RACING

Chase Elliott win continues strong run in upside-down Cup season

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HAMPTON, Ga. — When Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron won early in the season, it was easy to wonder what was going on with Chase Elliott’s team.

But since the series’ first visit to Atlanta in March — a race Elliott finished sixth — he and his team have shown a level consistency that’s been rare in this upside-down season.

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Competitors knew at the start of this season, the first with the Next Gen car, that there could be big variations in performance from week to week. But what Elliott and his No. 9 team have done is impressive.

Since that Atlanta race in March, Elliott has had three wins, including Sunday’s win at Atlanta, 11 top-10 finishes in 15 races and led the series’ fastest 583 laps.

The only driver who came close to matching Elliott in terms of consistency this year is Ross Chastain, but the narrative changed on Chastain after incidents with Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and others.

It’s Chastain’s aggressiveness that’s talked about more than he’s had since Atlanta’s first race — two wins, eight top fives and 11 top 10s.

While it’s easy to declare Elliott the championship favorite — or co-favorite with Chastain — there are seven races left until the playoffs start. A lot can happen during this time.

But Elliott’s team has shown its ability to get stronger.

“I think they play more of a role in determining where their car is in these races to get the wins,” said Jeff Gordon, vice president of Hendrick Motorsports. “Everything has to fall into place, the pit stops, everything. You have to think of the years (crew chief Alan Gustafson) and Chase spent together. The team in general, there’s not a lot of turnover in this team, so it’s a very solid group.

“They showed it two years ago when they won the championship and showed it at the end last year, going all the way to the last four and fighting for the championship. … I think they’re just following this consistency that they just have as a band.

For Elliott, the win came a week after taking responsibility for the Road America loss to Tyler Reddick. Elliott said he “made a few mistakes” at the end of that run.

Elliott and the team made no such mistakes last weekend and celebrated another victory.

“Finishing it was a big deal because I feel like we had the best car, and with today’s generation of cars and the scrutiny behind them, everyone is really close,” said said Alan Gustafson. “Getting a car that’s above (the competition) is a big deal, and you want to pay for that and cash in, and we were able to do that.”

And do it at Elliott’s track, giving him his first Cup win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I’ve seen guys win on their home circuits, and you can always tell that means a lot to them, but until you start competing somewhere at the top level of a sport like this , I’m not sure you fully understand the meaning of it and what it could mean to you,” Elliott said. “So to be able to have this moment is really special and I’m so grateful.”

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NASCAR’s decision not to penalize Noah Gragson at the event for destroying Sage Karam during the July 2 Xfinity race at Road America drew mixed reactions from some veteran Cup drivers last weekend.

Gragson immediately turned on Karam in retaliation for an earlier contact. The incident collected 11 other cars and caused nearly $250,000 in damage to cars from three Xfinity teams collected in the incident.

Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and fined him $35,000. NASCAR noted that it did not penalize Gragson during the race due to the knocks and knocks that occurred during the event. Series makers wanted to see if there was a mechanical issue that could have caused Gragson to transform into Karam.

Kevin Harvick was not sold on NASCAR’s explanation.

“It sounded like a statement from a politician,” Harvick said last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “I don’t know any other way to put it. Sitting in this tower, you have to make these decisions. Surely someone with a racing history. I don’t even know who’s sitting in that tower, but someone with a driving history might figure out what happened. Anyone watching could.

Denny Hamlin also raised issues with NASCAR’s deliberate approach before penalizing Gragson.

“As soon as the race goes green again, they go one lap and it picks up speed,” Hamlin said. “You have to bring him in then. I think waiting until mid-week is probably too reactive.

“They react to the outcry from the media, the outcry from the drivers, ‘That’s wrong. I should have done something. Then they reacted. I think if you see it and it’s wrong, then you don’t You just have to react during the race. It’s the right way to go.

Is there a situation where it is better to wait before possibly issuing a penalty?

“No,” Hamlin said. “Why? I don’t understand why we would wait…especially if you see something egregious like that. You have to react right away.”

But not everyone agrees with this idea.

Brad Keselowski agrees with NASCAR taking its time before potentially issuing penalties.

“Whether it’s NASCAR or any other sanctioning body in sports or law, I think when in doubt, it’s always a good idea to hit pause,” he said. he declares. “And there’s good reason to have doubts…maybe there was something broken on it. I didn’t think the camera angles were that good, personally.

“So I 100% understand why they would push the break, and I think that’s good practice for NASCAR, or really any of us in life. If you don’t have all the information, hit pause before you get a serious reaction. So I don’t see a problem with that.”

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Now that Atlanta’s two races at the reconfigured and revamped track this season are complete, a look at how the superspeedway package changed racing the:

More than 55 different cars have been collected from incidents at both races this year. That’s 11 times more than five cars recovered in incidents at Atlanta’s two Cup races in 2021.

The total this year is nearly four times the number of cars involved in incidents at the seven races in Atlanta prior to this season. A total of 14 cars, an average of two per race, were involved in an incident during the seven races of 2016-21.

There have been 72 lead changes in the two Atlanta races this year. In 2021, there have been a total of 21 lead changes in the two races. The track had a total of 68 lead changes in its last four races before this season.

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