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Chase Elliott
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Statistically Speaking

Analyzing Road America: An Old Classic, New to NASCAR

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: January 6, 2022, 10:52 am ET

When NASCAR decided to go all in on road course racing in 2021, they added two of the most iconic racetracks in existence: Road America and COTA. Road America has been a fixture of all forms of road racing since 1955. NASCAR first visited the track in 1956 with Tim Flock beating his Bill Stroppe teammate Billy Myers. Five drivers completed all 63 laps with the 10th-place car three off the pace.

It would take 65 years for the Cup series to return for a 62-lap affair. This time it was Chase Elliott topping the field after starting deep in the pack in 34th, which is coincidentally the same number of cars that finished on the lead lap. Things have changed in the interim.

It was not that long ago that NASCAR teams could afford to ignore the road courses. When 36 races all contributed to the points' total, they could look the other way if their driver was not excellent on this track type. Once NASCAR went to the win-and-in format for the playoffs, these events became opportunity races. A berth in the Round of 16 is valuable no matter how it is earned.

In seven races last year, three full-time and one part-time driver won during the regular season. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott earned two each during the first 26 races and a surprising Christopher Bell notched his ticket early with a Daytona International Speedway road course victory. AJ Allmendinger was the other winner, but he was not in playoff contention.

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For most of the season it was accepted that Elliott was the driver to beat on road courses. He would have challenged for the Daytona win if not for a mistake in traffic when he tried to fit into a hole that didn't exist. If he had won that race he would have extended a road course winning streak to five consecutive. He won at the Circuit of the Americas ahead of Larson and then finished second to that same driver at Sonoma Raceway.

Elliott also won at Road America giving him two inaugural trophies in 2021, but those would be his only victories on the season. Considering how many unique winners there were last year, that took a lot of pressure off his shoulders where the playoffs were concerned.

By the time Road America rolled around, sportsbook traders caught on to Larson's appeal. He and Elliott were the two favorites. In fact, midweek before that race Larson held a slight edge at +290 to Elliott's +300. Only one other driver landed below the 10/1 mark and Martin Truex Jr. was still a distant third at +850.

Normally long outright win odds drag those for a top-three or -five to attractive plus levels, but that was not uniformly the case on road courses. The current working assumption is that Elliott, Larson, and Truex will dominate the top three, but with the No. 19 earning only two such results in 2021, traders were forced to hedge their bets regarding the top performers during the past three years.

Elliott (7.0) and Larson (8.5) have the two best average finishes on combined road courses in the past three years, but Denny Hamlin (8.9) is not far behind. Truex stands a little outside the top 10 mark on average with a 10.5 and Ryan Blaney has an 11.6, but the remainder of the top 10 drivers have some surprising names.

Ranked sixth with a 12.2, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch are tied. Joey Logano has a 12.8 average while Chris Buescher (13.5) and Erik Jones (14.8) round out the top 10.

Because of a terrible end to 2019 that kicked off a streak of four road course results in the 30s, Kyle Busch falls to 14th with a 16.5, but traders know not to disregard him on the twisty tracks.

That means several drivers are flying under the radar screen. Tyler Reddick finished eighth at Road America last year with one of four road course top-10s. Chase Briscoe was sixth and Ross Chastain was seventh in that race; both drivers earned three top-10s total on this course type.

Elliott, Larson, Truex, Hamlin, and Ky. Busch will be favored again in 2022, but if you look hard, you will find some hidden gems.

2022 Race
July 3, Jockey 250

Active Winners
1: Chase Elliott

1: Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch

Current Streaks
None: 1 previous race

First-time Winners
None: Earliest = Chase Elliott – 13th

2021 Race
June 6, Save Mart 350k
1. Chase Elliott (300), 2. Christopher Bell (2800), 3. Kyle Busch (1200), 4. Kurt Busch (2200), 5. Denny Hamlin (1400)

Road Courses: Road America, Sonoma Raceway, COTA, Daytona road, Watkins Glen, Indy road, Charlotte road

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Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.