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WAID’S WORLD: Elliott’s Progress Indicates Potential Rise To Stardom – Maybe More

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It’s too early to tell if Chase Elliott will become a NASCAR superstar, but it’s not too early to predict he will.

Fact is such predictions have already been made.

But even though it has yet to happen, and for good reason, Elliott has already given some evidence that it will be so. He’s making steady progress since his Rookie of the Year performance in 2016.

By 2017 he had yet to win but enjoyed his most productive season with one pole position, 12 finishes among the top five and 21 among the top 10. He wound up fifth in the final point standings.

This season he has two victories, the second of which came at Dover this week. He’s got another pole, 10 finishes among the top five and 17 among the top 10. He’s already fifth in points where he was 10th at this same point last year.

With six races to go his numbers could improve.

No, they aren’t giant steps by any means. Nevertheless he continues to show progress. And that is exactly what he needs to do to elevate his status in the sport.

The Dover victory assured Elliott he’s among the top eight who will contend for the championship. The next two races will determine who joins him.

Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports team are particularly relieved that they do not have sweat out the upcoming race at Talladega, the largest and fastest track in NASCAR that is known for unpredictability.

Racing at the 2.66-mile superspeedway is like handling a rattlesnake. You don’t know when it will bite. You just know it will.

“Yeah, I think just being able to move on and not have to worry about Talladega, so excited to be able to win the first one of three and get to enjoy it a little bit more,” Elliott said. “Ultimately, we can get some more playoff points next week and also at Kansas.

“We are going to keep the hammer down and see what we can do.”

“I have taken four cars to Talladega and cut them up to get them in the trailer, all of them,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “Yeah, this will be one we can kind of take a little bit of a break.”

The Dover win wasn’t a complete surprise. The track has become one of Elliott’s favorites or, at the least, one on which he’s been competitive.

Last season he finished second and led more laps than any other driver but Kyle Busch passed him in dramatic fashion with just two laps remaining.

This week Elliott raced with old tires near the end of the race but his Chevrolet’s speed was more than enough. He led the final 11 laps, including three in overtime.

“Well, I really thought staying out of the pits was the right move to be honest with you,” Elliott said. “I was shocked those other guys pitted with that few laps left.

“I just knew if we had a bunch of cautions it was going to be hard to hold those guys off if they kept leap frogging forward.

“It was just a great effort, a lot of perseverance today.”

Elliott admitted that he has gained a large measure of confidence during his short career – even more than last season.

“I just feel like I’ve messed it up so many times,” he said. “I was like hey, here’s your opportunity to make it right and to do it right.

“Today just felt different. Like in those positions, I just felt more confident and just excited about the opportunity instead of unsure of what was going to happen.”

Hendrick has certainly seen his driver’s progress, which is very likely what he expected when he signed him as a 19-year old kid.

“You know he is smart,” Hendrick said, “He is just like his dad (Bill, the 1988 champion and member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame).

“He is really smart, he knows when to race and he has got unbelievable car control. I’m just very fortunate to have him in our camp.”

Time will tell the tale but the maturation of Chase Elliott and the numbers he’s put up indicate indeed what that tale will be.

Incidentally, Bill won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award a record 16 times.

The odds are his son will win his first in 2018.



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Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.