The Camping World Truck and Nationwide seasons come to a close this weekend at Homestead
MIAMI - Chase Elliott and JR Motorsports are just 300 miles away from ending the 2014 season and collecting their championship trophy. Chase comes into this race with a 52 point advantage over his teammate Regan Smith, more than enough to clinch the title at PIR.
"Last week was great. To be able to kind of have that pressure off and come to Homestead and know that you're at least going to get the trophy over here at the end of the night is a great feeling."
I didn't have any plans to do this this year. After we left Canada there, I had no plans to run Nationwide at all.
Chase is a second-generation racer, much like his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chase earned his way into a Nationwide ride through somewhat peculiar circumstances. As he revealed in Thursday's press conference, Rick Hendrick wanted to run him in some Nationwide races this season, but not many.
The perfect deal
"I didn't have any plans to do this this year. After we left Canada there, I had no plans to run Nationwide at all. As I got closer to the off-season, had a couple of conversations with Mr. Hendrick about running just a few, just a handful of Nationwide races maybe. Still wasn't really even confirmed at that. I'd have been stoked to just run five or two or one."
When NAPA and Michael Waltrip Racing parted ways, an opportunity arose. Spearheaded by Kelly Earnhardt, a deal came to fruition that would put Chase behind the wheel of the No. 9 NAPA-sponsored Chevrolet, full-time. Fast forward to November, the 18-year-old rookie has smoked the competition and delivered his team the championship.
There was no adjustments or no advice or no -- nothing really needed to be done as far as molding the guy.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Chase Elliott
Singing the praises of NAPA, Chase added, "To be able to have everything come on board the way it did and NAPA, for them to step up and the way they did -- they could have easily come on and said, hey, we just want to run ten races or five races, and I'd have been happy with that. For them to come up and step up the way they did and commit to a full season, I think says a lot about them and kind of the commitment they have for the sport."
"I feel like they committed in a big way, and it certainly gave me a huge opportunity. I'm just trying to make the most of it."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. told this reporter that he is completely confident that Chase could jump into a Cup car tomorrow and be running competitive time after just a handful of laps. "He's got a lot of talent and I could certainly see him as one of those guys." He talked more about Chase's ability in the press conference, "There was no adjustments or no advice or no -- nothing really needed to be done as far as molding the guy. And the way that him and Greg have been able to work together has been so good for both of them and their futures. So it just is sort of working as it was designed from the word go, and it's been a real ease trying to get through the season."
Finding talent is the easy part
Jr. seems to have a knack for hiring drivers that go on to be superstars and he believes that the way it is now, finding a talented driver is the easy part. "That used to be the hard part, finding the talent. The talent has become more abundant. Finding the opportunities, finding the partners and the sponsorship packages to put around those people has become the hurdle now, whereas before it was difficult to find that guy and you were sort of taking some shots in the dark here and there. There's a lot of talent out there, and just trying to put the deals together to get these cars on the racetrack is where the hurdle is now."
"Chase is going to be around for a very long time, and it's been a pleasure working with him thus far." Crew Chief Greg Ives shared a similar view, stating "Chase is only going to get better and faster."
Ives also discussed the dynamic of racing a teamamte for the title, telling this reporter, "I've been in that boat before when I was an engineer on the No. 48. They know your setup, everything ... Almost all the way down to your race strategy. So that makes it difficult. It makes me feel good that we are racing our teammate; it shows that as a race team, we are doing a good job."
Crafton on the verge of history, but not ready to talk about it
Matt Crafton sits in a similar position. He is also on the vergne of history, hoping to become the first back-to-back champion in the two decade history of the Truck Series. However, a somewhat superstitious Crafton wouldn't say much about that. "We're not going to talk about that," he simply told Adam Alexander. He must finish 21st or higher on Friday night in order to clinch it, ending any hope Ryan Blaney had of stealing it.
I'm 38, and I honestly don't feel old ... It's really crazy how young they're starting and the talent that they do have.
"It's something I haven't thought about, something I don't really put a lot of thought into. Me and Junior at the beginning of the year, we talked, and we went into this year a little bit different mindset, see how many laps we can lead. Like I said, we do that every year, but at the same time, let's not worry about points. Let's not points race. I said, at Homestead let's see where we end up, and that's what we've done every race this year, and that's all we're doing."
"If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it wasn't meant to be."
In regards to his competition, Crafton, like so many others, is surprised as how young new talent is bursting into the sport today.
It's pretty crazy to think that some of the ones you're racing are 16 years old. "I'm 38, and I honestly don't feel old. I feel like I'm 16. And to say that you're the old guy and you're 38 years old, like I said, it's really crazy how young they're starting, and like I said, the talent that they do have."