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Chase Elliott Makes Some Noise Of His Own

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 5 2014

Chase Elliott won Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tim Parks)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Chase Elliott’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Texas Motor Speedway resonated all the way back to Dawsonville, Ga., where the siren that announced each of his daddy’s 44 Sprint Cup Series victories woke up the echoes of “Awesome Bill” late Friday night…and certainly a few of the neighbors.

“I’ve never been there to experience that (siren salute),” said Chase, who was making his first start on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. “It’s always been a tradition in Dawsonville they’ve done for him and it’s really, really cool they kept it going for me. It’s loud…extremely loud. I think the cops came out the last time.”

Elliott turned his sixth career NNS start into his first win via a bold, high-side pass of Cup regular Kevin Harvick through the elbow of the front stretch on Lap 185 of 200 in the 18th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. Once in clean air, Elliott separated himself from a line of Cup stars including car-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. en route to a 2.251-second victory over Kyle Busch.

At 18 years, 4 months and 8 days, Elliott is the second-youngest winner in series history.

“This is just awesome,” said Chase, dropping the operative adjective during a Victory Lane celebration that included beaming parents Bill and Cindy Elliott. “It was just a phenomenal night. It’s an honor to race with these (Cup) guys. Passing Harvick for the lead and holding off Kyle at the end was really cool.”

And popular among his peers. Before he was even able to exit his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro, Chase was greeted along pit road by a series of drivers including five-time Texas NNS winner Harvick, six-time Texas NNS winner Busch, fellow-rookie Kyle Larson and six-time/reigning Cup champ Jimmie Johnson.

“I’m about speechless,” said Bill Elliott, the 1988 Cup champion and NASCAR’s runaway Most Popular Driver during the pre-Dale Jr. Era. “To never have been at some of these

Chase Elliott, a winner in Texas, is surrounded by mom Cindy and dad Bill Elliott in Victory Lane. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

places like Vegas, California and now Texas and come out and beat the guys he beat…I always felt like Chase could do it; I felt how good the kid really is.”

Junior’s father, seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, regularly waged many a Sunday afternoon battle against Chase’s old man during the heyday of NASCAR’s Chevy vs. Ford rivalry. Somewhat ironically, Junior’s JR Motorsports is fielding Chase’s Camaro in conjunction with team-owner Rick Hendrick.

Asked whom Chase resembles, Junior said, “His daddy. They’re really similar in personality. You had to really work Bill over to get him upset. He was normally just concerned with his car, getting his car faster. Back in the mid-1980s when Bill and his brothers just focused on what they were doing and showed up and whupped everybody, they weren’t arrogant or cocky about it. They just showed up and ran and outran everybody. That’s what he reminds me of.”

Pole-sitter Harvick led the first 87 laps, while Busch made a serious charge from the rear of the 40-car field. Scheduled to start 36th after not posting a qualifying lap Friday afternoon, Busch was forced to start last after missing driver introductions. He charged from 40th to third in just 29 laps and finally overtook Harvick for the lead on Lap 88.

Meanwhile, Elliott hung around in the top-five and showed he was ready to contend with Harvick and Busch when he took the lead from the latter on Lap 135 and held the point for 20 laps. Earnhardt Jr. then wrestled into the lead and held it for 15 laps.

What proved to be the fifth and final caution from Laps 170-177 for an accident involving Jamie Dick and rookie Chris Buescher set the stage for an apparent Harvick victory. An outstanding pit stop by Harvick’s crew in the first pit box allowed him to move from fourth to first when the race restarted on Lap 178. Despite leading a race-high 101 laps, Harvick’s No. 5 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevy got tight and faded to fourth once Elliott completed his pass.

“Yeah, that was wild,” said third-place Larson, driver of the No. 42 Cartwheel Chevrolet. “He was trying to make it work and got an extreme run that one time and got to Harvick’s quarter panel and got him loose inside of him. From there I knew he was probably going to win the race unless we got a caution.”

Elliott confirmed another yellow was his greatest fear as the laps clicked off. “I don’t think you can ever take it for granted just because you’re out front you’re going to get the job done,” said Elliott, whose average winning speed was 137.545 mph. “There’s so many things that can happen and all those things are running through your mind. My main thing was hoping and praying a caution wouldn’t come out. My restarts were pretty terrible and that’s one thing I’ve got to get better on.”

Busch, who passed Harvick for second on Lap 186, had a perfect view of Elliott’s winning pass. “He was fast and he knew he was fast,” said Busch, driver of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “He was trying to race around Kevin and the dirty air was fighting him a little bit. To be honest, he was doing a really good job holding onto what he had when he was in those bad air positions.

“He tried to go low a couple times and Kevin went low and then he tried the middle and Kevin kept blocking the middle on him, and finally he went low in (Turn) 3 and it seemed like he throttled-up and drove right past him. I mean, he was just that strong. Kevin tried to slide up but it was too late, Chase was already there. So he had to back down and let the guy go.”

Larson, 21, scored his first NNS victory on March 22 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where he beat Harvick by 0.342-seconds in Race No. 5. Elliott’s victory marked the first back-to-back NNS wins by rookies since Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano _ now Cup teammates at Penske Racing _ did so in 2008.

“Chase got it a lot sooner than I did and that’s awesome,” said Larson, again dropping the operative adjective. “I know there was one point in the race he was in front of me and I said, ’Man, he’s really fast. He’s going to get a win sometime this season.’ I wasn’t expecting him to get it today. I didn’t know it’s been that long and both those guys (Keselowski and Logano) are really good drivers. Hopefully that means me and Chase will be around in the Cup Series for a long time.”

To which Busch added: “It’s awesome, of course. These are the guys that are growing up and young and being able to run hard, run strong and run with the best of ‘em in good stuff and it’s cool to see. Hate to lose but it’s still cool to see some of the younger guys have the opportunity to win races, and when they do they seem to do it in style and make it look good. So congrats to Chase tonight.”

Junior, who won his first NNS race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1998, said Chase has impressed him with his mix of talent and composure. “He’s years ahead of guys normally that age and is learning so fast on the fly,” said Junior, who placed fifth in the No. 88 Ragu Chevy. “People ask me if I tutor him, but he’s learning faster than you can teach him what’s going on. It’s a lot of fun to be able to work with great people, great drivers and great talent. We’re fortunate to have him.

“I thought he could win out of the gate. The guy is just…nothing gets him too excited and it looks like to me like he doesn’t get into situations that overwhelm him easily. Throw him out there into the middle of all these guys like Kyle and Harvick and he runs right with them and motors along and races hard. It seems like he’s really prepared himself mentally for what he’s doing. He’s not arrogant about what he’s doing or overconfident. He seems to understand what’s happening around him and how to handle it.”

Chase took in all the compliments, and even a little jab that he wasn’t showing enough emotion after his breakthrough victory. Seated next to crew chief Greg Ives, Chase reminded the assembled media, his parents and friends that on Monday morning he will to return to high school in Alpharetta, Ga.

“Nobody likes Mondays…got a bunch of homework to do before I go back,” said Chase, who exited Texas with a two-point lead (224-222) over teammate Regan Smith in the driver’s point standings. “Winning races gets me excited and hopefully I’ll do more of that and be more excited in the future. I guess that’s how I’ve grown up and the people I’ve been around. I don’t know how to answer that other than that’s how I am.

“But I got to think this one (win ranks) right at the top. It’s an extremely special win to me at Junior Motorsports and with NAPA Auto Parts…and being early in the season this one’s got to be right up at the top. Getting your first win in anything is an honor and great feeling, and I feel like this one means a lot.”

Junior suggested that at his age, there is no way Chase truly can understand what he’s accomplished. “But he’ll never forget it, for sure,” Junior said. “I just wish I could tell Chase how to enjoy the win. He’s happy but you’ll turn around one day and think and realize how precious that moment was…and ‘Man, I really wish I had soaked it all up.’ Just like winning the Daytona 500 in 2004 vs. 2014, I was two different people that night.

“He’s got a lot races he’ll have an opportunity to win in the future and a ton of time to celebrate. But the first one, really enjoy it. Just go watch it over and over again, whatever the hell you want to do. Enjoy this moment and relive it as much as you can because the rest will be fun…but they won’t be like this one. He beat some great guys tonight. Just don’t let it go by so fast you can’t remember it.”

And Junior inquired about one other Chase-related item: “Was the siren going tonight? That’s got to be fun. Good for them.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

NASCAR Nationwide Series Race – O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

Texas Motor Speedway

Fort Worth, Texas

Friday, April 04, 2014

1. (6) Chase Elliott #, Chevrolet, 200, $72094.

2. (36) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 200, $50375.

3. (37) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 200, $40875.

4. (1) Kevin Harvick(i), Chevrolet, 200, $41275.

5. (4) Dale Earnhardt Jr.(i), Chevrolet, 200, $29200.

6. (2) Matt Kenseth(i), Toyota, 200, $26025.

7. (3) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 200, $30903.

8. (9) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 200, $28928.

9. (38) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 200, $28238.

10. (5) Elliott Sadler, Toyota, 200, $28328.

11. (7) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200, $27628.

12. (13) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 200, $27128.

13. (11) James Buescher, Toyota, 200, $26878.

14. (10) Dylan Kwasniewski #, Chevrolet, 200, $26518.

15. (12) David Starr, Toyota, 199, $26608.

16. (17) JJ Yeley, Dodge, 199, $26198.

17. (21) Ryan Sieg #, Chevrolet, 199, $25688.

18. (18) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198, $25303.

19. (23) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 198, $25168.

20. (16) Ryan Reed #, Ford, 196, $25558.

21. (20) Josh Wise(i), Chevrolet, 195, $24948.

22. (25) Dakoda Armstrong #, Ford, 195, $24833.

23. (8) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 195, $24648.

24. (29) Eric McClure, Toyota, 194, $24538.

25. (24) Kevin Lepage, Chevrolet, 194, $24753.

26. (27) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 191, $24293.

27. (39) Chris Buescher #, Ford, Accident, 167, $24183.

28. (26) Jamie Dick, Chevrolet, Accident, 164, $24063.

29. (33) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Suspension, 131, $23888.

30. (30) Tanner Berryhill #, Dodge, Wheel Bearing, 120, $24078.

31. (14) Chad Boat #, Chevrolet, Accident, 119, $23648.

32. (15) Mike Bliss, Toyota, 119, $23538.

33. (19) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Vibration, 66, $16995.

34. (31) Robert Richardson Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 52, $23312.

35. (22) Tommy Joe Martins #, Dodge, Brakes, 34, $16755.

36. (35) Derek White, Dodge, Transmission, 29, $15195.

37. (32) Mike Wallace, Toyota, Electrical, 23, $15075.

38. (34) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, Engine, 6, $15040.

39. (28) Matt Dibenedetto, Chevrolet, Vibration, 5, $14790.

40. (40) Blake Koch, Toyota, Vibration, 2, $14755.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 137.545 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 10 Mins, 52 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.666 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.

Lead Changes: 14 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Harvick(i) 1-87; K. Busch(i) 88-100; K. Larson(i) 101; M. Kenseth(i) 102; J. Yeley 103-104; D. Starr 105-106; R. Sieg # 107-108; K. Busch(i) 109-121; C. Elliott # 122; K. Busch(i) 123-134; C. Elliott # 135-154; D. Earnhardt Jr.(i) 155-169; C. Elliott # 170; K. Harvick(i) 171-184; C. Elliott # 185-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick(i) 2 times for 101 laps; K. Busch(i) 3 times for 38 laps; C. Elliott # 4 times for 38 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr.(i) 1 time for 15 laps; J. Yeley 1 time for 2 laps; R. Sieg # 1 time for 2 laps; D. Starr 1 time for 2 laps; M. Kenseth(i) 1 time for 1 lap; K. Larson(i) 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: C. Elliott # – 224; R. Smith – 222; T. Dillon # – 214; E. Sadler – 208; T. Bayne – 206; B. Gaughan – 193; B. Scott – 192; D. Kwasniewski # – 179; J. Buescher – 176; R. Reed # – 141.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 5 2014
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Tony Geinzer says:

    The fact Chase Elliott won his first race in Nationwide in Texas is Front Page News. But, I was bummed by the “Studio Audience” due to the Final Four, and please, Eddie Gossage, I would like to see a Summer and Summer Sprint Cup Races and I would want 2 IndyCar Races and 1 Be USAC and The Other Being Indy Lights, but, my free advice is have them be 2 Races, NOT Back to Back in 1 Night or Weekend. I would want to have an Early Spring (Non-Indy) Oval Classic and a Fall Finale. Even though I hate calling the kicking team on this, but, Fan Appreciation needs to be at 100 Jillion Percent.