Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chase Elliott Becomes Youngest NASCAR Nationwide Champion

Credit:Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images  
Even though it was Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Nationwide Series victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway, the siren still wailed at the Dawsonville Pool Room in Dawsonville, Georgia. Chase Elliott's fifth-place finish in Saturday's DAV 200 allowed him to clinch the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

The iconic siren sounded whenever native son Bill Elliott won a race. It fell silent for over a decade after Awesome Bill's last win, but has seen action in the last year as the 1988 Winston Cup Champion's son Chase showed he's got the right stuff to win races.

In just his first full season in a top-tier series, Elliott already has a place in the record book as the youngest champion in NASCAR national series history, and he's the first rookie to win a national series championship.

The JR Motorsports No. 9 NAPA Chevy team has quite the pedigree.

First there's the driver, of course. He and his father are the fifth father/son combo to win NASCAR national series championships.

Then there's the owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of seven-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt, himself a two-time Busch Series Champion. Crew chief Greg Ives earned five Sprint Cup Championships with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team of Jimmie Johnson. Car chief Travis Mack worked on Frank Kimmel's ARCA team, which won three championships during Mack's tenure. Spotter Earl Barban's other driver is six-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. Even sponsor NAPA has a pair of Craftsman Truck Series Championships.

With a confluence of skill and resources such as Chase Elliott had this season, he had a leg up on the competition from the start.

Hard to believe last year at this time, Elliott didn't have a deal for 2014.

"A a year ago at this time we had nothing, absolutely nothing," said Bill Elliott as Jerry Punch interviewed him on-camera after the race. "It wasn't until the end of December, first of January that we put this deal together with NAPA, with JRM and Rick and all the guys. For us, it was a miracle. It was a miracle to have anything, and then to come into this season and have the year this kid has had has been beyond belief."

When asked about his son, Bill said, "He's a very smart driver and individual. He knows what he wants in his race car, and I think that's 90% of the game. And if he can keep going in that direction, he'll be as good as they come."

Young Elliott accumulated three wins, 16 top fives, and 26 top tens during the season. With no DNFs to this point, he had an average finish of 7.8.

Beyond the pedigree and the numbers, Elliott showed a level of poise and composure remarkable in drivers twice his age. Polite, soft-spoken, almost monotone, the young champion doesn't seem to let anything shake him.

Despite Elliott's success this season, the owners involved are resisting any temptation to put him in a Cup ride next season. He'll be with the same team again in 2015, though with a new crew chief. Ernie Cope takes over atop the pit box as Ives moves to the No. 88 Sprint Cup team of Earnhardt Jr.

No doubt Elliott will take the change in stride. The residents of Dawsonville should expect to be serenaded by the siren for many years to come.

2 comments :

  1. Until this race, I never believed a rookie champ was possible. I was a NASCAR viewer as a kid, second half of the '90's and likely 2000. I learned about how rookies normally are then. I commented on how Joe Nemechek crashed a lot and my dad said "He's newer." So I decided rookies are too green to do much of anything. Then, they petered out on our channels, until we could get FOX in 2011. I learned they could win races, but I thought that was where it stopped, even with special rookies. Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 win that year made me about speechless, because he was a rookie This year, Chase Elliott showed me just what a special rookie can do, in the lower levels at least. He left me in disbelief.

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