Chase Elliott takes it one race at a time
August 14, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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Though Chase Elliott wound up a best-in-class sixth after his first visit to Watkins Glen International, he still described it as "a tough place to come into blind." Drawing on those parallels, this weekend's stop for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is also a dark spot in the rookie's field of vision.
For the second consecutive week, Elliott will compete on a road course he's never seen when the circuit visits the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN). The unfamiliarity hasn't stopped Elliott from excelling on the sport's twisty tracks before, including his most recent effort when he finished first among Nationwide regulars behind five veterans of the Sprint Cup ranks at the Glen.
Even with plenty of room to grow and learn, his toughest criticism last weekend came from within.
"I just look at where I'm at as a road racer personally, and I obviously need to step that up," Elliott said. "(Saturday) was a decent day, but I think we're capable of running inside the top five at all these events, including the companion races, road courses or whatever. And I think we had the car to do that today. So I think just myself personally needs to step up and be a better road racer. Just try to figure out how to keep up with those guys and then try to figure out how to beat them."
Meanwhile, his father -- NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott -- had a slightly different perspective, watching his son's JR Motorsports crew load a relatively clean No. 9 Chevrolet onto the team's hauler. The 58-year-old former driver made 18 starts at Watkins Glen in NASCAR's big leagues, noting that road racing wasn't an easy learn in the early stages of his career.
"He's got to understand, he looks at what he's got to be against the best guys that have been here a lot," the elder Elliott said. "Sometimes, you've just got to back up and take it a step at a time. I think he did a great job today. He did what he needed to do, and sometimes that's what you've got to do. I think that goes to show he can figure it out."
Chase Elliott figures to have less competition with Sprint Cup experience since Saturday's race isn't a companion event to NASCAR's premier series, which races at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. Still, his path to victory may have to go through road-course veteran Alex Tagliani, who battled fiercely with Elliott in the top five in June at Road America and will again be behind the wheel of the Team Penske No. 22 Ford at Mid-Ohio.
Though Elliott will encounter a much slower layout at Mid-Ohio this weekend, he hopes to carry over the experience from his first dance with the Glen.
"As far as next week at Mid-Ohio goes, I think I learned a lot today," said Elliott, who has a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win under his belt from 2013 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. "Regardless of who's driving, those same cars are going to be there next week, and they're still going to be just as good as they were today. So I expect it to be just as tough next week. Another new race track for me so I've got a lot of studying to do this week throughout the weekdays. Just trying to prepare for another tough week I'm sure."
Thought Elliott's name has been linked to potential advancement into the Sprint Cup tour by 2016, the 18-year-old shrugged off the projections last weekend, saying such a move was merely "a thought." He's taken a similar stance to the current season, refusing to look too far forward in the Nationwide Series championship hunt even as he rides a 12-point lead with 12 races to go.
"As far as the points deal goes, like I've said all season long, I don't get too caught up in it," Elliott said. "I don't pull it up during the week. I don't worry about it. In my book, it's very important. Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to be in the position we are. But we've got to take it a week at a time. When you get caught up in it, that's when I think things can go south. So just trying to focus running well and contending for wins is the best way to go about the championship.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, that's how I'm going to approach it probably throughout the rest of my career, and I hope we're in this position again."