NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2021 Jockey Made in America 250 at Road America

What happened?

Chase Elliott won the Jockey Made in America 250 at Road America on Sunday (July 4) after pulling away and leading the final 17 laps for an Independence Day victory.

Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five finishers.

How did it happen?

Pole sitter William Byron jumped out to an early lead while being followed by Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger. The No. 24 stayed out front for three laps before the first caution, when Daniel Suarez stalled on the track due to a transmission issue.

The race resumed with 10 laps to go in stage one, as Byron continued to pace the field. Ryan Preece’s engine expired midway through the run, but he was able to pull off the track before dropping any fluid so the race stayed green.

With three laps left in the stage, Kyle Tilley spun off course and got stuck in the sand. Nine drivers pitted just before the caution came out, so they gained track position after pit stops. The caution caused the stage to end under yellow, with Byron winning his third stage of the year.

Martin Truex Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto led on the restart until Austin Cindric took it three-wide into turn 1 and got the top spot.

He led two laps before DiBenedetto regained the position. The two exchanged the spot again just a few laps later before Cindric suffered a mechanical problem and was forced to the garage. Kyle Busch got the lead with six to go in stage two and held it until pitting with three to go under green. After Busch surrendered the lead and Truex gave up second, Tyler Reddick took the spot and won his first stage of the season.

Seventeen cars pitted before the stage ended, with Busch, Elliott and DiBenedetto out front. Busch pulled ahead on the start but DiBenedetto quickly got the lead on the first lap of the run with 30 to go in the race. Elliott slowly worked his way back up from third, passing Busch with 28 to go and DiBenedetto for the lead with 25 to go. Elliott pulled away from his competitors before a caution with 20 laps to go when Anthony Alfredo got stuck in the sand.

Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola had pitted during the caution and restarted in the lead ahead of Busch, Hamlin and Elliott. On the restart, Elliott went from fifth to first in less than a lap.

With six to go, Alex Bowman’s brakes locked up entering a corner and he collided with Larson while battling for fourth. Larson spun and Bowman had a tire rub, forcing him to pit under green as Elliott stretched his lead on Busch and Bell to over five seconds. The race stayed green and Elliott remained unchallenged, winning his second race of the season and 13th of his career.

Who stood out?

Last week I told you Elliott needed to avoid a summer slump after three straight finishes outside the top 10. This week he led the most laps and won the race. It was another stellar road course performance for the man who has been so dominant on these tracks. He’s now won at two new tracks this season (COTA, Road America) after winning the first race at the Daytona International Speedway road course last season. Even after reportedly saying he “wasn’t good” on Sunday morning and starting 34th, Elliott still whooped the field.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the defending champion, and he’s still right in the mix near the top of the standings. He’s one of just five drivers with multiple wins on the year and tied for third with nine top fives. The No. 9 is going to be in the mix for a second straight title this fall.

Performances like Sunday’s prove that Bell is capable of more than he’s shown this season. Since his win at the Daytona road course, Bell had just one top five and five top 10s over 17 races. Over the same time, his three teammates have won five races. It’s only Bell’s second Cup season, so the concern level should be very low. He clearly has a knack for these road courses and should continue to improve heading into his first playoffs.

DiBenedetto needs a win to save his season and Road America was a sign that winning is possible. Mired back in the standings and desperately in need of a victory, DiBenedetto looked like he had the car to beat at some points in the race. He led 10 laps at Road America after leading just 30 in the first 19 races this year. Finishing 10th may not have been the result the team needed, but the speed he showed throughout the race should provide hope. There are still two more road courses in the final six regular season races and DiBenedetto could be a factor. 

Who fell flat?

Rudy Fugle threw away Byron’s chance at a win with his strategy. The No. 24 looked great early in the race after winning the pole and the first stage. While some teams opted for the long-term strategy, Fugle decided to capitalize on stage points. That strategy worked for Larson at Sonoma, but it only really works if you have an incredible car. Byron was in line for a decent finish before driving off the track in the final run and crossing the line 33rd. Even if he kept it on the course, Byron was nowhere near keeping up with the leaders.

Fugle has transformed Byron into a weekly contender this season, so it’s not fair to completely knock him. He’s a rookie Cup crew chief and is clearly still learning some things. Still, it’s better to make these mistakes now rather than in the playoffs.

Keselowski rallied for a decent 13th-place finish, but his recent drop in speed is concerning. He was off the course multiple times this weekend and never appeared comfortable, while DiBenedetto was oddly the best in the Penske brigade. Cindric was also much better than his teammates before his mechanical issue, which isn’t as surprising given his experience at the track and road course prowess. 

As for Keselowski, Road America marked the seventh time in the last nine races that he’s finished outside the top 10. With rumors circulating that he’s leaving Team Penske after this season, it might be fair to start wondering if they’ll turn it around in 2021. A new car and driver are on deck for the No. 2, and the team could naturally start to put less effort into Keselowski’s final season there.

What did this race prove?

Elliott is going to obliterate the road course win record. His latest road course victory was the seventh of his career, putting him in sole possession of third all-time — behind only Jeff Gordon (nine) and Tony Stewart (eight). With more road courses on the schedule these days, this isn’t even a hot take. Heck, he could own the record as early as this year. If NASCAR keeps around five road courses on the schedule going forward (and it could be more than this), Elliott is going to run away and hide at the top of this list.

NASCAR should consider cutting the course at Road America under caution. If the sport continues to reject local yellows, cutting the course under caution is the only answer. When the caution fell with three to go in stage one, the timing of the yellow caused a lengthy delay. I know cutting the course changes fuel mileage, but it’s just something crew chiefs would have to calculate.

During the more caution-filled early portions of this race, it felt like we were yellow more than green. Cutting the course would save a ton of time and keep the focus on the green flag racing – which is where it should be.

Paint scheme of the weekend

Richard Childress Racing delivers the heat every year with patriotic paint schemes. This time, it was Austin Dillon with a sharp No. 3 Dow Chevy to honor veterans and active-duty military members:

Will we be back?

I think this one is an easy one: yes, for a few reasons. The racing was solid, as there were ample passing zones and different contenders leading throughout the event. The atmosphere seemed great, with a record crowd and beautiful weather for the holiday weekend. The regional market is important for NASCAR, especially after dropping Chicagoland from the schedule as Road America is the closest track to Chicago, a massive market. With that in mind, Road America should become an annual fixture on the Cup schedule after not appearing since 1956.

Playoff picture

Elliott joins Larson, Truex, Bowman and Kyle Busch as the only multi-race winners this season. There are still five playoff spots open for non-winners, with four of those spots creating a sizable points cushion — Hamlin (leads Larson in overall standings by three points, +352 playoff cushion), Harvick (+153), Austin Dillon (+98) and Tyler Reddick (+75).

The bubble is still tight for the final playoff spot. Kurt Busch (+25) gained 22 points on the bubble after picking up 29 during the Pocono doubleheader last week. Buescher (-25, was +50 four races ago), Ross Chastain (-69), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-70) and DiBenedetto (-74) are the closest drivers outside the playoffs.

Here’s a look at the full standings following Road America:

What’s next?

The Cup Series returns to Georgia for the second and final visit this season to Atlanta Motor Speedway. It will be the first time since 2010 that the track has two Cup races in a season. The Quaker State 400 will go green Sunday (July 11) at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.

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DoninAjax

I switched to the event just before the end of segment 2. From the time the caution flew at the end of lap 30 to the restart for lap 33 I timed it at just over FIFTEEN minutes.and that was two laps. The 22 minute delay was for three laps, 3,4 and 5. That was enough for me. Lots of commercials and nothing else.

Lou

Relax and stop whining. It’s a 4mile track and it was over on time. 3-4 hrs. Road courses takes time to get the field caught up and clean the track off and remove any cars. How long Ajax have you been watching cup racing 55yrs for me. Do just relax drink a cold beer and be happy.

DoninAjax

I saw my first race at the CNE track in 1966 where Richard Petty ran his first Cup race and I’ve been to 40 tracks.

Echo

I wonder if next year’s cars will turn Nascar into IROC II. If so then I’m probably going fishin.

David Russell Edwards

I think we are fooling ourselves to think the new car will revolutionize Nascar. After all it will just be a car, 4 tires, engine, etc. Will it change pit stops, car setup etc? Yes. But I dont think those watching it will see a real difference. But I may be wrong.

janice

It will change pit stops. Only 1 lug.

David Edwards

I think we will see the real change with the introduction of the hybrid systems at some point. Of course the question is whether nascar will, as I suspect , make everyone use the same system- in the name of parity. Of course that likely means no new manufacturers will join. But we will see.

Kevin in SoCal

They’ve been saying “the new car” will make NASCAR racing better every time they bring out a new car.
I just enjoy the racing, even if some races are stinkers.

Bill B

Yes, they do say that and it never is, so I think most fans aren’t expecting much. I do hope we don’t cross the IROC line though.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bill B
janice

i don’t understand why on a road course that long, why nascar doesn’t use localized cautions.

Echo

I don’t either Janice, unless it’s definitely for the commercials money.

jobe

You can’t have a local caution when a car needs to be towed or pushed back to the pits. Pay attention.

Have you ever watched a major sport on TV? There are commercials for timeouts, end of quarter, end of half. You think the viewing should be free for you, why?

Last edited 3 months ago by jobe
Bill B

NASCAR is probably afraid to change their SOP. Every time they do, it blows up in their face because they don’t think it out. The unintended consequences always bite them in the arse.

jobe

Seriously? There were just a couple cautions for cars unable to get going. You can’t really have a local caution for a car that needs to be towed or pushed. The cautions didn’t have an impact on the viewing experience. Some people just have to find something to bitch about.

Mr Yeppers

For sure, just like you seem to do daily here at comments

jobe

That’s actually the whole point of Frontstretch. Bunch of senior citizen NASCAR “fans” who swear that they haven’t followed racing since Earnhardt Sr. died.

Lou

Ajax you don’t know shit cause Richard petty raced along side his dad in 1959. So get your facts right on Richard first race he ran. It may have been the first time you seen him race.

DoninAjax

It was in 1958 and Lee put Richard into the fence when he didn’t move out of the way quick enough. Lee and Richard won when there were real races and no PDCs to help certain drivers. And like I wrote earlier I saw my first race in 1966.

DoninAjax

Richard Petty’s first CUP race…

https://www.racing-reference.info/race-results/Jim_Mideon_500/W/

It was his second stock car race. His first was in a topless car.

Check it out before you comment.

DoninAjax

Lee and Richard ran at Buffalo THE NEXT NIGHT. Bill Rafter was a driver in both races in 1958. He’s a legend in the northeast and won both ends of the last race at the same CNE track in 1966. It was Twin 50s and my second race. My first race was the last regular show at the CNE track.

Lou

Ajax you get allyour info off the web PERIOD!!!you talk shit and I bet you have not been to many if any races at all.

DoninAjax

Ontario:
CNE
Pinecrest
Cayuga (now Jukasa)
Flamboro
Capital City (near Ottawa)
Merrittville
Delaware
Checker Flag
Satellite
Barrie
Sunset
Kawartha
Mosport Speedway and Raceway
Westgate (Peterborough)
Ohio:
Queen City near Cincinatti)
Toledo
New York:
Oswego
Fulton
Lancaster
Syracuse
Rolling Wheels
Holland
Perry
Utica-Rome
Spencer
Penn:
Pocono
Wisconsin:
I-70
Florida:
Daytona Speedway 1977
New Smyrna
Michigan:
Berlin
Mt. Clemens
Dixie
Michigan Speedway
South Carolina:
Darlington Raceway 1980
Hartsville-Darlington
Martinsville
North Carolina:
311
New Jersey:
Trenton
Indiana:
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Lou

Yep like I said right off the web. You must be around 70 or so ajax

DoninAjax

Do you want to see the pictures I took of all the Busch cars and Modifieds qualifying at the Cardinal 500 in 1978? Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Vee won best-appearing cars and I have the picture I took. Or Benny Parsons at Delaware? Or Bobby Allison at Cayuga? Or Mark Martin and Jr. Hanley on the trailer at Queen City? Or my program from Cayuga when Dale Earnhardt showed up by helicopter (his plane was too big to land at the Speedway so he landed in Hamilton) at Cayuga for the 250 lapper? Or my picture of Joy Fair and Joe Ruttman at Mt. Clemens?

Now what tracks have you been to?

Lou

Ajax I’ve been to so many tracks I lost count after 55. Shit you must have been there when richard petty was born. I bet you drink PBR beer and wear depends along with false teeth and a pinch and a wig. Haha.

DoninAjax

So go on the web and list a few.

DoninAjax

I bet you don’t remember being at the first Indy 500.

Lou

Ajax just a few. Manassas va. ,northwilkesboro, martinsville va. Bristol tenn. Richmond va. Dover,Watkins glen,Sonoma. Texas,Arizona Nashville california and most you looked up.

Lou

Ajax I was’nt at the first indy 500 but I was there for Louis and wrights first flight.

Lou

Correction Ajax the wright brothers.

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