Dale Earnhardt Jr. has defended his new teammate Chase Elliott, for the youngster’s subdued reaction to becoming Daytona 500’s youngest ever polesitter.
Earnhardt told the media at Daytona: “I think Chase understates it because of who he is, having that last name. Maybe he doesn't want as much attention just yet because he wants to maybe just focus on his driving and doesn't want all that pressure that comes with it.
“I think he understates it on purpose, intentionally. He's a very modest individual. I think his father raised him to be modest, not boisterous and things like that.”
Earnhardt went on: “I think he just wants to tone down the level of excitement. I saw something on Twitter yesterday from I think it was NASCAR on NBC. ‘Will Chase live up to the hype in the Daytona 500?’ I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd read… that day at least!
“Give the kid a break. I think that would be a reason why I think he makes the comments he does. He wants to temper expectations. Like, ‘Whoa… let's be realistic about this. We got a lot of work to do.’
“He toes the company line. He'll eventually get more comfortable. When he wins, he certainly comes out of his shell. We've seen that.”
In the spotlight
After taking the 2014 XFINITY Series title, Elliott made five Sprint Cup Series starts last season before taking over Jeff Gordon’s hallowed #24 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports for 2016.
That alone has guaranteed huge media attention, according to Earnhardt, and may have caught Elliott offguard.
Recalling his own first few Cup races, Earnhardt said: “You're almost embarrassed by the attention because you don't feel like it's really deserved. You haven't done anything yet.
“You see the level of attention that drivers get when you're growing up and you're around the sport as a young kid. You see what they do to get that attention. Then you come in and it just seems like it's more than you deserve.
“I think that's why you shy away from it… try to talk the media off the shelf a little bit and talk things down. You don't want people to put these expectations up there that are unreasonable 'cause it makes the pressure a lot more difficult to understand and handle."
Famous name is less of a problem than workload
Earnhardt Jr., as son of motorsport icon Dale Earnhardt, can relate to Elliott’s situation.
Chase’s father, Bill Elliott – “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” – won 44 races including two Daytona 500s, and also won the Cup title in 1988. Yet Dale Jr. said that shouldn’t hinder 20-year-old Chase.
“I don't really think he's going to face any difficult challenges as far as being in the shadow of his father and whatever that entails,” shrugged Earnhardt. “That's not really a challenge.
“The only thing I struggled with was the amount of work you're doing. That significantly ramps up when you go from the XFINITY Series to the Sprint Cup Series.
“[Chase] is going to be asked to be in all these places not related to driving racecars, talking in front of people that you don't know, you don't know why you're there, what you're supposed to be talking about. You're like, ‘Man, I don't want to do this, I want to drive the car. I'm here to race.’
“That first year especially, but that first year, you just run so hard coming in. You're excited, you're pumped up, you're exerting all this energy for nothing. You can wear yourself down.
“You don't realize you need to pace yourself emotionally and mentally for all the things you're doing away from the track.
“That's probably the biggest hurdle. [But] you learn throughout the years to do that better and enjoy it.”