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Mr. H: Young Elliott Is Better Than I Thought

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 15 2016
Chase Elliott is welcomed to to the big time by his Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup crew chief, Alan Gustafson. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

Chase Elliott is welcomed to to the big time by his Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup crew chief, Alan Gustafson. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Two years before Chase Elliott was even eligible for a driver’s license, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott met with multi-car team owner Rick Hendrick about his son’s future.

It was a meeting that led to Hendrick signing the teenager before he even celebrated his 16th sprint-logo-08birthday. Now, not even a decade later, the astute businessman’s decision is already paying dividends.

At just 20 years, 2 months and 17 days, the young Elliott becomes the youngest driver to ever earn the pole for the prestigious Daytona 500. The publicity Elliott and his team will receive for a week is a sponsor’s dream and one for NASCAR as well. Elliott’s youth provides NASCAR the opportunity to attract the demographic it so desperately desires. It also affords NASCAR the opportunity to regain grassroots fans it has lost, those who supported the young Elliott’s father.

With Elliott’s accomplishment Sunday afternoon, the Elliotts are now the fourth father-son duo to claim the Daytona 500 pole. The other three are Richard and Kyle Petty, Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The pole came in Elliott’s first Sprint Cup start at Daytona and his sixth in the series. It provided Hendrick Motorsports with its 10th Daytona 500 pole. And as far as Hendrick is concerned, this is just the beginning.

“I think he’s going to win a race this year and I think he’s got a really good shot at making the Chase,” Hendrick said. “He’s better than I thought he was going to be when I made the deal when he was 14 years old.”

Elliott has a way of exceeding expectations. He won the Nationwide Series (now Xfinity) championship in his rookie season and claimed victory at historical Darlington Raceway in his debut at the tough, old track. Yet, he’s like his father in that he’s low key and very pragmatic.

“I actually told him one time it was OK to celebrate when you win a race. It’s OK when you run third

Chase Elliott's boss says he thinks people will see his young driver in Victory Lane in the near future. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Chase Elliott’s boss says he thinks people will see his young driver in Victory Lane in the near future. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

to get out and be kind of happy instead of beating yourself up because you should have won the race,” Hendrick said.

That, however, isn’t the Elliott way.

“I want to do the best I can to get good finishes,” said Elliott, who just a few years ago was washing dishes and busing tables at the Dawsonville (Ga.) Pool Room which announces his successes just as it did his father’s, by blowing a siren atop the building.

“You have to do what’s comfortable to you. I’m not going to change how I race just because it’s a new year and driving a different type car. I want to do what is comfortable to me. I want to do what I feel is the right thing to do to have the best finish possible each week. Sure, mistakes are going to be made. It happens. I want to try and limit those and try to move forward from that point.”

Crew chief Alan Gustafson noted Elliott spent a great deal of time at the race shop during the off-season and they traveled to Las Vegas together for six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson’s pre-season test. Elliott also has deluged teammates Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne with questions.

“Jimmie Johnson was an open book at the Vegas test,” Elliott said. “All three of them and Jeff (Gordon) as well have been open books. They have been phenomenal. Anything I asked him (Johnson) he was very, very open and willing to help. I expect to have a lot of questions throughout the season.”

Hendrick noted that Elliott was the “whole package” and fitted into “our organization so well.”

“There’s no pressure other than what he puts on himself, but he handles pressure well,” Hendrick said. “He’s extremely fast, but extremely careful. He doesn’t wreck a lot of cars. We’ve been through a learning curve with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, all those guys, but Chase is a little bit different driver. He’s more like his dad than probably Jimmie or Jeff.”

After earning the Daytona 500 pole, Elliott kept praising his team, saying he wanted to make sure he tried his best “to do the job that they deserve.” Those are the people Elliott always is concerned about letting down, those who have helped and supported him throughout his young career; a career that his dad has often reminded him can be quite fickle.   

“Mr. Hendrick has been so good to me,” Elliott said. “I don’t know where I would be in my racing career had it not been for him and his commitment to want to help.

“I’m still scratching my head as to why he wanted to sit down and talk to me and my dad that one day after school and why he wanted to help in such a big way. I’m just very fortunate and blessed that he has. We could never have dreamed that things would work out like that they have. It’s been very, very wild.”  

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 15 2016
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