Elliott chasing NASCAR history on Watkins Glen return

Reigning NASCAR Cup champion Chase Elliott returns to the site of his first series win this weekend to add to his already-stout record in road racing.

Elliott chasing NASCAR history on Watkins Glen return

Prior to last year’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Elliott had won the last two races at Watkins Glen, including his 2018 victory which was his first career win.

Should he win again on Sunday, Elliott would join NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as the only drivers since track’s first race in 1957 to win three consecutive times on the 2.45-mile, seven-turn road course.

A victory would also give him eight road course wins already in his Cup career and tie him with another Hall of Famer, Tony Stewart, for second all-time at just 25 years old.

“I’m just excited to be going back. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Elliott said. “Every time you go to the track, look, it’s always going to be tough.

“As I’ve said many times before, past success doesn’t equal future success and I don’t think that’s any different this weekend. I anticipate everybody else will be better than they were last time we were up there; and we just try to make sure we match it ourselves to have another shot.”

He’ll have another opportunity next weekend as well, as the series makes its inaugural visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Since 1994, the Cup has run on the iconic 2.5-mile oval.

Seven of Elliott’s 13 career Cup wins have come on road courses, including both of his victories so far this season – at Circuit of the Americas and Road America.

Race winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro LLumar

Race winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro LLumar

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

Outside of his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates and his crew chief lauding him as a very technical driver, Elliott isn’t sure why he has developed a special affinity for road racing in NASCAR.

“I really don’t feel like I do anything spectacularly special, more, or very different at those places. But again, we’ve had a good package as a company,” Elliott said. “The #9 team now used to be the #24 team, and Jeff [Gordon] had a lot of successes on road courses.

“Alan [Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief] has a great understanding and a little history of road racing, too, prior to NASCAR. So, I feel like we’ve focused on things that matter and we’ve developed a good package. But as I always say, things are evolving and changing as time goes, and we’ve got to continue to push and be better, too.

“We know our competition is, and we’ll give it our best shot and see where we stack up this weekend, just like always.”

Elliott is certainly not alone when it comes to success on road courses at Hendrick Motorsports.

HMS holds the Cup record for all-time road course victories with 23, which is 10 more than next-best Joe Gibbs Racing.

The organisation has won on road courses with a series-high seven different drivers: Gordon (nine), Elliott (seven), Tim Richmond (three), Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Rudd and Geoff Bodine. Hendrick also has the most road course stage wins of any team with 11.

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro LLumar

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro LLumar

Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images

It’s that company-wide success that Gustafson believes provides the foundation for all HMS drivers to do well when makes left and right-hand turns.

“I feel like if we are at our best, then certainly we are competitive to win races and championships,” Gustafson said. “To me, it’s always really been about Hendrick Motorsports optimising what we can control, and [team owner] Mr. [Rick] Hendrick gives us the resources and Chevrolet and all our partners give us what we need to win.

“It is just up to us to optimise it and do what we can internally to be the best we can. If we can do that, then regardless of what goes on around us, we are going to be in good shape.”

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Elliott certainly enters the weekend as a favourite, both because of his recent success at the Glen but also because he’s won six of the last seven road course events.

But as he has said many times, past success produces no guarantees for what lies ahead.

“It’s a great honour to be even on the same page as Tony or Jeff. Whether we can ever get there or not, to even be in the same sentence, or like I said, on the same page, I think is very cool,” Elliott said.

“It’s been fun and we’re proud of our accomplishments. But we also are hungry for wins and will try to do that this weekend.”

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