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.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”