Sun rising over Elliott's bright future
March 11, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Chase Elliott is fidgety the way teenagers can be when they’d rather be somewhere else, doing something else; he’s restless and he wants to be moving, doing, racing.
“It’s driving me crazy,” Elliott says during an early-morning stop inside the media center at Daytona International Speedway. It seems competition on the computer, while extremely accurate, can keep a guy busy only so long.
“iRacing is getting absolutely worn out,” Elliott, 17, says. “I think I’ve raced at every track on there, made way too many laps at every single one of them.”
Now that auto racing has become a career path and not just a hobby, Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR Cup champion Bill Elliott, is eager to be back behind the wheel of a real race car, on a real race track.
But the pace of a sport built on speed can seem maddeningly slow at times.
"He's got the whole package."
-- Rick Hendrick
In 2011, Elliott competed in NASCAR’s K&N Series, racing out of the family-owned Bill Elliott Racing shop in Dawsonville, Ga. Last season, the team enlisted the help of Hendrick Motorsports, returning to the K&N circuit while adding select ARCA stops. In 26 career K&N starts, he posted 15 top-10 finishes, and earned his first victory last year at Iowa.
Elliott is scheduled to compete in nine races in the Camping World Truck Series this season. His debut won’t arrive until April 6 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The remainder of the schedule includes stops at Rockingham, Dover, Iowa (twice), Bristol, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, a return to Martinsville and Phoenix in the fall.
He is also slated to race at Pocono (twice), Road America, New Jersey and Kentucky in ARCA events.
It’s a healthy mix, if not a particularly busy one.
“I think the biggest thing is just to kind of get some change thrown in there from the past couple of years,” Elliott said. “We’ve been racing K&N; the opportunity opening up over the offseason to go run some truck races is really big for me just from a learning standpoint.
“We don’t have a ton of races on our schedule but I feel like the quality of our races are big, they’re very important. To run at places like Pocono and Kentucky, Martinsville and a Dover in a truck, as well as the ARCA races are … going to be very, very helpful for opportunities that could happen later on down the road.”
The team’s trucks are being provided by Turner Scott Motorsports while the ARCA entries are rebuilt pieces pulled from the Hendrick Motorsports stockpile.
Because of his age, Elliott isn’t eligible to compete in NASCAR-sanctioned events at tracks greater than 1.1 mile. He met the ARCA requirements by running in six races last year, but must attend an open test, which he will do the week of the June 8 Pocono race.
While the team will use Hendrick equipment in ARCA events, crew chief Lance McGrew says it’s not a case of the team attempting to “out-dollar” the competition.
“We are going to put him in some cars that are capable of running in the top 10 and we’ll see how he does,” McGrew said. “We haven’t tried to build all new cars, put him in the best equipment and let him run up front all day. If anything, we need to teach him how to race.
“There will be a point in time when you’re in the same equipment as everybody else; you can’t be in better stuff when you get to Cup racing. It is what it is. So you have to learn how to make do with what you’ve got.”
McGrew helped guide Brian Vickers to the 2003 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. He has also worked with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, and Brad Keselowski in the Cup series.
He’s part of a veteran crew that, in addition to working with Elliott, oversees the Hendrick Motorsports research and development program. Billy Wilburn, Pete Wright, Chris Hamilton and Jim Long have all been a part of championship-winning organizations.
“Fortunately for us, we get to do the racing side with Chase and the R&D stuff on the Cup side,” McGrew says. “It’s a good mix.”
“He’s got the whole package,” says Rick Hendrick, and the last time the successful team owner said that about anyone he might have been talking about a young guy named Jeff Gordon.
Three decades and four championships later, Gordon’s career has begun its descent while the sun is just beginning to rise on Elliott’s.
“I watched him run Late Models, run against people like Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch),” Hendrick says of Elliott. “He’s amazed me. He’s going to be a great one.”
McGrew agrees, likening the son to the father both on and off the track.
“They’re definitely two peas in a pod,” McGrew says. “If you watch them walk across the garage, they even walk alike.”
On the track, the younger Elliott is “smooth,” he says. “He’s a driver that has a lot of speed … and he’s very rarely out of control.
“A lot of drivers have that (control) quality. But having that and still being fast are not necessarily synonymous. … Normally you have a guy that might be really fast but not in control, or a guy that’s in control but not really fast. Chase seems to have a really good blend of both. He just doesn’t make very many mistakes.
“We ran 22 races last year and I can definitely count on one hand the amount of mistakes that he made all year long.”
Hendrick officials have already seen how he handles a Cup car, although not in a competitive environment. A recent R&D session at Nashville kept Elliott behind the wheel for a day’s worth of work as the group ran through a full slate of durability tests.
“He ran 500 miles, pit stops and everything, testing some parts and pieces,” Hendrick said. “The engineers, Rex Stump and those guys, they say this kid’s got it. He’s smart. He understands the car. He can feel the car and knows the adjustments.”
While he appreciates the name recognition, Elliott understands that it is how he does on the track that will ultimately determine whether he succeeds or struggles.
“The things that my dad has done in the past, those are his achievements, not mine,” Elliott says. “I’m trying to make my own name for myself and do the best that I can.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s been no input from the father, a 44-race winner in the Cup series. In most cases, the younger Elliott says, “he lets me figure it out on my own.
“And that’s important. Some days you have to do it wrong to learn it right.
“The thing I’ve respected him for, he’s never pushed me to race. It’s always been my decision. If I was at home right now and said I didn’t want to race, he would say, ‘alright, let’s go fishing’ or something. He’s always been very supportive of what I wanted to do and he’s pushed me to be the best I can because that’s my choice and not his.
“I definitely have a lot of respect for him from that standpoint.”
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