El­liott step­ping right up

Young­ster’s suc­cess could make sea­son for Hen­drick team

Baltimore Sun - - NASCAR - On auto rac­ing

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.

MATT SULLIVAN/GETTY IM­AGES

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.

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