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Dr. Diandra: Can Chase Elliott win a Next Gen road course race?

Will Elliott clinch a Cup Series playoff spot?
Dale Jarrett, Dustin Long, and Kim Coon discuss Chase Elliott's run of form and debate if he has any shot at making the playoffs this year.

Chase Elliott has not won on a road course since the NASCAR Cup Series switched to the Next Gen car. With three races left in the regular season and Elliott needing a win to make the playoffs, are road courses his bane or his salvation?

Chase Elliott’s very bad, no-good year

A late-season downturn in 2022 left Elliott with a fourth-place season finish. The Dawsonville, Georgia, driver started 2023 by crashing out of the Daytona 500 but followed up that disappointment with a second-place finish at Fontana.

Then he broke his leg in a snowboarding accident and missed the next six races.

Returning at Martinsville, Elliott posted an 8.6 average finish over the next five races, with a best finish of third.

A retaliatory incident with Denny Hamlin at the Coca-Cola 600 caused NASCAR to suspend Elliott for one race.

When Elliott returned to the track, he returned to form. He averaged an 8.5 finish over the next seven races with a best finish of third and a worst finish of 13th. He crashed last week at Michigan.

Elliott fans can breathe a little more freely: The numbers show him to be an excellent bet on any road course — even in the Next Gen car.

The metric matrix

The two races at the Indy road course have established a tendency toward chaos, especially as the field barrels into Turn 1 on restarts. NASCAR will attempt to mitigate the bedlam by moving the restart zone further back from the start-finish line.

This chaos factor — which includes 19 DNFs in two races — leads me to weight drivers’ previous finishes less highly than I would at other tracks. Instead, I emphasize drivers’ performances on road courses this year and in the two years of the Next Gen car. I also give a lot of weight to practice and qualifying results.

I do not include the Chicago street course in my performance calculations because it was the first run at the course and it was run under exceptional circumstances.

Although the metrics indicate that a lot of drivers have the potential for good finishes at the Indy road course, Elliott and Chris Buescher come out as the top drivers this weekend.


Neither Elliott nor Buescher has won a road course in the Next Gen car — but the pair have the best average finishes over two years of road course races using the car.

Buescher’s 8.2 average finish is just two-tenths of a position better than Elliott’s 8.4 average. Both drivers’ averages beat third-place Michael McDowell by more than two positions.

Elliott tops Buescher with his third-place qualifying effort. Buescher, winner of the last two races, starts 17th.


Elliott also has the highest rate of top-five finishes in the Next Gen race car at road courses with 57.1%. He just edges out Tyler Reddick, who comes in second with a 50.0% top-five rate.

Kyle Busch claims the third spot in the metric matrix thanks to second-place finishes at COTA and Sonoma this year. Because Busch changed teams in 2023, I don’t weight his 2022 numbers with Toyota as highly as I do for other drivers.

McDowell comes in fourth place in the metric matrix, propelled by being the fastest driver in practice and qualifying fourth. He is a perennially strong driver at road courses and the Next Gen car seems to complement his driving style.

Alex Bowman, Austin Cindric and Tyler Reddick claim the final positions in the merit matrix. Bowman could use a strong finish given that he hasn’t finished better than 12th since returning from a back injury. Bowman also needs a win to make the playoffs.

Cindric’s 2023 isn’t as strong a year as his rookie season, but he did finish second at the Indy road course last year. Cindric qualified 20th for Sunday’s race.

Reddick’s average 2023 road course finish is 17.0, due in part to a 33rd-place finish at Sonoma. Speed and skill aren’t in question, but Reddick’s team has struggled to execute this year.

Drivers who missed the metric matrix

Polesitter Daniel Suárez has been beset by mistakes and disappointments in 2023. He was focused and optimistic this weekend, with high hopes coming off a sixth-place finish last week at Michigan. Suárez is within five points of the playoff cutoff; however, the drivers immediately ahead of him, McDowell and Ty Gibbs start fourth and 10th.

A.J. Allmendinger has one top five and four top-10 finishes this season. He placed sixth at Sonoma and crashed at COTA. With an overall finish this year of 17.5, and starting this race from the 26th position, Allmendinger is a longshot for the win unless he can use strategy to get up front.

Chicago street course winner Shane van Gisbergen qualified eighth, so we know he has a fast car. The New Zealander is an unknown on the Indy road course, but was too good in Chicago to ignore.

Also keep an eye on van Gisbergen’s fellow Supercars driver Brodie Kostecki. Due to a mechanical issue, his Richard Childress Racing car only made three practice laps. Kostecki qualified the car 11th.

The Indianapolis road course race airs at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.