With the third win of his rookie Nationwide Series career, Chase Elliott continued to make it look easy in this past Saturday night’s EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Elliott dominated the event, leading 85 of the 200 laps on the 1.5-mile oval located about 50 miles southwest of downtown Chicago.
“It was just a phenomenal effort by our whole team,” Elliott told MotorSportsTalk after the race. “The biggest thing I look back on is how fast our pit stops were. Those guys made the difference.”
Not only was it his third win of the season, putting him ahead of all other NNS drivers (he’s tied with Kyle Busch for wins, but Busch’s wins are not eligible to determine the Nationwide championship, as Elliott’s are), he also moved back atop the point standings.
The 18-year-old Elliott now leads former points leader Regan Smith by seven points and Elliott Sadler by eight points.
But displaying the same demeanor he’s shown all season, even with the most wins and the points lead right now, the son of 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott is staying calm, cool and collected.
In fact, as good as he’s been thus far, you might not know the kind of success Elliott’s had by the way he spoke after Saturday’s win – and in his first racing visit to Chicagoland, as well.
“I’m thinking we’ve got to get better and have to be able to improve from where we are tonight to be able to contend for more wins, because that’s what your competition is doing,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to keep that in mind and not ever get happy with where you are because that’s just the way the sport and the way everything evolves.
“The second you get happy with the position you’re in is when you’re going to go backwards. We just have to make sure we keep trying to persevere and get better week in and week out.
“We just have to improve all around and hopefully, if we can do that, we can try to get back to victory lane soon.”
In the same vein, looking at things more with a glass half-empty than half-full perspective extends to Elliott when it comes to him discussing being back on top of the NNS standings.
“Like I’ve said all year long. I don’t get caught up in the points,” Elliott said. “I don’t think I’ve looked at the points battle all season long on the Internet. Really, to me, it is what it is. If we go out and do our job on the weekend, the points are going to figure themselves out.
“If we all show up and do our jobs to the best of our ability week in and week out, the points will figure themselves out. And that’s all you can ask for. You can go out and try do your best, and from there a lot of it is out of your control. So we’ve just got to try and do that.”
Elliott is looking to make it four wins on the season and the second in a row in a first-time visit behind the wheel in this Saturday’s NNS race at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m real excited about getting to Indy,” Elliott said. “That’s a place that means a lot to me personally, having my dad win the Brickyard in 2002. That’s just a special place for me ever since. It’s just such a tough race track, and the history that’s there when you walk through the tunnel, I don’t know if you can describe it.
“To walk through Gasoline Alley there next week, that’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we’re going to try and make the most of it.”
Like maybe earning another win, perhaps? He’s certainly going to try, that’s for sure.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.