Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Chase Elliott is Feeling Comfortable at ISM Raceway

AVONDALE, Arizona — When the green flag waves atop the LED-lit cactus flag stand for the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, Chase Elliott will begin the race in an insurmountable 78-point hole. The product of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott is indeed in a win-only scenario as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its stop at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Elliott has been able to overcome adversity with ease in both the Round of 16 and the Round of 12. Now the racing prodigy is faced with one last ditch effort in which he will be forced to ascend to champion-caliber heights in order to make a statement and advance to Homestead.

The 23-year old driver elaborated on his team’s ability to execute – specifically at Kansas Speedway in the final race in the Round of 12.

“We had some good fortune at Kansas,” Elliott told POPULAR SPEED. “I feel like we were in a position where we had to win that race and we were in a position to battle for a win – obviously we didn’t win – but things went our way enough to get through the round. I think for me that was a good opportunity for us to have our backs up against the wall and having to go out there and perform.”

The driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy Camaro went on to discuss how he and his team was able to capitalize on pivotal moments late in the race.

“We made the most of an afternoon that really wasn’t going all that well,” said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. “We were struggling on the long run and lost a lot of ground, but we made a lot of great pit stops towards the end and had good restarts which put us in a position to win and that’s what you have to do.”

While being put in these difficult situations is obviously not the preferred race weekend for Elliott, he firmly believes that being dealt with these trials is essential for breeding a champion in NASCAR. After all, these scenarios are bound to come to fruition should a driver advance to the series finale.

“I just think that being put in that position was a good experience and whether you’re in a position where you have to win now or two weeks ago, you’re going to have to be in that position at Homestead (-Miami Speedway),” said the Georgia-native. “I think being comfortable with that is a necessity with the way this format is. When your back’s up against the wall, you have to perform and I think the better you feel about that situation and the more you embrace it, the better off you’ll be. As a team we’ve embraced it and I’m really looking forward to the weekend.”

This is the third-consecutive season where Elliott finds himself in Round of 8. In his fourth season of full-time racing, has he proven himself to be capable of competing with the best of the best in the championship race in Miami? The calm and collected driver seems more poised than ever to get it done at ISM Raceway.

“We’re going to go out there, do our thing and have fun,” Elliott concluded.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Johnsonville 180

Fans have been begging for more road courses and short tracks with Road America being one of those mentioned. Saturday’s Johnsonville 180 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series proved why.

Although the event was dry at parts with the field single-file, the battles for position that broke out in the second half were worth every single penny of admission. They were close, with drivers trying to out-smart each other through the 14-turn course en route to the checkered flag.

There may have been more battles than giving credit for, which perhaps would result in the event having a higher grade, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell watching NBCSN’s broadcast. The course may be four miles in length, but we need to rid of some of the commercials here. Furthermore, saying that they’re part of “NASCAR non-stop” does not make them less painful. Combined with Dave Burns and Dale Jarrett in the booth, and this was one of their poorest events. 

James Davison almost played the role of spoiler, closing on Justin Allgaier in the late stages. However, a mistake was costly and proved to be too much for him to overcome as the JR Motorsports driver cruised to his fourth win of the season. If there was any question about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s organization and their strength after a quiet summer, those questions are now being erased as we near the playoffs.

The final couple of races before they begin will prove to be interesting between Allgaier and Christopher Bell, though, with only a mere five points separating them for the regular season championship. Bell entered Road America with the advantage, but contact from competitors on two occasions handed him a poor finish.

He was first knocked-off the road after contact with Allgaier, followed by being punted around by Matt Tifft. For the record, though, he still gets our accolade of the day for how he handled the first incident.

You can’t just let this event go without speaking of the special drivers whom entered the fray for a one-off. While Bill Elliott stole some of the headlines, Katherine Legge and Conor Daly left the lasting impression.

Legge ran up front in the top-five following a strategy play before fading back due to a spin; however, she managed to fight her way back to a top-15 which is commendable in her second career series start. Meanwhile, Daly ran as high as 10th in his first ever XFINITY race until getting caught up in an incident not of his making late. It’d be nice to see both of these drivers get more opportunities as they proved they can run right there with the best.

There’s also this one lasting thought to think about, too, especially if we’re getting more road courses.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

No. 9 a Family Affair for Chase Elliott

When you think about NASCAR, one of the first words that comes to mind is “families.”

The France family. The Pettys, the Allisons, the Earnhardts and so many more. This is a sport that passes history down from generation to generation of competitors and fans alike.

With that in mind, it’s little wonder Chase Elliott will switch car numbers from No. 24 to No. 9 next year on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Rookie William Byron will drive the No. 24 next year, with the team opting not to campaign the No. 5 that it has run since 1984.

The No. 9 is the car number Elliott’s father, NASCAR Hall of Fame member and 1988 NASCAR Premier Series champion, Bill Elliott, made famous. And it’s the number Chase raced as a child.

During a video he posted Tuesday night on Twitter, Elliott explained what the No. 9 meant to him.

“This is something I’m really, really excited about,” said Elliott. “This number is really, really special to me and my family and a number that I’ve been running for a long, long time — a number I started racing go-karts with, obviously my dad ran it over years, and Kasey Kahne, I always looked up to him as he got in the 9 car.”

So, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal for Elliott.

“This was a chance I couldn’t pass up,” said the Hendrick Motorsports driver. “I appreciate Mr. Hendrick and everyone with all our partners at NAPA and all the people that make it happen each weekend with us to be OK with it and be supportive of it and really, make the opportunity come to life for me.”

We have no doubt he’ll do the No. 9 proud.

Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: The All-Star Race Had Humble, Simple Beginnings

The NASCAR Monster Energy All Star race will be conducted this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway and it will be the latest in a series of special, exhibition events that have taken place since 1985.

The race has provided some of the most dramatic, exciting moments in NASCAR’s history.

That’s largely because of its format. It’s changed so many times over the years it is hard to keep track. But suffice it to say that the structure of the race – including segments, pit stops, inverted starts and a 10-lap free-for-all for a finish – is designed to provide controlled mayhem.

And for the most part, it’s worked.

It wasn’t always like that, however.

The first race, called The Winston by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. – NASCAR’s prime sponsor and creator of the all-star event – was something of a simple affair.

The format was simple. The race would be held among the 12 winners from the 1984 season. That’s all. It would be 70 laps in distance with no segments, breaks or anything else, at Charlotte.

It was much like the Busch Clash that began at Daytona a few years earlier. It was a short race open to pole winners only.

In 1985, the number of victories in 1984 determined starting positions. There was no full-scale qualifying.

Therefore, 1994 champion Terry Labonte was accorded the pole position. Alongside him was Darrell Waltrip, who was in his fourth season with team owner Junior Johnson.

Waltrip immediately took the lead when the race started. However, there was a $10,000 bonus for the driver who led the 20th lap and Labonte made sure he collected the money when he passed Waltrip down the backstretch.

Pit stops, which were necessary because of the race’s length, began on lap 31 when Harry Gant, driving for Hal Needham, went down pit road.

After the cycle of stops ended, Gant held a comfortable lead over Labonte and Waltrip.

Suddenly, Waltrip became inspired.

“Junior got on the radio and asked me if I wanted the $200,000 to win or $75,000 for second place,” Waltrip said. “I decided to give it my all.”

Sure enough, Waltrip began to cut away at Gant’s lead. It was a steady process as Gant had older tires.

On the last lap Waltrip slipped by Gant in turn four to win by 0.31-second and create an anticipated dramatic finish to the first all-star race.

But then came the unexpected – and accompanying controversy.

Just as he crossed the finish line the engine in Waltrip’s Chevrolet blew in a huge plume of smoke. It was almost as if it had been timed to happen.

Immediately the conspiracy theorists began to rumble. They determined that Waltrip raced with illegal, oversized engine – something Johnson was certainly capable of providing – and then mashed the clutch at the finish line to avoid detection.

If NASCAR suspected anything there was nothing it could do about it. How does it inspect a blown engine?

For his part Waltrip, who was $200,000 richer, said only that his engine was designed for ultimate power and a short lifetime.

“Before the race the boys told me not to run it any harder than I had to,” he said. “It wasn’t going to last long.”

That didn’t halt suspicions, which continue to this day.

The Winston was deemed a success. But there were issues.

At first it was decided the event would be held at multiple tracks so all of them could share in the glory and anticipated income.

But Charlotte remained steadfast. It declared that with its marketing skills and noted penchant for creating splashy spectacles it should remain home to the all-star race. It only made sense.

But Reynolds decided the race should share the wealth. Thus it was moved to Atlanta in 1986.

Big mistake.

The number of laps was increased to 83 but there were only 10 entrants – all winners from 1985.

The race was an unadulterated snoozer. Bill Elliott led all but one lap – Dale Earnhardt got credit for leading lap 40 on pit road – and went on to win by more than two seconds.

The inaugural The Winston drew 110,000 fans at Charlotte. Only 18,500 attended at Atlanta.

There was a good reason why. The Atlanta race was held on Mother’s Day. NASCAR never raced on that day and still doesn’t.

It’s one thing to take dad to a race. It’s quite another to take mom. Take her to brunch.

The race returned to Charlotte the next year and has been held at the track ever since. There’s no longer any talk of moving it.

Over the years there have been multiple format changes and entry requirements.

They, among other things,have helped make the race better and bigger than could have been imagined in 1985.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Development Journalists

Chevy Celebrates 400th XFINITY Win

As @ChaseElliott took the checkered flag Friday night at Richmond International Raceway in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250, he gave manufacturer Chevrolet its 400th win in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.

Chevrolet executive Jim Campbell, the U.S. Vice-President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports who was in attendance, congratulated the JR Motorsports organization following the win. “We are very proud of Chase Elliott and his win tonight at Richmond International Raceway”.

Chevrolet scored its first NASCAR XFINITY Series win with Tommy Houston in August of 1982 Hickory (NC) Speedway, and since then the bow-tie brigade has scored wins with scores of different drivers. The list reads like a who’s who in the sport, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Jeff Burton, and others.

While his dad, Bill Elliott, was a staple driver for Ford for most of his career — with the exception of six races —  it appears that Chase will stay with the bowtie gang for years to come.

“It’s a big deal for me for sure and Ernie as well, said Elliott about the Chevrolet milestone, “he’s been a big part of a lot of those (wins). Very fortunate to be a very very small part in that compared to what he’s had. Happy to do that for those guys.”

By capturing Chevrolet’s momentus victory, Elliott added to the list of accomplishments made by the manufacturer in NASCAR. As of last night, Chevy has earned nearly two-dozen driver titles and 16-manufacturer championships as a result of its 400 wins in the XFINITY Series.

Categories
Editorial

SCHULTZ: Darlington Return Brings High Expectations for Elliott

The last time NASCAR visited Darlington Raceway, @ChaseElliott’s career took off.

At 18-years old, the son of the legendary Bill Elliott accomplished one of the toughest feats in the sport – reaching Victory Lane in Darlington. It came on the heels of his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series win the previous week at Texas Motor Speedway, making the achievement even more impressive.

With two laps remaining, the 2014 XFINITY Series champion restarted in sixth-place with fresh tires. By the time the white flag was displayed, he was third and on the back bumper of leader @Elliott_Sadler.

Racing down the backstretch, Sadler got loose and opened the door for the teenager heading into the final turns. In his first start at the track “Too Tough to Tame,” Elliott powered off the final corner and took the checkered flag.

He held off an impressive list of drivers to claim the win including; @KyleBusch, @KyleLarsonRacin, @KevinHarvick, @MattKenseth, and @JoeyLogano. This added to the significance of the victory by proving he can battle and beat the best in the sport.

Many credit that Friday night in Darlington, South Carolina as the day the JR Motorsports driver was recognized as a future superstar of the sport.

It’s difficult for the top competitors to make up six positions in two laps at one of the tightest tracks on the circuit. For the series rookie to do so in only his seventh start left a lasting impression on those competing and watching.

In the weeks following the race, he emerged as a title favorite in only the third month of the season. He continued to showcase his talent in the remaining events, and went on to clinch the championship at Phoenix International Raceway, one week before the finale.

While the win in Darlington was very impressive, the performance and stardom that followed laid the groundwork for the Hendrick Motorsports development driver’s move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2016.

Compared to when he competed at the speedway last April, he has built an impressive resume. The victory solidified his place as one of the brightest rising stars in the sport. Add in a championship and Sprint Cup Series deal, and it’s clear his career has been on an upward swing since his impressive Darlington performance.

Now the opportunity presents itself for him to achieve another career milestone. Winning one race can sometimes be classified as luck. However, capturing a second victory proves the driver has a special skill set for a particular track.

Where could Elliott’s talent come from? His father. “Million Dollar Bill” captured five Darlington victories in his career, including the Winston Million in 1985. Now as his son eyes a second win at the raceway, the family legacy can be bolstered.

Following a solid run at Road America, the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team closed the points gap to 16 behind leader @Chris_Buescher. Continuing the momentum streak will be crucial as he looks to enter the title race.

Buescher has been one of the most consistent performers in the series this season. In order for Elliott to triumph, he will need to outrun the Prosper, Texas native. By making up ground each week, it presents the team a chance to make strides towards narrowing the gap and close in by the time November rolls around.

One obstacle Elliott will need to overcome is the lack of horsepower at JR Motorsports. After being one of the most dominant organizations in the series last year by winning nine races, they have lacked consistent speed throughout the season.

Many expected the Dawsonville, Georgia native to be the one to beat for the title. However, the teams struggles have made it more difficult for Elliott to compete at the same level as he did throughout 2014.

Improvement as of late has helped him shrink the points gap. By performing better each week, it becomes more realistic the past champion will catch and contend for the title by the season finale.

Based on Buescher’s history at the speedway, including a 34th-place finish last season, a strong weekend could go a long way for Elliott in defense of his championship if the Roush Fenway Racing driver struggles.

In addition to running in the VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200, he will make his final appearance in the Sprint Cup Series this season. Having a successful weekend will provide the confidence needed to go through the off-season with a positive outlook for his rookie year.

Success on Sunday will start with a momentous performance Saturday. Knowing what it takes to reach Victory Lane will put him ahead and using this advantage will allow him to inch closer to entering the championship picture.

Confidence, speed, and success are the three keys to the weekend for Elliott. By accomplishing them, Darlington could once again hold a special place in his career as the track where he launched his title defense while gaining the knowledge needed to compete at the sport’s highest level in 2016.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NASCARJason

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

Categories
XFINITY

Remaining Honest and Focused Keys for Chase Elliott Next Season

By Matt Weaver (MIAMI) — Now that Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott has achieved his first major taste of success at the NASCAR level, his biggest challenge now becomes retaining the attributes that led to his quick ascension in the first place.

Beyond the obvious talents he has brought to NASCAR this season and his general poise under pressure, Elliott’s greatest strength may lie in his humility and humbleness. Despite making his debut at many of the tracks he has visited this season, Elliott totaled three victories and amassed 26 Top-10s in 33 starts.

Despite his meteoric rise to stardom, Elliott dodged questions about the advice he would offer to other young people, instead declaring that his success was born from those surrounding him at JR Motorsports and little else.

The 18-year-old top prospect, displaying his usual maturity, explained on Saturday night just how important it was for him to stay grounded throughout both the good and bad moments of a full-season in NASCAR.

“I think you just have to realize the truth,” Elliott said. “I don’t think it is as being humble as much as it’s about being honest, in my eyes. I know that things can go south a heck of a lot faster than they can go good for you, and just because you had a good run on Tuesday, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good on Wednesday.”

Elliott went on to explain that all of the success throughout his brief career, from winning the Winchester 400 and Snowball Derby all the way up to his Nationwide Series triumph was the result of his team and their hard work and dedication.

“I feel very fortunate to have — not just this year with Greg and with Dale and Kelley and Mr. Hendrick — but to have always had the best group of people that you could possibly ask for surrounding you in racing.

“Even going back to when I was short track racing, I feel like I’ve had the absolute best people there too, and I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am. They’re the reason we’re up here tonight and it’s been an honor to work with these guys.”

Elliott’s father, 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott, offered that his son needs to remember that the sport isn’t always going to be easy and that it’s difficult to get to the top and stay there. With that said, Bill believes that Chase has found the perfect balance thus far.

“He understands that anything could happen and that the difficulty can drive you week-in and week-out as far as not letting yourself think you’re better than what you can be,” Elliott said. “You’re only as good as you were in that particular race. So to me, it’s a matter of trusting your ability but also keeping those good people around you who can get you to that next level.”

At Hendrick Motorsports — and with Dale Earnhardt Jr. — it’s likely fair to say that Elliot has the best possible people surrounding him … just as it always was.

Categories
XFINITY

Bill Elliott Doubtful to Make NXS Start Against Son

By Matt Weaver (MIAMI) — There were rumors earlier in the season that Bill Elliott was considering one final start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports to race against his son, now tour champion Chase Elliott, before packing away his driver suit for good.

The consideration began in January when the older Elliott tested a NNS entry for JRM at Daytona International Speedway alongside his son, who at the time was preparing to make his first restrictor plate start a month later during Daytona Speedweeks.

As it turns out, the 18-year-old prodigy may have punked-out his father as the 1988 Sprint Cup Series champion told Popular Speed that he is no longer pursuing a one-off opportunity to race against the kid he groomed for greatness.

“I doubt that I’ll do it,” Elliott said. “He’s gone so far beyond where I’m at today in what he can do. The bad thing about it is that I’ve been out of a race car for far too long at this point and don’t have time to really worry about a lot of different things.

“For me, it’s just been fun to watch him and all the different things he can do in a race car.”

The father and son have only raced against each other once before, in the Alabama Pro 125 Late Model race at South Alabama Speedway in Kinston last October. Chase won the event while Bill finished a distant fourth. The race taught the elder champion a lesson, he said.

“I just followed him around for a little bit. Then he decided to go and I didn’t see anything of him for the rest of the race.”

Chase-Elliott-Bill-Elliott-10-29

Categories
Uncategorized

Alternate Reality: Chase for the Winston Cup

By Matt Weaver (MIAMI) — Imagine for a moment an alternate reality where the Chase for the Championship was introduced at the beginning of the Modern Era in 1972 and utilized the elimination format right from the start.

Who would have been the stars of the Chase for the Winston Cup championship in this parallel universe and would the stars of that era have enjoyed competing under the high-pressure format that has produced compelling action both on and off the track?

Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte — three Hall of Fame champions from the 1980s and 1990s enjoyed a lot of success under the full-season campaign that the sport once utilized but all expressed a desire to have raced under the current format.

Wallace won 50 times in Sprint Cup competition but scored only one championship back in 1989. He believes that his propensity for winning multiple races each season would have translated to multiple championships if the Chase Grid were around during the course of his 25-year career.

“If they had this format when I was racing, I would have won three championships with the amount of wins we had during my career,” Wallace said on Friday at Homestead Miami Speedway. “I feel like we would have been able to advance even if we had some bad luck during some of the rounds.

“Because of that, I like this format a lot.”

Dale Jarrett won 32 races and the 1999 Cup Series championship. He doesn’t know how a Chase would have affected his battles with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte but he wishes he had the opportunity to find out.

“I would have loved to have been a part of it,” Jarrett said. “All your champions would tell you that one of the reasons why they are champions is how they performed while under pressure. I think we’re seeing that this year. I get amped up just doing the broadcasts so I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to participate in the Chase.”

Labonte concurred.

“I don’t know how many times we finished in the top 10 in points over the years, but it was several times and normally you had to be real consistent to be in the championship,” Labonte said. “The way it is today, you still have to be consistent but if you win the races you naturally get to advance.

“I think it brings some excitement to it for sure and a lot more pressure also. It’s definitely kind of interesting to watch, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. It’s definitely different and puts a lot of teams under a lot of pressure.”

Certainly Gordon, Earnhardt and Bill Elliott would have won championships under the format but perhaps Mark Martin with his legendary consistency and 40 wins would have also made several Championship Fours and have won a crown. Imagine the Winston Cup garage rolling into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the season-ending event with Earnhardt, Gordon, Martin and Elliott all having an equal shot at the Winston Cup Championship.

The action on the track and off would have been legendary.

Jarrett believes Labonte would have made countless number of Championship Four appearances and likely would have won more than just his 1984 and 1996 championships too. He compared Labonte and his consistency to the way that Ryan Newman advanced his way into the championship race this season, adding credence to the format in the process.

“I think a guy like Terry Labonte could have won even more championships because he was always winning but he was consistent too,” Jarrett said. “As a result of both of those elements, he would have put him in the championship hunt all the time too.”

With that said, Elliott believes the same drivers that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s would have won out under the new format.

“If you’re saying we were going to run the Chase like they have now with the eliminations, I really believe the same guys would win the championships,” Elliott said. “I think you would see guys end up with a different number of  championships but I don’t think it would have made us drive differently. We all raced very hard back then and we just raced whatever system they gave us. From my perspective, I raced to win and let the points take care of themselves.”

Jarrett believes a format like the Chase Grid is timeless and would have worked regardless of the roster or decade.

“Look even further back to guys like Junior Johnson and Fireball Roberts and how they would have responded to this format,” Jarrett said. “The thought is just incredible. This would have fit in many different eras in my opinion.”

Go ahead and toss Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Joe Weatherly in there too. The possibilities are endless and the results would have been priceless.