Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys his young driver's new found success.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Two of NASCAR’s most popular sons celebrated a few firsts on Saturday.
Chase Elliott, powered in cars by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, became the youngest driver and the first rookie to win the Nationwide Series title.
Elliott also earned the first championship for JRM since the company began a decade ago.
“Unbelievable” was the only word the 18-year-old son of NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott could find to describe his initial elation.
Six months removed from his high school graduation, Elliott, respectfully, asked his crew chief Greg Ives permission to lay down a burnout, then let loose on his Hendrick Motorsport engine on the frontstretch at Phoenix International Raceway before coming to rest on pit road.
Elliott says he could not have imagined having a full-time ride one year ago – let alone earning his first NASCAR championship having competed in just a few truck races prior to this season.
“This has truly been a dream come true just to be competing this season,” Elliott said. “This race a year ago, we had no plans of racing in the Nationwide Series this season. We were really uncertain what our future was going to be.
"To be able to come and have a great season here in the Nationwide Series with NAPA Auto Parts – they’re really the reason we’re here – they came on board and committed big to a full season and that takes a lot from a sponsor. They really stepped up and made it all possible.
“We were able to have a good season and it’s not over. Hopefully, we can have a good week at Homestead.”
At the head of the class
Elliott was the class of the Nationwide Series field with three wins, 16 top fives and 26 top 10 finishes. He posted a solid average qualifying effort of 8.1 but his average finish of 7.8 was even more remarkable. Elliott also had a lap completion rate of 99.6 percent and led 389 laps.
While the youngster graciously credited his team and the “superfast racecars they brought every week,” with instilling confidence, Kyle Busch, who leads the series in career wins, witnessed Elliott’s potential when he earned his first career victory at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
Obviously he's a talented young man.
“The most impressed that I've been I guess was Texas -- him going to a fast mile-and-a-half like that for one of the early starts of the season and winning there and then carrying that on through at Darlington and cutting through traffic the way he did on tires at a place that you can't really pass at, doing a good job and being able to win there, too,” Busch said.
“Obviously he's a talented young man -- I've raced with him for a few years in the Late Model ranks and everything else. It's great to see a young one like that win a championship and he'll be a force to reckon with for many years so congratulations to him and his bunch."
Pride in ownership
Earnhardt, who won the 1998 and 1999 NNS champion, appreciates the challenges Elliott faced to reach his first title. Even after the pit road party ended, the team owner was still in awe of the poise and maturity his driver exhibited in just the first full season of his NASCAR career.
You’re born with the speed, the raw talent, but he’s already got all the other things, too, well before his time.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Chase Elliott
“He’s an amazing talent, very young, but still very mature,” Earnhardt told Motorsport.com. “Takes good care of his equipment. If you can wrap up a championship before the season’s over with, you’re definitely smart and very calculative. That’s something you learn. That’s something you’re not born with.
“You’re born with the speed, the raw talent, but he’s already got all the other things, too, well before his time. He's on his way.”
Earnhardt credited Elliott’s upbringing for the ease in which he handled the situation. After a decade on the ownership side of motorsports, Earnhardt his dealt with his share of stage parents. As the son of a champion, Earnhardt found a common bound with Elliott’s father that solidified his stake in his driver.
“I had a real high opinion of Bill before I got the chance to know him, and this has allowed me to get to know him quite well, and my opinion of him is even better now, because he’s been such a great support for, not only his son, obviously, but for us,” Earnhardt added.
“Some of those fathers can be a handful, but, man, he has been an asset to us, and he’s so helpful with Chase, keeping Chase so calm and grounded. Everything’s so easy with them. I think, once I retire, I’m going to be a Chase Elliott fan, so I’ll still have somebody to pull for going down the road.”