Dawsonville NASCAR driver Chase Elliott responded to one of the most challenging races of his brief Nationwide Series career by finishing sixth at the Watkins Glen road course in New York and took a commanding 12 point championship lead over teammate Regan Smith in the process.
Marcos Ambrose won the Zippo 200 at The Glen, highlighting a top-5 that included all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars. By finishing sixth, Elliott was the highest finishing Nationwide Series regular and also the highest finishing rookie.
Those factors made it a challenging race that ended with a satisfying conclusion.
It was just a struggle for me all weekend and you just have to improve on [road racing] if you want to run with those guys that win these races, Elliott said. You have to bring your best and then some. Those guys that run up front in these races are bad to the bone.
This is what we have to do during the weeks we arent at the top of our game when we show up to the race track. Today was an example of my NAPA Auto Parts team never giving up.
Elliott qualified 15th for the race and was never completely happy with the balance and overall speed in his No. 9 Chevrolet leading up to the second road course race of the season. Elliott worked his way up to 12th after the first 10 laps but a pit road penalty would again set them back on lap 12.
Elliott hit pit road under caution but his crew jumped over the wall too soon according to a NASCAR official, resulting in a 15-second hold for the 18-year-old top prospect. This shuffled him back to 23rd on the lap 15 restart and Elliott again would have to charge his way to the front.
Using a combination of smart pit timing and a fast race car, Elliott worked his way into the top-5 for the final restart with 20 laps to go. Facing difficult odds against five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, Elliott held his own, dropped to sixth and finished eight seconds ahead of seventh place Elliott Sadler.
Ambrose finished ahead of Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth the all Cup Series top-5. Elliott ultimately viewed running behind the Cup drivers as a benefit since he was able to gain speed after mimicking their approach to attacking the corners.
He thinks it will give a major advantage heading into Saturdays standalone road course event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
We were able to gain some in the race when I got behind some of those faster guys, Elliott said. I was able to learn a little bit. We are still not exactly where we need to be so well learn from it. Now that I have some notes this should help me the next time we come here and even next weekend in Mid-Ohio.
The next race for the Nationwide Series is the Nationwide Childrens Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio. Green flag is scheduled for shortly after 2:45 ET on ESPN.