It is no secret that Chase Elliott knows his way around road courses, and Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was further evidence of that. With a strong final stage performance, he took his fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup Series victory on such layouts.
Last week’s winner Denny Hamlin started on the pole ahead of Elliott. While nobody was sent to the rear for failing inspection, Josh Bilicki started at the back after replacing Joey Gase in the #51 and Erik Jones dropped back for unapproved adjustments.
In the playoff picture, only Kurt Busch (Vegas win) and Hamlin entered the race locked into the Round of 8. Below the cut-off line were Kyle Busch (–21 points), Austin Dillon (–21), Clint Bowyer (–38), and Aric Almirola (–48).
For the first time in premier series modern history, rain tyres were utilised in a points race due to weather in the area. The previous day’s Xfinity Series event had been plagued by errors and massive amounts of standing water that forced a red flag and the race to run into the dark, prompting the track to add temporary lighting for the Cup race.
Brad Keselowski led the opening lap. Ty Dillon, who started seventeenth, quickly climbed into the top five after just four laps.
Elliott, the winner of the only other road course race in 2020 and the 2019 Roval event, claimed the lead on lap eight as Martin Truex Jr. moved up to second. Bowyer took third from Keselowski on lap ten. By the competition caution a lap later, Bowyer had the fastest lap of the field (on lap six).
With the oval section of the track drying up, various drivers like Dillon chose to change to slick tyres during the yellow, while others like Elliott stayed out to capitalise on the remaining water in the infield. Chris Buescher was penalsied for having a crewman over the wall too soon.
A strong restart by Truex propelled him to the lead into turn one on lap 13. However, Bowyer would take the position on the backstretch chicane.
As water was still present on the road course, some on slicks like Ryan Newman and Hamlin suffered spins, the latter also hitting the wall, though no caution was called for either incident. Eventually, as the water began dissipating, green-flag stops to switch to the dry tyres began on lap 18.
Bowyer, still on wets, started to lose momentum to those on slicks. On lap 21, Dillon passed him entering the backstretch chicane for first.
On lap 23, John Hunter Nemechek spun in turn six through a wet part of the course, hitting an EchoPark advertisement and beaching his car in the grass. After a brief delay, the caution came out. Nemechek would later receive a penalty for having too many crewmen over the wall to service his car.
As Bowyer pitted, others like Busch chose to stay out despite being on wets; Busch would dive to the apron to claim the leftover puddles for his tyres.
Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto comprised the front row for the restart with one lap remaining in the stage. An excellent restart by the former gave him the lead, while Christopher Bell and Timmy Hill moved up to second and third, respectively.
Dillon would take his third career stage win. Behind was an unusual assortment of finishers with Bell, DiBenedetto, William Byron, Hill, Newman, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, and Jones. Logano was the lone playoff driver in the top ten.
After staying out, Bell and DiBenedetto held the top two as the second stage began on lap 29. Penalties came for Austin Dillon when he pitted when pit road was closed and had to start at the rear, while J.J. Yeley pitted outside of his box.
One lap later, Byron took the lead from Bell entering turn one. On lap 34, Keselowski spun and forced Jones and Keselowski to stop, but the race stayed green. Bell would also go around a lap later while running second. Further spins took place with Newman and Almirola.
With ten laps to go in the stage, Blaney took the lead. After six laps in front, the race switched to caution conditions after Yeley spun into the turn six wall. Almirola, who needed a win to advance, fell a lap down as he was pitting when the yellow came out.
The race resumed on lap 49 as Team Penske‘s Blaney and Logano led. Moments later, Kyle Busch suffered a flat left-front tyre, while Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Hamlin went for a spin later on the lap.
Blaney would take the stage win ahead of Elliott, Bell, Truex, Logano, Alex Bowman, Byron, Tyler Reddick, Michael McDowell, and Keselowski.
Truex was slapped with a speeding penalty between stages. Bell and Byron paced the field to the start of the final stage on lap 54, with the latter clearing Bell between turns one and two.
Chaos unfolded when Cole Custer and Hamlin spun, the latter going through the grass and being hit by James Davison. Ty Dillon and Logano also had issues that forced the latter to avoid the former but brushed the wall, while DiBenedetto went to pit.
Dillon’s car was stuck in the mud after a spin to produce a caution and a restart on lap 68, which saw Byron once again maintain the lead. A lap later, things took a not-so-nice turn for Austin Dillon when he was clipped by Busch entering the frontstretch chicane and spun, hitting the outside wall.
Another restart came on lap 72 with Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the front row. A great restart by Ryan Preece elevated him to second as Stenhouse was swamped by the field entering turn one before spinning after contact from Wallace.
Blaney went wide into the mud and lost the lead, spinning and almost being impacted by Matt Kenseth. To add insult to injury, he was subsequently penalised for speeding on pit road.
Preece would inherit the lead with Bowman moving up to second. Bowman took the lead on lap 82 before Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Elliott passed him two laps later.
Debris on lap 86 resulted in the next caution, during which Kenseth hit the turn three wall. Much of the field sans Busch pitted, which placed the reigning champion at the front of the pack for the restart with 20 laps to go; fellow JGR and Toyota drivers Bell and Hamlin also elected to stay out.
A poor restart by Bell on the inside allowed Busch to separate from the field with Jones in tow. Jones took the lead a lap later before losing it to Elliott on a crossover move as they exited the infield.
In the frontstretch chicane, Nemechek spun while racing Gray Gaulding while Jimmie Johnson and Stenhouse made contact, though neither resulted in a yellow. What did lead to a caution flag was Brennan Poole‘s car stopping in turn thirteen with 12 laps left. Busch stayed out again, while Dillon and Buescher received commitment line and speeding penalties, respectively.
The final restart came with ten laps left as Elliott cleared Jones in turn two. Logano would move up to second. Three laps later, McDowell spun on both the backstretch and frontstretch chicanes, with the race staying green. More spins took place for Newman (frontstretch and turn one while racing Gaulding), and Truex and Kurt Busch (backstretch chicane).
Elliott would storm off to his eighth career win and fourth straight on a road course, winning the 2019 race at Watkins Glen, the 2019 Roval race, and the Daytona road course in August. He also scored his maiden Cup victory at The Glen in 2018. Shortly after the checkered flag, Bilicki spun and hit the oval turn four after his right-rear tyre went down. Busch, Almirola, Dillon, and Bowyer were eliminated; it was Bowyer’s final shot at a title as 2020 is his final season before moving to the commentary booth, while Busch was unable to defend his 2019 title.
The win not only clinched Elliott a spot in the Round of 8, but it also made him the first driver since former Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon to win four consecutive Cup road races. However, he still has a ways to go to match Gordon’s record of six in a row from 1997 to 2000.
“Road courses have been fortunate to us the last few trips,” Elliott said in his post-race interview with NBC. “But I feel like we just try to get a little better every time and tweak on the small things. It felt like I tweaked on some small things and got a little better than when I was here last year, which was good.”