While ‘Awesome’ Bill Elliott continues to run a limited NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, he is also mentoring two of the sport’s brightest up and coming racers, son Chase Elliott and Casey Roderick. And both of Elliott’s protégés made their way to Victory Lane this past weekend.
Roderick, fresh off his 18th birthday celebration and in only his third ARCA start, won the Garden State 150 presented by the American Red Cross at New Jersey Motorsports Park. With the win, Roderick became the11th first-time winner in the ARCA RE/MAX Series this season.
The win, however, did not come easy. Roderick, who had never seen the New Jersey road course before, had to overcome terrific adversity to even make the show.
“We blew a motor after four laps of practice Saturday,” Roderick said. “So Lap One (of the race) was like I was blindfolded. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Roderick started his No. 51 Phoenix Racing/Bill Elliott Racing Dodge dead last in the back of the pack as a result of not having his new motor in the car by qualifying. But by lap six of the 67-lap race, Roderick had made his way to the top 10.
“I had planned to stop as soon as we could to get track position,” Roderick’s crew chief Jim Barfield said. “But Casey was moving up so fast I had to change my strategy to pit with the leaders almost as soon as the race began.”
In spite of tire wear, Roderick managed to hold his top ten position for most of the race. With 25 laps to go in the race, the young driver had managed to work his way up to the second spot on the track, right behind Tim George Jr.
As so often happens, cautions bred cautions and the race came down to a nine-lap sprint to the checkered flag. Roderick and George collided in turn two, sending George off the track while Roderick managed to keep his car pointed in the right direction.
“I was too close to him going into the corner, he braked and then I was in it,” Roderick said of George. “He had a good race car and did an awesome job to be there in the lead.”
After this contact, Roderick regained the second spot behind Joey Coulter. Roderick passed Coulter on lap 60 and he pulled away, even after a late race caution.
Roderick’s mentor and car owner Bill Elliott happened to be driving the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford in the Sprint Cup race at Michigan at exactly the same time that Roderick was racing in New Jersey. But he quickly called his young driver after his race was finished to offer congratulations.
“That was pretty incredible,” Elliott said. “He never had even been there before. Passing all of those cars on a road course…I’m impressed.”
In victory lane, Elliott’s young driver seemed a bit overwhelmed. He simply said, “I’m just happy to be here.”
While Roderick was still, no doubt, celebrating his win, teammate Chase Elliott took the track in his Aaron’s Dream Machine at Mobile International Speedway, also scoring a win. Elliott also secured the points lead in both the Pensacola and Mobile Series that comprise the Sunoco Gulf Coast Championship.
Unlike Roderick, who had to face adversity and start in the rear of the field, young Elliott qualified on the pole position alongside chief nemesis Augie Grill. Unfortunately, with the roll of the dice, Elliott had to start the race in the seventh position.
The up and comer raced his way through the field and both he and Grill were again quickly battling for the lead. In fact, the two fought until the white flag lap where they raced side by side to the checkered flag, with Elliott just getting the nose of his car across the finish line ahead of Grill.
Elliott was overcome in victory lane, never expecting to beat one of the best short-track racers on the circuit.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said to his team and crew. “That was just fun!”
“Both Casey and Chase overcame obstacles and stayed focused,” proud dad and team owner Bill Elliott said. “They pulled together and made it work, and that is what I call teamwork. I couldn’t be more proud.”