Elliott's loss to teammate a learning experience
April 26, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
RICHMOND, Va. -- Chase Elliott's two-race run of wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series hardly ended with a thud as a rain-delayed Friday night start morphed into an early Saturday morning finish. But despite a solid runner-up finish behind dominant JR Motorsports teammate Kevin Harvick, the hotshot rookie was frank in taking the lion's share of the blame for coming up just shy of a historic streak.
"I've just got to step up, man," Elliott said. "When your teammate goes to Victory Lane and he beats you, that's all me. We're driving the same cars. It's up to me to get the job done. I don't feel like I did that to the best of my ability tonight, so just got to step up next time."
Elliott entered the ToyotaCare 250 at rainy Richmond International Raceway with a head of steam, notching back-to-back victories in the series' preceding two races at Texas and Darlington. He stood to become the first Nationwide Series regular to three-peat since Dale Earnhardt Jr., his team owner, did so in 1999.
Despite the sour taste over the end of the streak, the 18-year-old phenom took some solace in the bigger picture -- carrying a 19-point lead over JRM teammate Regan Smith into the second quarter of the Nationwide season and logging the organization's first 1-2 finish.
"You've got to take it on a week-by-week basis," Elliott said. "I hate we didn't get the win tonight but it is good to have a teammate go to Victory Lane. We know what they ran, so it's good coming back to know where we need to be. Like I said, there's definitely positives to take from tonight. Obviously you want to win every week, but I feel like we gave it our best effort but we didn't exactly have what we needed to beat Kevin, but we did have a car good enough to finish second and that's what we did."
Elliott's stunning rise as a two-time winner this season coincides with the prospect of major upheaval to the driver roster in NASCAR national series. On the day that the newest class of the NASCAR Next youth initiative was announced at Richmond, Elliott was tops among the three Next alumni to finish in the top 10 -- Kyle Larson wound up fourth, with Ryan Blaney fading late to snag ninth.
But Elliott's ascent also dovetails with a show of strength for JRM, which has four victories in just eight Nationwide races so far and boasts one of the strongest stables of drivers on the circuit. Having a stacked lineup of Harvick, Earnhardt, Smith and part-time driver Kasey Kahne as a sounding board has helped Elliott mature as the team continues to find a rhythm.
It's a mutually beneficial relationship so far, one that Harvick said has pushed him to be a better driver, even at one of his best tracks.
"I told Chase in Victory Lane, in this sport you're not going to win all the races, but he wants to know why and what he needs to do to get better," Harvick said. "He's been here before, but he's never raced anything like this before. ... He adapts very well and does a very good job and gives good feedback. It doesn't take him long to pick up on things.
"It's our job to help make sure his learning curve is not very steep, but it's our job as the 5 car and his job, and Kasey's job and Regan Smith's to make sure we accelerate that to help them race for this championship and minimize mistakes and the learning curve, so that they can be in the right spot at the end of the year to win a championship."
With seven top-10 finishes in eight events to start his Nationwide career, Elliott is in prime position to contend for the season-long prize, but the balance of the long 33-race schedule looms. He leaves Richmond with what he called "a lot of positives" as the circuit heads to Talladega Superspeedway next weekend.
"You've just got to take what's given to you some weeks and unfortunately that might not be the win in tonight's case," Elliott said, "but we'll take it and move on."