Meet Chase Elliott, the 18-Year-Old on the Fast Track to NASCAR Superstardom

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Meet Chase Elliott, the 18-Year-Old on the Fast Track to NASCAR Superstardom
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Chase Elliott wanted to attend his high school prom last Saturday night. He really did.

The 18-year-old senior at a private school in Alpharetta, Ga., just couldn't afford to miss work to attend.

So the son of legendary NASCAR driver Bill Elliott, who drives for the NASCAR's most popular driver in Dale Earnhardt Jr., showed up at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina instead. Then he went on to outrace experienced men nearly twice his age or more to win the VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200 Nationwide Series race at the demanding 1.366-mile track.

"I had a pretty good date: the 'Lady in Black,'" Chase told the media after the win, referring to Darlington's nickname.

It was the second Nationwide win in a row for Elliott, who also won the NNS race at Texas Motor Speedway one week earlier. He now leads the series in points, despite having to make his debut at every big track NASCAR's junior tour visits—including the two at which he just graced Victory Lane.

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"Anything over a mile I've never been old enough to go do" prior to this year, Elliott told Ed Hinton of ESPN.com. Even the son of a racing legend couldn't circumvent NASCAR's hard rule that drivers must be at least 18 years of age to do so.

If the young Elliott's win at Texas came as a surprise, doubling down at Darlington was a downright shock.

Darlington is a treacherous track that has earned the reputation that its promoters long ago turned into an effective—and accurate—marketing slogan: "Too Tough to Tame." It routinely eats up rookies and veterans alike with its high-banked, egg-shaped design that features narrow straightaways and walls that seem to rush at and in on the uninitiated.

Yet Elliott not only won in his first start there, he went from sixth to first in three laps to take the checkered flag following the final restart. True, he was on four fresh tires and most of those in front of him had only taken two to gain track position on the last restart. But Chase's own father told Hinton that he "was amazed at how well he did."

He did it while picking his way through a group of drivers that included Cup veterans Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano. Busch owns the most victories in Nationwide Series history and is a two-time series champion. Kenseth is a former Cup champion who last year finished second in the points behind Jimmie Johnson.

Veteran observers of the sport, such as NASCAR.com columnist David Caraviello, took notice on Twitter:

At Texas one week earlier, it was pretty much the same thing, as Elliott out-dueled Busch at the finish and drew high praise from him afterward.

"We didn't get beat tonight. We got our butts handed to us," Busch said afterward, via Tom Jensen of FoxSports.com.

"Chase Elliott kicked us tonight. I like him because he's a really good kid and I've raced against him in Late Models coming up and he's always been a class act. He deserves it here and I'm sure he'll get plenty more."

But that's just it. While stardom has long been predicted for Chase Elliott, no one expected it to arrive so swiftly. Now, it seems like he's on the fast track to a Sprint Cup ride and the superstardom that comes with success on that bigger stage, although first he would obviously like to take care of unfinished business on the Nationwide side.

"Obviously, I'd love to be in the points battle going into (the season's final race) Homestead come November," he said.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
A (even younger) Chase Elliott chats with his famous father Bill before a race back in the day.

After the last two races, that suddenly seems closer to becoming reality than it does the pipe dream of an overreaching rookie. 

Then again, he doesn't race like a rookie. Regan Smith, Elliott's current Nationwide teammate at JR Motorsports, said that he recognized right away upon Elliott's arrival at the organization a maturity level that belies young Chase's age.

"The thing that impresses me most about Chase is his ability to learn and his ability to pick things up quick,” Smith said. "I don’t feel like I picked things up that quickly when I was his age. I don’t know if maybe I was a little slow or hardheaded or what, but it took me a lot longer to learn. Man, he seems way older than 18 years old—and it’s his maturity that’s going to carry him real far in this sport.

“His talent is obvious. He can drive a race car."

Smith went on to point out that Elliott has a support staff like no other to lean on: fellow drivers like Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who drives in selected Nationwide races for JR Motorsports while running full-time in the Sprint Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. But the real ace in the hole is Chase's father, Bill, who hails from tiny Dawsonville, Ga., and earned the moniker "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" back when he was driving.

Chase said his famous dad has just the right touch around the race track.

"He tries to have a really good balance there, and I think he does," the younger Elliott said. "I don’t care who your dad is or who your mentor is or who you’ve got on the other end of your radio—at the end of the day, you’re going to have learn a lot of things on your own. You’re the one driving.

"So like I said, I think the balance has been real good. When I feel like I need some advice, my dad is always there and willing to give it. But at the same time, he gives me my space and lets me have the room I need to learn on my own too. Sometimes that means making a mistake, but then trying to learn from it."

It's just that, so far, it doesn't seem like Chase is making all that many mistakes. Or if he is, he's covering them up pretty darn well.

Getting to Victory Lane two weeks in a row will do that for a young fella. It will even make him forget about some of the other things in life he might be missing.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this story were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Joe Menzer has written two books about NASCAR, and now writes about it, college basketball, golf and other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz. 

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