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.”

Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home

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With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.

Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.

“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”

Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.

“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.

“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”

Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.

Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.

Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.

Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.

Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.

Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”

Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.

Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.

Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.

Shane McElrath won the opening round of the 250 East division, just as he has done in his last two 250 West openers. Feld Entertainment Inc.

250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.

“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”

Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.

“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”

In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium

Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.

450s

Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end.  | LCQ Results

250s

Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results

Click here for 450 Main Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Main Results | Season Points

Next race: February 22, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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