Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway provided a glimpse into the sport’s future and the picture was one that should excite race fans.
Winning the enjoyillinois.com 300 was 18-year-old Chase Elliott, who has three Nationwide victories, despite being just two months removed from high school. And, oh, yeah, he is new the series points leader as well. Elliott already has a contract with Hendrick Motorsports, where he is expected to move to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2016.
In second place was 23-year-old Trevor Bayne, who will drive a Roush Fenway Racing Ford in Sprint Cup next year.
Behind them was a pair of Cup regulars: Kyle Larson, who will turn 22 on July 31, and Kasey Kahne.
Fifth was Ty Dillon, aged 22. Then came Brian Scott, 26; Erik Jones, who just turned 18 and was making his first Nationwide start; Chris Buescher, 21; and Ryan Blaney, 20. All or most of these guys will move up to the Cup level in the next couple of seasons.
Anyway you slice it, that’s a tremendous amount of young talent, and it bodes well for the future of the sport. Not everyone will succeed, but almost certainly this class will produce a couple of future superstars.
Elliott, of course, is the son of NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 member Bill Elliott, so it’s no surprise that he can go fast in a race car. But what’s truly remarkable about Elliott and some of his fellow young guns is the degree of poise and maturity they have.
It used to be when a fast rookie came into NASCAR, he would tear up a lot of equipment and take a couple of years to be trusted by the veterans. Not these drivers. They typically race with the savvy of veterans and speak that way, too. Already, some have earned the respect of longtime Cup racers.
And despite their young ages, the kids expect to run up front.
Asked after the race if he was surprised to have three victories in just 18 starts so far, Elliott allowed as to how he wasn’t.
"It was definitely our goal (to win)," Elliott said. "I don’t think our goals changed from the beginning of the season to when we got our first win. I really believed that if we all brought our best every weekend — and I knew those guys (his crew) were going to bring their best — I really just felt like rolling into the season if I could do my job for them we could contend for wins.
"It’s a confidence booster to know when we bring our best, we’re capable of winning races. It definitely gives you a lot of motivation to do that each weekend."
Obviously, with just 18 Nationwide races under his belt, Elliott still has much to learn and much to prove. So do his fellow young guns. But with talent like Elliott, Blaney, Larson, Jones and the others coming up through the ranks, the best years in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series might still be yet to come.