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.”

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.