us with open arms and brought a lot of energy,” Elliott said. “Any time you have energy at the track, it makes it fun for everybody involved—whether you’re working inside the sport, you’re a driver, you’re another fan there—it just makes for a better event, better environment.
“Last year, I felt, was a great example of that. I hope that’s the case again this weekend. I hope the results are the same this weekend and everybody has a big time.”
Though the huge course gives fans a chance to spread out—and watch from trees if they so desire—the 14 distinct corners provide a formidable challenge with respect to the setups of the cars.
“Braking zones are the first things that come to mind there,” said Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief. “You need to be good in those. There are some really big braking zones that are difficult. The car needs to be able to change direction well and have stability at the same time.
“You can’t swing the back to change directions. If you do that, then there’s more the driver has to manage. There’s also the course intricacies that you have to prepare for. There’s a few tight 90-degree corners, the carousel, the kink—a high-speed left. That’s what makes it so difficult. There are so many styles of corners there that make it harder.”
The field for Sunday’s race includes 13 different road course winners: Elliott, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez.
Of those drivers, only Allmendinger is not competing for points in the Cup Series.
There’s a lot at stake for Blaney, Truex, Bell and Harvick, all of whom are winless this year but all of whom currently are inside the bubble for Playoff spots, based on championship points. Of the four, Harvick is in the most precarious position. He leads Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola, the first driver currently out of a Playoff-eligible position, by nine points.
AJ Allmendinger heads for Road America looking for road course trifecta in 2022
The acknowledged road course ace of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, AJ Allmendinger has done nothing to dimmish his reputation this season.
The driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet fashioned a 2.039-second victory over Austin Hill when the series traveled to Circuit of The Americas in March. In the series’ debut at Portland on June 4, Allmendinger started from the rear of the field and won a wet-weather race by 2.879 seconds over Myatt Snider.
Allmendinger, who is running for the Xfinity Series championship, is racing in both the Xfinity and Cup Series at Road America. But his primary focus will be on Saturday’s Henry 180 (2:30 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
A victory in that race would give Allmendinger three straight Xfinity road course wins and would keep him in the series lead. He currently holds a 25-point edge over second-place Ty Gibbs.
Allmendinger also would become the first repeat winner at the track. The first 12 races at Road America have produced 12 different winners, including Allmendinger, who scored his first Xfinity Series win there in 2013.
“You have everything on that race track, long straightaways and really fast corners. The carousel is incredibly fast; turn one is incredibly fast. But you also have big brake zones, like into Turn 5 (and) into Canada Corner.
“It’s easy to use up the tires there. It’s easy to make mistakes. But there’s also a lot of passing opportunities if you get in the back of the field. I love the race track. I think Xfinity always puts on a great race. I think with the Next Gen cars, they are really going to put on a great race in the Cup race on Sunday. I’m happy that I get to be a part of both.”