Elliott, Smith Rebound for Top-10 Finishes at Road America

JR Motorsports | 8/29/2015

Alpha Energy Solutions Ben Rhodes Chase Elliott NAPA News Race Report Regan Smith Road America TaxSlayer XFINITY Series

Chase Elliott and Regan Smith finish fourth and eighth respectively after battling back from mid-race mishaps at Road America.

Race 23 of 33: Road America 180 at Road America

Track Specs: 4.048-mile road course / 45 laps

Weather: Cloudy; 66 deg.

Race Winner: Paul Menard

Elliott’s finish: 4th

Smith’s Finish: 8th

Rhodes’ finish: 32nd

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet, ended Saturday’s Road America 180 with a solid fourth-place finish.  It was an up-and-down day that saw Elliott lead a race-high 23 laps, then rally back from and off-track excursion and gain six positions in the closing laps.  More importantly, the effort propelled Elliott to second in the championship points battle.  He now sits within 16 points of leader Chris Buescher.

With rain washing out qualifying, the field was set based on practice speeds, leaving Elliott to start on the front row alongside JRM teammate Ben Rhodes.  From the outset Elliott held point, taking the lead on the first corner of the race’s first lap.  Once out front, Elliott set sail and worked his way to a remarkable seven-second lead on the field.  Elliott steered the NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet on a blistering fast pace, which saw him as the fastest car through the opening 40 miles of the event. 

After the field cycled through the first round of green-flag pit stops, Elliott increased his gargantuan lead even further by putting a crushing 11-second deficit on second place.  When the race’s second caution flag flew on lap 24, the field was bunched up for the ensuing restart.  Varying pit strategies then came into play, with some competitors pitting for fresh rubber and other staying on track to optimize their positon.  Elliott stayed out and led the field to the lap-27 restart. 

At the front of the field, it became a challenge for Elliott to hold onto the top spot and he ceded to third.  To compound matters, Elliott briefly slipped off the track and into the grass.  Keeping his foot in the throttle, he quickly made his way back onto the racing surface, but not before dropping to seventh and picking up debris on the grille of the No. 9 machine.  Crew chief Ernie Cope was forced to call Elliott to pit road for the team to clean the grill opening.  They also opted for four tires and fuel.

After the stop, Elliott raced back onto the track in 19th.  He climbed back to 17th prior to the race’s final caution on lap 36.  With many teams on differing pit strategies, the extensive five-lap caution wreaked havoc on the running order.  However, it played right into Elliott’s hand, and when the field took the green flag the No. 9 was scored in 11th.  Elliott dug in, showcasing the strength of both the NAPA machine and his road-course talents and climbed to eighth with three laps to go.  Over the final two laps he charged four more positions and found the checkered flag in fourth.  The effort marked Elliott’s ninth top-five of the year.

Paul Menard won the race and was followed to the line by Ryan Blaney, Brian Scott, Elliott and Darrell Wallace, Jr.

Chase Elliott, driver No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS team

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed today.  I feel like I really let this NAPA AUTO PARTS team down.  We had a great car, and one that was capable of winning.  I just made way too many mistakes.  It’s unacceptable, really.  We can’t have that.  We were fortunate to rally back and get a top five out of the day.  We’ve been really close to winning one of these road races, and I really wanted to get the job done today.  All we can do is take another shot at Darlington next week.”  

Regan Smith

The dark clouds that hung over picturesque Road America on Saturday seemed to find the No. 7 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet driven by Regan Smith with maddening regularity, but by the end of the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville, Smith had brought his Chevrolet Camaro home with a top-10 finish.

With 10 laps to go and sitting in seventh spot—with a lot of cars ahead that were gambling on fuel—Smith called to crew chief Jason Burdett that the engine in the TaxSlayer.com Camaro had died. A nagging electrical problem, first noticed in the opening flurry of laps, had finally gotten to the point where it ended the team’s chances for another road-course victory. Smith required a push to get the car going and had to speed from Turn 6 all the way around the 4.048-mile road course to pit lane, where the team replaced batteries, changed tires and added fuel. They sent Smith back out in 27th place with just nine laps remaining.

Absent the electrical issue, the strategy the team had employed had them no worse than fifth for the restart. The caution stayed out for clean-up and cars running out of fuel, and by the time the green waved again, there were but four laps remaining in the 45-lap event. Putting his head down, Smith charged from 25th to 14th on the first lap of green and was 12th the next time by. Coming to the white flag he was 10th, and he got past both Ty Dillon and point leader Chris Buescher on the final circuit to wind up eighth. It was his 16th top-10 finish in 23 races this season.

Hometown driver Paul Menard won the race, followed by Ryan Blaney, Brian Scott, JRM teammate Chase Elliott and Darrell Wallace Jr. Ben Rhodes, who started from the pole in the JRM No. 88, was 32nd after cutting a left front tire and pounding a tire barrier to bring out the caution with 10 to go.

While the eighth-place finish under adversity was satisfying, it wasn’t the result the team had expected. Passing Buescher and Dillon on the final lap meant Smith remained fourth in points and gained on the leader, but there were points left on the table at the end of the day. Smith sits 50 points behind Buescher with 10 races remaining.

Regan Smith, driver No. 7 TaxSlayer.com team

“We gave up a victory here today with that electrical problem. The strategy we were on, we were close on fuel, just like the 33 car (eventual winner Menard) and a few others were, and we had the chance to really put a dent in the point deficit. Jason and the crew did a good job getting the battery replaced, four tires on it and gas in it, and we got back out there. There was still a chance we could get close to the front, with the different fuel strategies and the cars that were ahead of us, and we did, but it could have been another trip to Victory Lane for the TaxSlayer team. This one stings.”

Ben Rhodes

Everything was going right for Ben Rhodes and the No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions team from the beginning of the weekend at Road America through the early laps of Saturday’s Road America 180. After being the fastest in the first practice session on Friday, Rhodes earned the pole position when rain forced NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) qualifying to be cancelled Saturday morning. JRM would take the front row for the start as Rhodes’ teammate, Chase Elliott, was second fastest in first practice, giving him the outside pole.

Rhodes led the field to the green flag, but Elliott quickly took over the top spot and led the first lap. The driver of the No. 88 settled into the second spot and was holding his own when the first caution flag waved on lap two. After restarting second, Rhodes’ position was challenged by aggressive front runners and as he was fighting for fifth, the 18-year-old flat-spotted his tires, which caused him to lose several more positions. He tried to drive through it until the first scheduled pit stop, but had to come down pit road early after the tires continued affecting the handling of the Alpha Energy Solutions Chevrolet.

Crew chief Dave Elenz called for four tires and fuel on the unscheduled green-flag stop, and Rhodes rejoined the field in 33rd on lap eight, after reporting that his No. 88 Camaro felt like it was plowing, or not turning well, through the corners. Within 10 laps, Rhodes worked his way up to 11th, while still reporting that the car was too tight in the center of the corners and was loose on exit.

The second caution came on lap 23, while the No. 88 was scored in the 12th position. Rhodes reported that the race car was far too tight, particularly in the slow corners, so when he came to pit road for four tires and fuel, Elenz called for the team to make an air pressure adjustment to try to help Rhodes on the restart. Rhodes restarted 15th, but the Alpha Energy Solutions team calculated him to be four laps short on fuel mileage, so Elenz called for a fuel-only stop under green on lap 29.

Rhodes rejoined the field in 18th and moved to 15th before struggling further with the tight handling condition that continued to plague the Alpha Chevy and dropping to 17th. On lap 35, just 10 laps shy of the finish, he reported that his left-front tire had gone flat, which caused him to be stuck in the sand trap off of Turn 7 and the caution to come out. The team made quick repairs once the car was towed to the garage, getting Rhodes back out on track after missing just four laps during the long caution period. Once he was back on track, Rhodes picked up two spots to be the first car four laps down, resulting in a 32nd-place finish. While the promising start to the day didn’t pan out, Rhodes showed a poise beyond his years as he stayed calm and made the best of the situation.

Paul Menard won the race, earning his first NXS victory of the season and third of his career. Ryan Blaney finished second, followed by Brian Scott, Elliott and Darrell Wallace Jr.

Ben Rhodes, driver No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions team

“It was an up-and-down day once again. I would say it was more of a ‘down’ day than an ‘up’ day, though. I think we had a decent No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions Chevy, but the track certainly changed on us from yesterday and I think some of the changes we made in practice yesterday to anticipate the track may have been in the wrong direction and hurt us. All in all, I have a lot I learned today – pacing once again was the big issue. Early on, the guys went a lot harder charging for positions in the front than I thought they would and that put me in a bad spot several times. I lost some spots, got a little greedy trying to make them up and went off the track. We had to pit to get the grille clean, which put us around some bad cars and ultimately lead to our demise today. What really hurt us was going into the sand trap after a flat left-front tire. I felt it going down a couple of corners before, but it gave me some false confidence thinking that I could nurse it back a little bit quicker. By the time I got to that corner (Turn 7), it was already on the rim and there was nothing I could do. If we weren’t in the sand trap for so long and could’ve driven out, then I think we could have made up a lot of the spots and salvaged a decent finish.”

 

 

No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS

Chevrolet Camaro

Chase Elliott

Start

2nd 

Finish

4th

Laps Completed (Led)

45 of 45 (23)

Points (Bonus)

42 (2)

Standings (from leader)

2nd (-16)

Status

Running

 

 

No. 7 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet Camaro

Regan Smith 

Start

12th 

Finish

8st   

Laps Completed (Led)

45 of 45 (0)

Points (Bonus)

36 (0)

Standings (from leader)

4th (-50)

Status

Running

 

 

No. 88 Alpha Energy Solutions

Chevrolet Camaro

Ben Rhodes

Start

1st

Finish

32nd

Laps Completed (Led)

41 of 45 (0)

Points (Bonus)

12 (0)

Standings (from leader)

10th (-182)

Status

Running

 

Articles

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • May 23 01:00 PM ET
    Alsco 300 at CharlotteCharlotte Motor Speedway
  • May 30 01:00 PM ET
    Mid-Ohio 170Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • June 6 01:30 PM ET
    LTi Printing 250Michigan International Speedway
  • June 13 08:30 PM ET
    Iowa 250Iowa Speedway
  • June 20 04:00 PM ET
    Chicagoland 300Chicagoland Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After LS Tractor 200

Phoenix Raceway | 3/7/2020
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Harrison Burton #1760
2Chase Briscoe173-3
3Austin Cindric155-21
4Brandon Jones148-28
5Ross Chastain146-30
6Noah Gragson143-33
7Ryan Sieg143-33
8Justin Haley140-36
9Justin Allgaier138-38
10Michael Annett119-57