Elliott leaves Phoenix more confident, focused
March 01, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
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AVONDALE, Ariz. -- One and three-quarter races under his belt at two very different tracks.
"I've learned I have a great group around me and I feel like our team and the folks that I was put with this year, I feel like we all mesh well together," Elliott said after placing ninth in the rain-shortened Blue Jeans Go Green 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. "The communication has been really good for the first two weeks anyways. The cars have been fast. With Regan (Smith) getting the win last week and Kevin (Harvick) had a great run today, I felt like all three cars were capable of running inside the top seven, eight somewhere in there."
While the 18-year-old figures to take the Kyle Larson phenomenon route and move up to the Sprint Cup Series at some point within the next few years, Elliott is in the preliminary stages of what should prove to be a very fruitful Nationwide tenure with JR Motorsports, a stable that can offer him the veteran support few others can.
Helmed by two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Hendrick Motorsports affiliate sports three premier Sprint Cup Series drivers splitting part-time Nationwide rides in Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Kasey Kahne, a No. 7 entry driven full-time by Regan Smith, who has a handful of full-time Cup seasons to his credit, and Elliott, now just two races into his blossoming career.
There's no better environment for a young driver to thrive in and there's already a cohesiveness among the group that appears unbreakable in the early going.
"I was really proud of our effort and like Kevin said, too, this week really kind of started off the season for us last week at Daytona," Elliott said. "To come here, kind of the first real race track we get to go to, all three cars ran well, obviously with Kevin finishing second today and we were inside the top-five there for a little while. I felt like our car was capable of being there, just needed a little bit of help on those restarts and pit stops. But, all in all, I felt like it was a good day for us and we're ready to go on out to Vegas."
And that team-spirited attitude goes all the way from the 18-year-old on to Harvick, more that twice Elliott's age at a sprightly 38 and in his first season with JRM.
"There's a lot of new things that have been put together (at JRM)," said Harvick, who finished runner-up to Kyle Busch after the race was called off with 32 laps remaining. "A lot of new people. A lot of cars cut up. A lot of bodies cut off and they're had a really long winter, but the effort, obviously, the first time I've ever sat in a (JRM) car was yesterday, so to show up and have everything work and have everybody communicate and to all the things right, I'm really proud. I feel like we're going to start building the foundation with setups and things that we need to make improvements and it's not like we need to reinvent the wheel now, we just need to tweak on it and go from here."
Now the series heads northwest to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where last year Earnhardt Jr. came up short in 14th, but Smith -- in the lucky No. 7 car -- finished seventh, perhaps a sign of things to come for an organization on a roll.
Elliott is still a few years away from being able to gamble in any Vegas casino, but he's got his focus elsewhere, anyway.
"To come out of the box and have a top-10 this weekend, I feel like that's something to be proud of. Hopefully we can take that momentum to Vegas and try to improve upon on that."