Chase Elliott turns his own passion for racing into wins
Chase Elliott raises the trophy in Victory lane after winning a NASCAR Nationwide series auto race at Darlington Speedway in Darlington, S.C., Friday, April 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Chase Elliott climbs from his car after a NASCAR auto race practice at the Darlington Speedway in Darlington, S.C., Thursday, April 10, 2014. While Dale Earnhardt Jr. fights to get out front in the Sprint Cup series, hes already on top in the Nationwide circuit as his JR Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and Regan Smith stand 1-2 in the standings heading into Friday nights event at Darlington Raceway. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Chase Elliott isn’t really sure what he has accomplished the last two weeks in becoming the youngest Nationwide driver with multiple victories.
Elliott acknowledged he was still in shock over his first series win at Texas Motor Speedway when he doubled up at Darlington Raceway, coming from back in the pack the final two laps last Friday night for a second consecutive triumph.
“Me telling you guys that last week, I still can’t believe that, I’m not lying to you,” Elliott told the Associated Press on Saturday. “Last week was really a dream come true. To come out of Texas with the win was unbelievable. I’m still not sure I completely believe that, much less to come out with a win at Darlington, that’s crazy. I don’t know what to think.”
Elliott certainly has the pedigree to succeed at NASCAR as the son of Sprint Cup great Bill Elliott. Yet, Chase was never pushed into the sport by his father, growing to love it as he watched Bill Elliott compete toward the tail end of a stellar career.
“It was never forced upon me by any means,” Elliott said of his dad. “He pushed me to be the best I could be because that was my decision. He’s not one of those dads that force you to do something because they want you to do it.”
Apparently, the younger Elliott does that really well.
He outran Kevin Harvick last week at Texas, then moved past veterans Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler after a late restart to win at Darlington in his first time at the track. Elliott has the points lead (by 7 over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith) and can’t wait to relocate from his Dawsonville, Ga., home to the team’s race shop in Mooresville, N.C., once he graduates high school next month.
“I think about racing nonstop, whether I’m at school or over at the race track, it really doesn’t matter,” Chase Elliott said.
So while friends and classmates discuss cut days, vacations and college plans, Elliott, 18, focuses on the next race.
Watching Chase compete in late model cars, Bill Elliott thought his son had the driving ability to succeed in the sport. It’s the mental makeup of handling the ups and downs that come with NASCAR Bill Elliott works to instill in Chase.
“Here’s a roller-coaster and you’ve got to hang on for dear life and hopefully it ends up where you want it to be on top at the end of your career,” Bill Elliott said. “For me, I’ve been very happy, but I know it’s a double-edged sword” of worrying about your child.
Chase Elliott wasn’t the only young Nationwide driver wowing the circuit. Kyle Larson, the 21-year-old driver who won last month at Auto Club Speedway in California, started from the back of the field, yet was second to Busch late in the race before the final restart.
At one point earlier in the race, Elliott and Larson were side by side, bumping and grinding against each other through Darlington’s misshapen corners and tight straightaways. It looked as though both young guys would find the wall – and the garage.
“I thought our night was 100 percent finished,” Elliott said. “I thought both of us were getting ready to pile it up pretty good.”
Instead, the two straightened things out to make it to the end – perhaps one of the earliest tangles the two young stars might have on NASCAR tracks across the country over the next couple of decades.
“I’d like to think so,” Elliott said. “Kyle’s obviously a talented guy.”
Chase Elliott hasn’t changed his focus or his goals – he still plans to win as much as possible with JR Motorsports. He’s not ready to talk about a move up to Sprint Cup – JR Motorsports is partly owned by NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick – preferring to improve at this level before taking the next step.
It’s a sound strategy, endorsed by the Elliott family.
“It’s like I told Chase, ‘Enjoy it while you can because it’s just going to be a revolving door,’ ” Bill Elliott said. “I think that teaches us so much about everyday life.”
His son agreed with that assessment.
“I just want to do my job right and do it to the best of my ability and everything else will figure itself out,” Chase said.