Chase Elliott after Saturday's win at Chicagoland Speedway. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Chase Elliott keeps winning, but he’s not finished capturing checkered flags this season by any stretch

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With the third win of his rookie Nationwide Series career, Chase Elliott continued to make it look easy in this past Saturday night’s 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.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski


IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Simon Pagenaud’s first season at Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 5th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 3 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 59 Laps Led, 8.6 Avg. Start, 8.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 11th Place, Best Finish 3rd, 1 Pole, 2 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 132 Laps Led, 5.2 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish

The 2015 season was always going to be a weird one for Simon Pagenaud, in his first season with Team Penske, adapting and adjusting to being with what’s widely regarded as one of the best if not the best teams in the sport. From a career standpoint he needed to move on from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where he overachieved for three seasons. And given what became of the Honda aero kit this year, having a Chevrolet at his disposal was always going to be a benefit.

In actuality, Pagenaud didn’t have a bad year, but it was one where the burden of expectation probably hurt his overall stats more than the reality of the situation.

Let’s face facts – he’d finished in the top five in points each of his first three seasons back in IndyCar the last two years, won four races and been in championship contention before. Take all that, apply it to Team Penske and you’d assume wins and title contention would follow, but it didn’t. Still, it was a new team, a fourth team, and that took time to gel.

His qualifying was dynamic, which went against his career form and was markedly improved. His average leapt from 8.6 to 5.2 this year, which was third best in the field. The problem? It trailed two of his three teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and was only one spot clear of Juan Pablo Montoya.

And then – and there is no easy way to put this – there were his finishes. In 12 of 16 races this season, Pagenaud finished worse than he started. For a driver renowned for making the most of his circumstances on race day, often times things went south when all the marbles, all the points were on the line. Some you could put down to strategy or particularly in the later part of the year, sampling different setups to aid his title-contending teammates.

There were highlights, in particular his speed at the three 500-mile races. Pagenaud was probably the quickest of the four Penske entries at Indianapolis, scored the pole in Fontana and also starred in Pocono, but he didn’t have results to back it up in any of the three. Contact at Indy halted what was certainly winning potential. He also scored a pair of thirds at Detroit race one and Mid-Ohio, although those were cases where he was lucky rather than good.

It was hard to view Pagenaud’s season positively on the whole because you know his potential and ability hasn’t gone missing. But finishing 11th in points when your three teammates end second, third and fifth is definitely a tough pill to swallow, and an early motivator to make the fast Frenchman a top comeback driver in 2016.

Nicky Hayden announces World Superbikes move

ALCANIZ, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 25:  Nicky Hayden of USA and Aspar Team MotoGP rounds the bend during the MotoGP of Spain - Free Practice at Motorland Aragon Circuit on September 25, 2015 in Alcaniz, Spain.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden will leave the series at the end of the season ahead of a move into the World Superbike Championship in 2016, it has been announced.

Hayden has raced in MotoGP since 2003 and is currently the only American rider racing in the series, but has struggled to match the form of his early years, scoring just 13 points in 2015.

It had been rumored that Hayden would be walking away from MotoGP at the end of the season for some time, but this has now been confirmed in a statement from WorldSBK.

Hayden will join Honda’s factory team in the rival series, racing alongside Michael van der Mark. The 34-year-old will bid to become the first rider to win both MotoGP and WorldSBK titles.

“Well, my next stop is Superbike with Honda! I’m very excited, obviously, to stick with Honda; it’s where I’ve had the most success in my career,” Hayden said.

“World Superbikes is a championship that I followed closely as a kid when a lot of American riders were fighting at the front. It just seems like the right time and the right team to go with.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn and it’s going to be a big challenge, but also I’m very motivated to start and learn what I can.

“I’d like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me through my MotoGP career. We had a good run but now it’s time to move on and try something different.”

Hayden’s departure acts as another blow to MotoGP’s profile in the United States, which has seen a downturn in recent years.

The exit of Ben Spies from Yamaha in 2013 was followed by the loss of the race at Laguna Seca the same year, while last month, it was confirmed that Indianapolis would not be returning to the calendar in 2016, leaving just one US round on the schedule.