Young names make veterans take notice at Iowa
July 13, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
Teenagers Chase Elliott, Erik Jones run alongside Truck veterans
NEWTON, Iowa -- When the green flag dropped on the final restart Saturday night, Chase Elliott had six laps to make up nearly six positions for a coveted top-five spot. And one of the obstacles in the 17-year-old kid’s way was a man nearly 40 years his senior.
Ron Hornaday Jr. -- all of 55 years old, with 331 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts to his credit -- had his No. 9 Chevrolet in good position in a situation he craves. Late-race restarts.
But the veteran couldn’t shake the rookie. Elliott gunned his No. 94 Aaron’s Dream Machine Chevrolet on the top line, passing four trucks over the final few laps. In one last-gap effort to pass Hornaday, Elliott dove so low approaching the start/finish line on the final lap that he ran into the infield grass to clinch a fifth-place finish -- .034 seconds behind fourth-place Hornaday -- in the American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen atIowa Speedway.
As Elliott pulled into pit road after the cool-down lap, another 17-year-old was less than 100 feet dealing with a problem of a different kind.
Erik Jones, driving the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports, had nearly chased down race winner Timothy Peters before settling for second place in just his third career start in a NASCAR national series.
And there came Ty Dillon, a veteran at age 21 in this situation, talking to Jones and having a terse conversation after Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet went into the wall on Lap 198 when battling Jones for second.
"We need to be in Victory Lane. And we’re capable of doing it."
-- Chase Elliott
Yes, it was an eventful night for the only two drivers in the field younger than 18. As both incidents illustrated, the kids weren’t backing down the regulars.
“It was just kind of a racing deal,” Jones said of his run-in with Dillon. “We tried to go to the outside and when you get up on a truck like Ty did … it’s going to take the air off his nose and it’s going to get tight. He might have thought I ran him up into the wall, but everyone I’ve talked to said the opposite.
“He got up there just trying to make something happen with a few laps to go and got tight, and got into the wall. I feel like we did what we were supposed to do and didn’t do anything wrong there.”
Dillon certainly saw it differently, but he was more relaxed 15 minutes later in a T-shirt and blue jeans following his 16th-place finish.
“I just told him, ‘Man, next time you race don’t use your mirrors so much,’” Dillon said of Jones’ pit-road baptism. “He was starting at bottom of the race track and running at the bottom, then shooting up to the top. The first time it happened, we about wrecked in the frontstretch and then he did it again.
“ … He’ll learn, it’s his first couple of races, but I just had to make a point because if he does it again, it’s not going to be good.”
Jones’ second-place showing is his best of the season, and he’s logged three top-10s in three starts. Elliott has four starts in the Truck Series, and Saturday’s showing was his third top-five. The other? A sixth-place effort at Martinsville.
It’s not good enough, apparently.
When approached after the race, the first thing Elliott said was: “Hopefully we’ll do better next time.”
Isn’t a top-five good enough, Chase?
“No, it’s not,” Elliott said. “We need to be in Victory Lane. And we’re capable of doing it.”
Need to be in Victory Lane. Not want to be in Victory Lane; not hope to be in Victory Lane. Need.
You got the sense Elliott was perfectly aware of his strong word choice while standing there on pit road under the lights. His eyes focused and then trailed off, gazing into the distance.
There, Peters was climbing atop his No. 17 Toyota as people shot confetti into the night.
“We came here to win,” Elliott reiterated.
Perhaps those wins are coming, for both drivers, although fans will have to wait to see them in a truck again. Both drivers, due to being younger than 18, are eligible to compete only at ovals less than 1.1 miles and on road courses. The next three races are at Eldora, Pocono and Michigan before a trip to Bristol on Aug. 21.
So although it’ll be more than a month before Elliott or Jones are eligible to compete in the Camping World Truck Series again, there's little doubt they’ll be around for quite a while.
“Erik is a good dude. I’ve raced against him for a long time, so he’s nothing new to me and I’m nothing new to him,” Elliott said. “We’ve been around each other, grown up racing against each other. I’m sure we’ll be fortunate enough to race against each other for a long time.”