El­liott be­gins chase to be next most pop­u­lar driver

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Auto racing / pro basketball -

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Chase El­liott won a pop­u­lar­ity con­test be­fore he even won a Cup Se­ries race.

El­liott was the over­whelm­ing fa­vorite to be crowned the sport’s next most pop­u­lar driver. Although the ac­tual award will be handed out in nine months, fel­low NASCAR driv­ers polled at Day­tona 500 me­dia day ex­pect El­liott to be a slam-dunk win­ner.

That con­test starts Thurs­day with the NASCAR Duels at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Day­tona to de­ter­mine the rest of the field. Alex Bow­man, who sat out all of 2017 wait­ing for Earn­hardt’s seat to open, put a Hen­drick car on the Day­tona 500 pole Sun­day for a record-ty­ing fourth con­sec­u­tive year.

“I think [El­liott] al­ready won the 2018 most pop­u­lar driver award,” Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mate and seven-time Cup cham­pion Jim­mie John­son said.

Dale Earn­hardt Jr. won the award 15 con­sec­u­tive years, in­clud­ing in 2017. But Earn­hardt’s re­tire­ment left the ti­tle up for grabs. Well, sort of. All in­di­ca­tions are El­liott will take over the top spot, maybe even for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

“I feel like he’s one of the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents in what NASCAR rac­ing does go­ing for­ward be­cause of his fam­ily name,” 2014 Cup cham­pion Kevin Har­vick said. “He has the legacy that’s al­ready been built in this sport by his dad. He’s come into this sport with a great name and al­ready proven that he’s go­ing to be com­pet­i­tive. He has those south­east, NASCAR ties to those core fans that none of the rest of us will ever have. He’s the guy.”

El­liott, 22, is the son of Hall of Fame driver Bill El­liott. Both hail from Daw­sonville, Ga.

Har­vick called the younger El­liott the “big­gest tie to our grass-roots NASCAR fan.”

El­liott is en­ter­ing his third full sea­son at Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. He’s win­less in 77 ca­reer Cup starts, but had 12 top-five fin­ishes in 2017 and five run­ner-ups.

“When he wins the first time, you’re go­ing to see things that you haven’t seen in a long time from fan re­ac­tion and just en­thu­si­asm about this sport,” Har­vick said. “And when that hap­pens, it’s go­ing to be good for all of us.”

John­son said El­liott is “go­ing to be a su­per­star.”

El­liott took all the praise in stride, say­ing he ap­pre­ci­ated “the kind words for sure.”

But he added that “Noth­ing is ever for sure till it’s for sure, right?”

Bill El­liott, nick­named “Awe­some Bill from Daw­sonville,” won the most pop­u­lar award 16 times in 19 years. The late Dale Earn­hardt won in 2001.

El­liott and the Earn­hardts had a lock on the award since 1991.

Brian Law­der­milk/Getty Images

With Dale Earn­hardt Jr. re­tired, Chase El­liott is ex­pected to take his place in one big area — the hearts of NASCAR fans.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.