Earnhardt Jr. says “was just a matter of time” till Elliott’s first win
By Ashley McCubbin On Wed, Apr. 09, 2014
Last Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott picked up his first career Nationwide Series win in his sixth start of the season.
Car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that he knew that Elliott had a good car underneath that night as they battled the run before so it didn’t surprise him that Elliott was looking for the lead around Kevin Harvick near the beginning of the last run.
“I knew he was way faster than those guys and it was just a matter of him finding how to get around them and I knew he eventually would,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “His car was just really good in the early part of the run. When he got by ’em, I was a little bit surprised how much distance he put on those guys so quickly but it made me feel good and comfortable that if the race went green he was going to be the guy to win.”
With 15 laps to go, the pass for the win was made as Elliott snuck around Harvick on the outside.
“He went to the top, and he had been working that lane and working in that area for a while so he had a good understanding on how to use the throttle through there and he caught Harvick defending the wrong — particular wrong part of the track and made a good move,” Earnhardt Jr. added.
While some have been surprised by the rookie’s success early this year, it’s not a surprise to his boss.
“I knew it was just a matter of time,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. commented post-race. “He’s got so much ability, and composure and he’s just years ahead of guys that normally of that age, and he’s learning so fast on the fly. People ask me if I talked to him or tutored him or anything, but he’s learning so fast — he’s learning faster than you can teach him what’s going on.”
Elliott’s statistics so far this year back of Earnhardt’s comments as coming into last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, he had four top 10s in the first five races, with his worst finishing being a 15th at Daytona International Speedway. Elliott had also shown his ability on mile-and-a-half tracks, with a fifth at Las Vegas and a sixth in Fontana.
Beyond the simple ability that Elliott has shown, Earnhardt says he felt Elliott could win right out of the gate due to his composure. Despite being a high-school student, the 18-year-old doesn’t seem to get excited when he’s put in certain situations.
“He never — looks like to me he doesn’t get in situations that overwhelm him easily,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “You throw him out there in the middle of all these guys like Kyle and Harvick, and he just runs right with ’em and motors along and races hard. You know, it seems like he’s just really prepared himself mentally for what he’s doin’ and nothing — he’s not arrogant about what he’s doing or overconfident.
“He just seems to understand what’s happening around him and how he needs to handle it, and he just had a real calm and smooth it demeanor that’s going to benefit him and really take him a long ways.”
Earnhardt added that it’s impressive and has him excited to work with Elliott throughout the feature.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to work with great people, great drivers and great talent and we’re fortunate to have him,” Earnhardt Jr. continued. “I’m sure he’s enjoying himself and Bill is happy, and whole team is excited. We got a whole year ahead of us, great opportunity to get more.”
Perhaps the talent stems from racing being in his blood as his father ‘Awesome’ Bill Elliott won a championship and kept himself in check when it came to tough situations. Earnhardt recalled how Elliott and his brothers were just focused on what they were doing and beating you, rather than other things during the mid-80s.
Though with being the son of someone famous, it comes with a lot of pressure – something that Earnhardt knows well himself. Earnhardt feels that if Elliott ever runs into a situation that makes him uncomfortable, he can help him – but doesn’t see that happening.
“I think he will handle it well, you know, he’s just really humble and — but very understanding of what’s happening to him,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “He grew up with his father as a racer and saw how popular Bill was and I’m sure has been in and around situations where he’s not going to be overwhelmed with the attention. I know he made a lot of fans tonight and he’ll make some more throughout the season.
“You know, I think he’ll be okay. I don’t think he’s — he’s really focused on his racing and trying to do well. He’s young, doesn’t have a lot of distractions, and, you know, his family — got a good family unit so he should be in good hands.”
While Elliott’s win proves the talent that the young driver has, it also shows how strong JR Motorsports is as a team. Elliott currently leads the points with his teammate and Daytona winner Regan Smith in second. Last year, they began contending for race wins and putting Smith inside the top 10 weekly – this year, they’re scoring wins early in the season with top five finishes.
“We want to win a championship so bad this year,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “We feel like we learned a lot last year going through that process with Reagan and now we have two teams that are really capable of getting the job done. If everybody keeps their head on straight, let’s everybody else — all the drivers in the serious make all their mistakes, we should be able to be in a good situation when we get to homestead.
I couldn’t be prouder, really, of how we’ve came along in the last two or three years, the people that we have been able to acquire to help and you say improve our company, the bridge that we built with HMS to flow information on the engineering side, motors, and how they’ve improved. Everything is clicking along light now so we got a great opportunity this year to seize the moment.”