The NASCAR Cup Series drivers celebrated the Fourth of July with a race at Road America. They took on the four-mile road course in an attempt to lock up a spot in the playoffs. Several dealt with issues on and off the track, but Chase Elliott turned in a dominant performance during the final stage and captured the checkered flag for the second time in 2021 after starting from the rear of the field.
The final stage featured some intense battles between Kyle Busch and Elliott. The two Cup Series champions battled for the top spot on the track after passing Matt DiBenedetto, each spending time at the front of the pack. However, the noted road course expert in Elliott jumped ahead of Busch and built up a lead of more than five seconds. Christopher Bell then passed the No. 18 to take second overall.
With this win, Elliott now has seven trips to Victory Lanes at NASCAR’s road courses. He is now only two behind Jeff Gordon’s all-time record with three more races at road courses. The Cup Series will head to Watkins Glen on Aug. 8 and then Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course on Aug. 15. The playoffs will also feature a race at the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 10.
Elliott has two wins at Watkins Glen in his career, as well as two at the Charlotte Roval. The defending Cup Series champion has already won twice at road courses in 2021, and he could realistically tie — or break — Gordon’s record before the year comes to a close.
Busch Wasted No Time Rebounding From Practice Issues
The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry suffered a major setback during the practice session on July 3. He spun after what he called a “driver error” and slammed into the concrete barrier. This collision destroyed the left side of Busch’s stock car and forced him to move to a backup.
NASCAR rules state that any driver going to a backup car must drop to the rear of the field for the race. Instead of qualifying for a spot near the front of the pack, Busch lined up behind his fellow drivers. However, he did not spend very much time in this position.
The two-time Cup Series champion began navigating his way through the field the moment Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones waved the green flag to start the race. He avoided incidents and even took the top spot near the end of Stage 1. Though he headed to pit road with three laps remaining to get fresh tires.
Busch continued to race near the front of the pack, taking ninth in Stage 2 and then leading at the start of the final stage. Busch lost his spot to Elliott with more than 15 laps remaining, but he fought his way back into second.
Tire Issues Derailed Matt DiBenedetto’s Promising Day
The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang, DiBenedetto had the opportunity to score his first career win in the Cup Series. He started the race seventh and then he showcased both speed and aggressiveness during the first two stages. However, DiBenedetto dealt with tire and handling issues that disrupted his day.
The first problem arose after DiBenedetto took the lead from Austin Cindric in Stage 2. He raced past the No. 33 Team Penske Ford Mustang and began building up an advantage over his fellow drivers. DiBenedetto appeared to be en route to a stage win, but his left front tire began to come apart. The Wood Brothers Racing account later tweeted that it was not due to anything DiBenedetto did on the track.
Despite losing his spot at the front of the pack, DiBenedetto made some more moves during the final stage. He lined up next to Busch and quickly jumped to the front of the pack with an aggressive move. He remained in the lead for multiple laps until another problem arose. He lost some handling going into the right-hand turns and dropped several positions before heading to pit road under caution.
DiBenedetto ultimately finished his day in the ninth position, helping him in the playoff chase. However, the issues meant that he could not win the first Cup Series race of his career, the 100th in Wood Brothers Racing history.