Two burnouts for Chase Elliott. Two thumbs-up for Road America.
NASCAR’s premier series returned to the 4.048-mile course for the first time in 65 years, and the weekend in Wisconsin did not disappoint. The sport’s reigning champion celebrated his second win of the 2021 season with donuts on the frontstretch and one final victory lap in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Encore chants then unexpectedly erupted in Turn 5.
“Man, they were fired up,” Elliott said. “The amount of peer pressure I felt to do a burnout was, like, wow. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that much peer pressure in my life to do a burnout.”
Obviously the three-time Most Popular Driver caved to the pressure.
Elliott is a Georgia native, though. He can count how many times he has been to Wisconsin on one hand.
“I don’t really feel like I’ve earned the right to have that kind of support in this region,” Elliott said. “But it was amazing. I was super humbled by that. Just the people in general. Whether you’re in 9 gear or not, there were just a lot of people here. I was just struck by how big of race fans we have and had here today. This place was packed.”
It really was. Hard attendance numbers weren’t released, but chatter of the main event being sold out circulated in all areas of the garage – among fans, media and drivers.
Without assigned seating, Road America easily fit that quantity, too. The track owns 640 acres of land with more than 1,500 campsites. Paths, bridges and tunnels make the complex walkable, albeit a lot of time on the feet. Golf carts were available to rent for that reason.
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“I rolled around to the back straightaway, just tried to get a feel for the vibe,” said Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition. “I hadn’t been here in 20-plus years. This venue is still just as exciting today for me as what it was when I came here 20-something years ago. It’s a beautiful facility.”
Really, the Cup Series was rather late to the game. Road America has hosted the Xfinity Series since 2010, and it also is a stop for IMSA, IndyCar, MotoAmerica and other leagues. The track’s schedule lists events from March to November.
Unlike Elliott, Knaus is from the Midwest area. He hails from northern Illinois. The successful turnout therefore wasn’t a surprise.
“Racing up here is such a huge deal, always has been,” Knaus said. “You can name hundreds of greats that came out of this area, not only from the driver standpoint but from the mechanics, crew chiefs, all that. Deep-rooted motorsports group up here.
“Any time you go into a venue, you see memorabilia on the walls – photographs, hoods, the beer signs with Dale Jr. on them. All that stuff is everywhere, right? People really love motorsports up here.”
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Race day also just so happened to fall on the Fourth of July itself. For the longest time – 60 years, to be exact – Daytona International Speedway held dibs on the holiday weekend. That changed in 2020, when Indianapolis Motor Speedway had its chance. Road America then took a turn this year – and quite frankly, presented a strong case for a repeat next season.
Regardless of the date, tickets for the 2022 NASCAR weekend at Road America are already on sale.
“Could you have asked for anything better?” Knaus said. “Holy smokes, it was phenomenal.”