NASCAR & Auto Racing

Chase Elliott latest NASCAR driver to follow in father’s dominant footsteps

Chase Elliott, 18, smiles as he celebrates his NASCAR Nationwide Championship with his father Bill Elliott, right, after finishing fifth at the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Phoenix International Raceway, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in Avondale, Ariz.
Chase Elliott, 18, smiles as he celebrates his NASCAR Nationwide Championship with his father Bill Elliott, right, after finishing fifth at the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Phoenix International Raceway, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in Avondale, Ariz. AP

Get past the family name, the heritage.

Granted, that’s difficult. But at least try.

The 18-year-old driver’s parents christened him William Clyde II, but he has been called Chase for so long that he doesn’t know the origin of his nickname.

Now weigh the stunning impact of his name being engraved on a NASCAR Nationwide Series trophy as 2014 series champion, but imagine that he’s a Wallace from Missouri, or a Gordon from California, or a Stewart from Indiana.

The achievement of becoming the youngest champion in any of NASCAR’s three national series — and the first rookie — two weeks before his 19th birthday would be no less impressive if he were a Smith or a Jones or a Jackson.

But, no, he’s an Elliott from Georgia. Dawsonville, Georgia. Ardent stock car racing fans will see where this is going.

That’s Dawsonville as in “Awesome Bill from.” Chase Elliott is the son of 1988 Winston Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

Until now, that might have tended to cast in shadow how remarkably talented and extraordinarily poised he has been in winning three times this year while dueling the likes of Nationwide Series carpetbaggers such as Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.

Because auto racing is such a family sport and second-generation drivers often are overmatched trying to emulate a lead-footed patriarch’s success, a name can become too heavy to bear.

Chase Elliott countered by telephone last week, “It can be as much of a burden as you let it be. I certainly don’t let it be a burden to me. Not at all.

“It has been great being able to grow up in the sport, and I have a lot of respect for my dad and everything he has done — the racer he was, the success he has had. [But] I don’t look at it as being a burden, by any means.”

Enter in evidence as Exhibit No.1 his jaw-dropping drive to a NASCAR title that links Bill and Chase Elliott forever to Lee and Richard Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, David and Larry Pearson and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr., fathers and sons who have ruled a NASCAR national division.

The owner of Elliott’s No.9 NAPA Chevrolet, incidentally, is JR Motorspots, operated by Kelley Earnhardt Miller and her brother, Dale Jr., who undeniably has shouldered one of the greatest family history burdens in NASCAR lore.

Earnhardt Jr., Nationwide series champion in 1998 and 1999 and a winner 22 times since at the sport’s premier Cup level, clearly understands the challenge confronting Elliott. The senior Earnhardt had won a record-tying seven Cup championships before his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

But it took Earnhardt no time at all to recognize how skilled his young driver is. On the mile-and-one-half Texas oval in early April, in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, Elliott whisked past Harvick late and drove away from him to notch the first of his three 2014 Nationwide victories

“I knew it was just a matter of time,” Earnhardt said then. “He has so much ability and composure, and he’s just years ahead of guys normally of that age.” Indeed, Chase Elliott appears 18 going on 30.

Elliott’s 2014 plans with JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick, to whom he is under contract, did not come together until January.

“I don’t think any of us really knew what this year was going to bring,” Elliott told the Miami Herald before he wrapped up his title with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix a week ago. For me, going into something new, a new atmosphere, a new team, a completely new organization I basically knew no one at … ”

But any private concerns he might have harbored quickly evaporated.

“I was in awe,” he said of the Texas victory, in which the top six was rounded out by Kyle Busch, upcoming Cup star Kyle Larson, Harvick, Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth. Elliott trumped that triumph seven days later by taming the storied Darlington, South Carolina, “track too tough to tame.”

A third victory at Chicagoland Speedway in July vaulted him past JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith into a points lead on which he built for the balance of the season.

Bill Elliott, clearly intent on not stealing thunder from his son, not only declined an interview request last week but also hid from ESPN cameras throughout the Phoenix race telecast.

Later, however, he called Chase’s achievements “a miracle” and “totally beyond belief.” He smiled that familiar Elliott smile and drawled that molasses-thick drawl that, with his Hall of Fame success, resulted in him being voted Cup racing’s most popular driver a record 16 years.

“I just hope he keeps his head screwed on good and straight,” Bill Elliott told ESPN’s Jerry Punch, exhibiting no doubt that’s exactly what will happen.

Wisdom is a key component, the proud dad added.

“[Chase] really knows what he wants out of the race car,” Elliott said. “That’s 90 percent of the game. If he keeps going in that direction, he’ll be as good as they come.”

Some parents “force things upon their kids,” Chase Elliott said with the maturity beyond his years. “The best thing I’ve taken from Mom [Cindy] and Dad, they’ve been supportive in the right way and have just been parents.”

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