NASCAR: Chase Elliott gets closer to coronation as Nationwide Series champ

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The charmed life of Chase Elliott continued in today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway, even though he didn’t have the day he was hoping for.

For the second race in a row, Elliott survived a dodgy moment that could have impacted his march to the Nationwide Series championship. He eventually finished 10th, and combined with a frustrating afternoon for his closest pursuer, JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, Elliott’s lead in the standings grew to 38 points with four races left.

But it could have been a much different outlook.

Leading up to a caution with 56 laps to go, Smith’s car suffered a broken sway bar on the right front of his car before Dakoda Armstrong spun to trigger the yellow.

Since the yellow came out before a cycle of green flag pit stops was completed, it led to the leaders and lapped drivers being jumbled up for the restart with 48 laps left.

And that ultimately led to Elliott, running in the Top 10 at the time, stuck going three-wide with backmarkers Mike Bliss and Jamie Dick one lap after the green came out.

Bliss made contact with Elliott’s left rear, which then pushed Elliott into Dick and sent the latter spinning into the Turn 2 wall.

Elliott went low to avoid Dick and while he had taken some left-side damage from Bliss, he had dodged disaster.

As for Smith, he fell multiple laps down for pit road repairs and went on to finish eight laps off the pace in 22nd, ending a rough Saturday that began with him crashing his primary car in qualifying.

Instead of being happy with the extra breathing room in the championship, however, Elliott was not pleased with his effort.

“We really struggled, and there’s no excuse for that,” Elliott told ESPN. “We just had a bad day. Regardless of what the points situation looks like, this was not the performance I was looking for today.

“I’m bummed about it. We may have gained, but I am certainly bummed. We have some work to do coming back here for next year, and hopefully, we can rebound next week at Charlotte and have a better run there…

“…We’ve been off the whole time [this weekend]. I thought we were gonna be a little bit farther inside the Top 10 toward the end of the race and got to racing with [the backmarkers] and made a mistake that got us put back. We’ll try to be better for Charlotte and move on.”

Still, he’s in a much better spot than Smith, who now only has a two-point lead over Ty Dillon (finished fifth) for second in the championship.

Over the last few weeks, Smith has been ceding ground to Elliott in the form of a few points here and a few points there.

Now, he’s lost a big chunk of them and, perhaps, any hope of winning the title.

“It really started yesterday,” Smith said. “We just didn’t have the speed we wanted, so we kind of changed a lot of stuff to go out and qualify this morning. First session, the car was really loose, and second session, I backed it into the wall.

“And any time you do that and got to roll out a backup car two hours before the race, you really have to expect anything to happen. My guys did a great job just getting the car ready and getting it to where we can get to the grid with it, much less be competitive for the first stages of the race.

“We fought with it. It was kind of what we anticipated for the day. At this point, it’s obviously disappointing. It’s a long year…And we’re gonna get as many points as we can.”

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

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IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”