The young guns of the NASCAR Nationwide Series shined under the lights at Chicagoland Speedway, where 18-year-old Chase Elliott won in dominant style, capturing Saturday night’s enjoyillinois.com 300.
With the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series both off – and not many Cup regulars moonlighting here – this was the only race in any of NASCAR’s top three series this weekend. And the youngsters made the most of the opportunity.
Elliott was commanding all night, as he led 85 laps, most on the night, winning for the third time in the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in just 18 career Nationwide starts.
Trevor Bayne was second in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, followed by Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Ty Dillon. Brian Scott’s sixth-place finish earned him the $100,000 bonus in the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash contest open to series regulars.
But it was Elliott’s night once again, as for the third time this year, he won on a race track he had never been on before.
Elliott, son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, said learning new tracks isn’t hard when you have fast cars. "The biggest thing is these guys brought me a really fast race car," said Elliott. "That gives me time to learn the race track instead of having to work on the car and do it at the same time. It’s just a pleasure to drive these race cars. "
Bayne was happy to finish second, after an erratic season to date. "I’m just really proud of this Advocare Roush Fenway team," said Bayne, who earned his third top five of the year. "We’ve had some tough races here along the way, but our group isn’t giving up. We’re working as hard as we can and we’re not out of this Nationwide championship yet."
Elliott was fast from the beginning. Scott qualified on the pole and took the early lead over Dillon and Elliott.
Sam Hornish Jr., one of the pre-race favorites, suffered a rare engine failure in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after just eight laps.
After the Lap 13 restart, Elliott immediately began pressuring Scott, making the pass for the point on Lap 21 in his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
After a brief battle up front, Elliott quickly left Scott behind, with Ryan Blaney taking over second from Scott on Lap 44
Blaney got his first taste of the lead on a restart on Lap 73, when he went by Elliott to go out front.
At the halfway point, Blaney had a margin of 1.232 seconds over Larson, Elliott, Dillon and Kahne. Larson began running Blaney down, making a pass for the lead on Lap 107.
Larson made a tremendous restart on Lap 128 to move ahead, with Elliott taking second over Blaney. Elliott set off after Larson, the two waging an excellent fight for the top spot. On Lap 143, Elliott made it stick as he worked his way by the game Larson, who surrendered the spot when he got loose.
Blaney, meanwhile, began to fade, falling to ninth. Then his night turned much worse with a very slow pit stop on Lap 155 that magnified his problems.
A set of green-flag pit stops followed, with Elliott retaking the lead on Lap 177, after a visibly frustrated Larson had a slow pit stop.
"Really disappointing," said Larson. "I don’t know what was going on with our pit stops, but it seemed like we struggled on our left-rear all night, every stop. Really killed our shot at winning there at the end."
And from there, the Elliott held on to easily score a big victory.
"I had a really good time," said Elliott, who graduated from high school in Georgia just two months ago. "Racing against Kyle and Blaney, we had an awesome race going, I felt like, so that was really cool."
With the victory, Elliott unofficially leads the series points by seven over teammate Regan Smith, who finished 16th, and eight points over Elliott Sadler, who finished 10th in the race.