Although the rainy weather pushed back the Duck Commander 500 to Monday, there was already some excitement headlining the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Page back to Friday night, where a high school senior conserved, outran, and beat drivers with over 150 Nationwide Series and over 100 Sprint Cup Series wins combined. It is a tremendous feat that is almost unheard of, and a driver’s win in only their sixth career start in any series is certainly newsworthy. On the other hand, with it being Chase Elliott, this feat isn’t so surprising to me and many short track racing followers.
The first time I ever saw Chase Elliott compete in person was at the brief reopening of North Wilkesboro Speedway; a 200 lap Super Late Model race on Labor Day weekend in 2010. It could be argued that most of the drivers that day were on an even playing field, with the unique track being dormant for more than a decade. Nevertheless, the way this 14-year-old, at the time, handled the abrasive track, calmly waited to pounce on the leader for much of that race, and maintained his lead through the closing laps to earn the victory was something that drivers more than twice that age may never have mastered in their entire driving career.
A little family resemblance there? Like father, like son, hanging out with the trophy.
With that win came certain drawbacks which have questioned his performance. Following that win the team refused the post-race engine teardown, which caused an element of controversy. Word is that the officials of the touring series told them they could keep the win but never to come back again for their races.
Then came 2013. His first NASCARCamping World Truck Series victory, ironically on Labor Day weekend again, came controversially when he and Ty Dillon made heavy contact coming out of the final turn, sending Dillon around. In December, in what could be perceived as his Super Late Model swan song before climbing to the NASCAR ranks full time, Elliott turned in a flat-out dominant performance in the 300 lap Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Florida. A couple hours later it was deemed that the car was illegal due to a tungsten weight used inside the car. The rulebook clearly stated “no tungsten” for expense reasons and the win was taken away.
Despite whether any of these wins were or were not influenced performance enhancing aspects, Elliott’s past performances on the track have shown that he knows how to bring a car to the finish and in contention for the win. He also knows how to communicate with a crew. At the start of his Late Model career he was paired up with Ricky Turner, someone who may be unheard of on the national level but was widely-known for his success as a driver on short tracks across the southeast. The guidance and expertise Chase gets from his father, 1988 Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott, has been an amazing source of assistance as well and he has made sure that Chase is part of how the whole operation has functioned. What makes his success even more remarkable is that they have done it for over five years with the same core group surrounding him. Now that Chase is at a point where he’s thrown in with an almost completely different group is where he is put to the test.
And passing with flying colors is what he is already doing. The Nationwide race win, and how he did it, by passing Kevin Harvick on the outside for the lead wasn’t a surprise, further cementing how wise beyond his years he is. In 2012, he finished on the lead lap in all but six races he competed in. He raced in approximately forty total and won ten times that year. This year he is one of only four drivers that have completed every lap in the first six Nationwide races. The other three are Sprint Cup Series regulars. This is far from the first time he has been known to first finish before finishing first.
That being said, I do not expect them to rush Elliott into one of Hendrick’s four rides. Even if 2014 ends with a championship result, which is certainly approachable, I could see them coming back to defend. It has been done before with the likes of Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. after their first full seasons, both of which were repeat performances. Elliott never seems satisfied until he has completely mastered a challenge, which is something that makes him special. There is always more work that can be done to get that much closer to perfect.
I will be the first to admit that I can be too quick to judge. After all, Elliott’s first seasons, albeit on a part-time basis in other full-bodied stock car series such as Pro Cup, K&N East, and ARCA, netted zero wins. When he fell back at the end of the Nationwide race at Daytona I had a few second thoughts. However, based on his past success it was never out of the question that Chase Elliott could get the job done.