Elliott stepping right up
Youngster’s success could make season for Hendrick team
It’s been a bouncy ride for the Hendrick Motorsports gang this NASCAR season.
Concussion-related issues have sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr., the face of the sport, for the rest of the year. Inconsistency once again squeezed Kasey Kahne out of the Chase. Uncharacteristic miscues have marked an erratic run for six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
And then there’s the kid. Chase Elliott.
He’s a rookie in this high-speed circus, replacing a guy you may have heard of: Jeff Gordon. Team owner Rick Hendrick and Gordon thought so much of Elliott that they handed down Gordon’s No. 24, along with the Chevy ride, of course. Chase is also the son of another NASCAR icon, Bill Elliott. No pressure. “I love the number 24,” Gordon said at the start of the season. “I want to see the 24 go on to do great things. I think that our fans want to see the 24 car continue on with the right person and be successful with the right guy. And he’s the right guy.”
Great things? How about moving on to the second round of the Chase?
Chase Elliott is now one of only 12 men left standing for a shot at the 2016 Cup title.
Pressure is just a word. The reality is Elliott was always prepped and ready to go. You grow up around racing, you pick up a few things along the way. Add natural ability and poise beyond his years, and boom, the perfect storm for success.
Consider this perspective coming into Dover last weekend, where a bad day could have bumped him from the A-list group of 12.
“This first round, to me, has been similar to races that we’ve seen throughout the year,” Elliott said. “I don’t think the intensity of a lot of the guys ... has been ramped up quite to the point that it will be if you make further in.”
Elliott, who turns 21 next month, is definitely going “further in” after finishing third at Dover.
“Really, really cool to move on this weekend,” Elliott said. “I’m proud of all these guys and we are excited to get on to Charlotte.”
Elliott is still an outlier among a cast of stalwarts that includes Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and the surging Martin Truex Jr. But don’t count him out. By any means.
Elliott has three top-five finishes in the last six races and has finished no worse than 19th in those six starts.
Give Hendrick credit for realizing he had something special and giving him the keys to the car.
“Everyone on this stage recognizes his talent,” Hendrick said during a news conference featuring his stout lineup of drivers at the start of the season, “that one day he was going to be ready.”
That day is here.
Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C. Saturday, 7 p.m. TV: Chs. 11, 4 Driver Chase Elliott, who turns 21 next month, is moving on to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.