Chase Elliott is the overwhelming favorite on the Daytona Road Course Sunday after winning the last four NASCAR Cup Series points races on road courses. But Elliott insists he is not anything “special” when it comes to these tracks.
Chase Elliott has emerged as NASCAR’s most dominant road racer over the past two years. His four straight wins on such tracks include the first Cup race on the Daytona Road Course last year. But the defending Cup Series champion doesn’t put much stock in such streaks.
"I don’t feel like I do anything special at those places. I’ll take that to my grave,” Chase Elliott said prior to the start of the 2021 season. “That was exemplified in the Rolex 24. I was not even close to the great road-racers from around the world who were in that event. I really don’t think I do anything special.”
His rivals would certainly dispute that. Chase Elliott, who finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500, has swept the last two races at historic Watkins Glen International and the last two at the Charlotte Roval, and his fifth career roa course win came last year at Daytona. Elliott's wins at the Charlotte and Daytona rovals last year helped propel him to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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Chase Elliott raced for his fifth straight road course win in the non-points Busch Clash last week, but collided with leader Ryan Blaney on the final lap. The collision wrecked both drivers, allowing Kyle Busch to win the race and snap Elliott’s streak. Still, his record stands in points events.
How Chase Elliott became NASCAR's best road racer
Chase Elliott attributes his prowess on the twisty circuits to his Hendrick Motorsports team and mentor Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup Series champion who holds the NASCAR record with nine road course wins.
“I’ve been fortunate to drive fast cars, and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) does a really good job of putting an emphasis on things that matter in road racing,” Chase Elliott said. “He has a little bit of a road-racing background from being from down here (in Daytona) and being familiar with the sports car stuff. Also working with Jeff (Gordon) gets overlooked a little bit. That was a really good foundation for me coming in.”
The most impressive performance for Chase Elliott last year came on the Daytona Road Course last August. The race was added to the schedule late in the season in place of Watkins Glen, which was canceled due to COVID. The inaugural Daytona Road Course race was run without any practice or qualifying.
Chase Elliott led a race-high 34 laps in the race, holding off Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. for the win.
“The road course worked out good for us over the summer, for sure,” Chase Elliott said. “I had a good start there. I just never felt that even at the end of the race — and Denny would probably say the same thing — that I had even pieced together every part of the race track properly, really dialed in all my marks and maximized every corner. I felt like he and I at the end were still learning as we were still racing to the checkered flag, at least I was. I never felt like I found my limit in certain corners.”
The lack of practice and qualifying may have played in favor of Elliott, who had won both road course races in 2019.
“That race was so unique because most of us had never raced on that track before, and we all just started the race,” Chase Elliott said. “It was a bit of a guessing game. By the end, even though I felt much closer to maximizing a good lap or what I would consider a great lap at times, I never felt like I got there in all aspects. I think most guys would tell you the same thing — that we were basically still learning at the end of the event. That was the cool part about it for me, that we were kind of guessing. It was a fun environment.”
Though Chase Elliott is riding a four-race winning streak in points events on road courses, he does not yet view himself as NASCAR’s next great road racer.
“It’s been good the past few trips, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go good next time,” he said. “Again, it’s back to the ‘what have you done for me lately’ topic. That narrative can change very quickly. That’s just part of what we do.”
NASCAR drastically altered its NASCAR Cup Series schedule this year, adding four more points races on road courses, bringing the series total up to seven. Most believe the addition of more road courses plays directly into Elliott’s hands.
The defending series champion does not buy that theory. He says the schedule change will not alter his approach to the 2021 season.
“I don’t have a different approach, to be honest,” he said. “There’s not been one part of me that watched the schedule change, saw seven road courses and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got it now.’ That’s just not how I am. The schedule is what it is. I don’t enjoy having any more or less road courses. I really don’t care where we go. At the end of the day, you have to be good everywhere and I want to be good everywhere. We as a team want to get to the point where we can win on any given week: road course, circle track, intermediate, dirt … whatever it is, we want to be able to win at any time. The great teams and the great drivers are capable of doing that, and I think we are capable doing that. So that’s where my head’s at — trying to be good everywhere.”