PLYMOUTH, Wis. — Whenever the NASCAR Cup Series visits a road course, Chase Elliott rockets to the top of betting lines as the race favorite. That was the same in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 at Road America.
Elliott didn’t disappoint in qualifying on Saturday, putting his No. 9 Chevrolet on the pole. On the pace laps Sunday, however, he reported an issue with his steering in the right-hand corners.
That problem didn’t slow down the No. 9 car, as he dominated the opening stage, gapping the field by more than six seconds. But his crew chief Alan Gustafson saw 19 drivers enter pit road coming to three laps remaining in the stage, making a last-second call to change up Elliott’s strategy and not lose track position once the second stage began. That handed the playoff point to Chase Briscoe.
Same song, different verse in the second stage. Elliott cruised out front, though he pitted coming to two laps remaining in the stage, handing over the stage win to Ryan Blaney. With the guaranteed breaks out of the way, the No. 9 team wanted to be among the first cars to pit in the final stage in case a caution flew.
After seeing nine drivers pit in a span of two laps, Gustafson brought Elliott to pit road on Lap 43. Tyler Reddick, who was just more than one second behind the No. 9 car, followed suit and gained ground on Elliott coming back on the track.
Three laps later, Reddick passed Elliott into Turn 5 after the No. 9 car went wide into the corner.
“I just did a poor job,” Elliott told a group of reporters after the race.
Over the final 16 laps, Elliott got within a half-second of Reddick but could never regain the lead, as Reddick went on to win his first career Cup race.
“When [Reddick] passed me, that was pretty much it,” Elliott said. “I did a poor job on my part. Congrats to him. I know they’ve been searching for that first win for some time, and that’s a special thing, too. I’m happy for him, he deserves it. He’s been really close. Happy for those guys.”
“We need to be a little better, but we were good enough to win, so that always stings a little more.”
Reddick admitted that it meant a bit more to outrun Elliott, who had entered the race winning seven of the previous 15 races on road courses.
“It certainly does,” Reddick said of his final-stage surge. “He’s been the guy that’s won more road courses over the last couple of years than anybody. Behind him, Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain, guys that are really good on road courses. We’ve been right there with them a lot of the time over the last two years, but sometimes our agendas have been different.”
Elliott led a race-high 36 laps. He said he didn’t believe that the steering issue was a factor in the outcome of the race, as he dropped back to 3.3 seconds behind Reddick at the finish.
“It wasn’t as bad once we got going,” Elliott said, “just annoying more than anything.”
Finishing runner-up and earning 38 points on the day, Elliott stretched his regular season championship lead to 33 points over Blaney. He’s now winless in his last six road course races, dating back to Road America last year.