NNS Notes: Chase Elliott expects “normal Monday” back in class

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Tonight, Chase Elliott is on top of the NASCAR world. Come Monday, he’ll be back to hitting the books.

The 18-year-old Elliott, who claimed his inaugural Nationwide Series win late Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, is a high school senior at the King’s Ridge Christian School in suburban Atlanta when he isn’t racing for JR Motorsports.

And while he says that his classmates know what he gets up to on the weekends, he figures that his return to King’s Ridge will be a “normal Monday.”

“Nobody likes Mondays, so I’m sure it’ll be the same ol’ deal – go and have a bunch of homework to do when I get back and [then] get ready to go to Darlington,” Elliott said after taking the checkered flag.

“…It’ll be a good feeling to go throughout the week with, but this race is over with. It’s definitely something to enjoy, but at the same time, we’ve got another race next Saturday night and we gotta make sure to get prepared for that.”

Nonetheless, we figure that Elliott’s friends at King’s Ridge are surely planning some sort of celebration. He said that he’s “fortunate” to have his particular group of pals, who according to him have attended some races and keep track of his progress on TV.

“I think most guys my age don’t have that when they go home,” he added. “They don’t have the people pulling for them, especially classmates and stuff. So that’s really cool to go home to and just have a really good group of friends. I’m looking forward to obviously seeing them Monday.”

Trevor Bayne entered Texas tied in points with Regan Smith for the Nationwide Series championship lead, but left 18 points back of Elliott in fifth place after a costly tire failure early in tonight’s race.

On Lap 42, Bayne’s right rear tire went down in Turn 2 before he spun out moments later in Turn 4. Bayne was able to keep his Ford Mustang off the wall but the car itself sustained damage as a result of the blowout.

Subsequent repairs, along with an additional pit stop for a tire rub, sent Bayne multiple laps off the pace of the leaders. He wound up finishing five laps down in 23rd place.

“It started getting really loose about Lap 25 into the run,” Bayne said. “I don’t know if the tire was leaking the whole time or if it just wore really bad, but going through one and two about two or three laps before that happened I said, ‘The right rear feels really bad,’ and then the next two laps, I said it again and again and then all of a sudden I lost it into [Turn 3].

“The tire didn’t explode, so I thought it just had a flat. I went to drive around because I didn’t want to lose my lap to [Kevin Harvick] and as soon as I got on the gas right past pit road, it blew apart, so I couldn’t get to pit road. Had we got to pit road, we could have salvaged our day, but at that point we lost so many laps trying to repair it.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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