Chasing Excellence

Elliott celebrates Darlington

His name says it all. The first name “Chase” suggests a man on the move, and this young racer of which I speak is definitely that. The last name “Elliott” is synonymous NASCAR excellence, one bearing the name won 44 races, the 1988 NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup championship, and was a 16 time Most Popular Driver. His name packs a lot of meaning, and considering what he’s accomplished already, 18-year old high school senior Chase Elliott is bearing up to it just fine.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie now has two consecutive wins and leads in the points. The wins are impressive when you think about it. Elliott beat Kevin Harvick at Texas Motor Speedway, and then he follows it up by overtaking Elliott Sadler at Darlington. The rookie won at Darlington! we’re talking about the Lady in Black, the “Track Too Tough To Tame.” Think about it! He had never raced there before! Did you see all the trouble the Cup rookies had Saturday night? It’s an apples and oranges comparison, but It doesn’t matter what you’re racing, when you win at Darlington with that level of competition at that age with no more experience than Chase had, he flat proved his skill right there.

How did he do it? Elliott came in Darlington borrowing from a wealth of valuable resources- human resources. The phenom didn’t have to look far for help, and wasn’t too proud to ask for it. “I’ve got some great teammates in Kevin (Harvick) and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and Regan (Smith) to do that. Those guys are all guys who have won races at the Nationwide level and the Cup level,” says the Georgian.

What’s even scarier for his opponents is this: the teenager isn’t even one percent focused on racing yet. “Wait ’til he finishes high school,” says his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Million Dollar Bill’s boy still has another month before he dons the cap and gown.

Seeing what Chase Elliott is doing and who he’s doing it against makes a critic of Cup regulars in the Nationwide Series do a double take. “I feel like it’s good for everybody, and from a driving standpoint, as somebody that gets to compete against them each week, regardless of what happened this past weekend, I think it’s good to have them there. There’s too much to be learned from those guys — it would be a shame if we didn’t have them around to learn from. Like I said before, they’re in the positions they’re in for a reason. They know how to get the job done, and they’re at the level they’re at because they deserve it.” That argument won’t be settled today, but it does give a critic (such as your truly) pause for reflection.

Could NASCAR be destined for a New Golden Age? After a period in which fans were wondering where the next big thing would come from, there’s a rich infusion of new blood. Kyle Larson, the Dillon Brothers, and Chase Elliott are the tip of the iceberg, heading a class of fresh faces that offer a little something for everybody in terms of origins, personalities, and skills. The talk has always been that Elliott would be the heir apparent to Jeff Gordon. Considering Gordon’s current performance, and the rapid development of Elliott, the question may be, can he wait that long? Realistically, this bloom will only benefit from being given time to blossom. No problem, there’s no need to rush Chase Elliott to the top level. With that said, he may not need much.