Chase Elliott's stock has been on a very fast rise. As a matter of fact, it has gone so fast that the 18-year-old will be competing for top rookie honors in the Nationwide Series for one of the top organizations in the division, JR Motorsports.
The Dawsonville, Georgia native had strong performances in both the ARCA Series and the Camping World Truck Series in 2013, notching a victory in each and managing to finish in the top 10 in the majority of his starts in both series. While he has never made a start in the Nationwide Series, Elliott's momentum will undoubtedly carry him to some strong runs this season.
The combination of Elliott with JR Motorsports is already showing some promise during preseason testing at Daytona, where he posted the fastest lap of Nationwide testing on Saturday, just ahead of his father, 1988 Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott, and JRM teammate Regan Smith.
However, testing at Daytona is one thing. How he performs in the season opener in February is another matter entirely. Elliott has proved himself to be an apt pupil when it comes to learning how to handle his equipment, and he has definitely proved to everyone that he earned his spot in the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet. But he's a rookie, and rookies tend to have it harder than most.
Look at Kyle Larson. He stood the NASCAR community on end in 2012 when he posted strong run after strong run in 2012 in the Camping World Truck Series and even took a checkered flag at Rockingham in April of 2013. But his inaugural Nationwide season wasn't exactly for the record books. He did post four second-place finishes, but was winless and finished eighth in points.
However, Elliott did manage to get more seat time in 2013 than Larson did in 2012. Elliott will also be entering his rookie season with something Larson didn't have, something that could have given Larson more confidence entering his rookie season: a win.
That's not to say Larson isn't a capable driver. Without a doubt Larson will hold his own in the 2014 Sprint Cup rookie race. It's just that Elliott has had more invested in him than Larson did, and Elliott will turn it into a strong rookie year.
With that being said, let's look at Elliott's other rookie rivals, Ty Dillon and Dylan Kwasniewski. Kwasniewski has the backing of Turner Scott Motorsports, for one. He also happens to have a pair of K&N Pro Series championships to boot. He's a racing prodigy, a shout-out to fellow Las Vegas racing standouts Kurt and Kyle Busch if there ever was one. He's going to be formidable, but possibly not as much of a threat as Dillon.
Who will be the top Nationwide rookie in 2014?
Dillon has grandfather Richard Childress as a backer. That alone should be enough to make competitors nervous. But Dillon also has more experience than anyone else in the rookie class, with two seasons of Camping World Truck Series competition under his belt. Three truck wins in two years, along with an ARCA championship. Dillon is no slouch, and he will be playing the part of wily veteran to the rest of the rookie class.
But Elliott has demonstrated a feel for his equipment that none of the other rookies have shown. Elliott knows his equipment and knows his furthest limits, and that can go a long way. In nine truck series starts, Elliott posted seven top-10s and only had trouble twice due to crashes. In five ARCA starts, he scored four top-10s, with his only issue being a fuel pump at Kentucky.
He takes care of his equipment, and he has a way of being in the right place at the right time. He's a fast kid, and with Hendrick engines he'll go far. Many have Elliott tabbed as the future of the No. 24 Chevy in the Sprint Cup Series once Jeff Gordon retires. As a matter of fact, you can see a lot of Gordon in Elliott, along with the talent that carried the elder Elliott to so much success. Elliott is the future of NASCAR, and it won't be long until the kid is a staple in Victory Lane.
Follow Joseph on Twitter: @ThatSheltonGuy