Young guns: Chase Elliott the latest adding excitement
If you’ve been paying any attention at all to NASCAR this season, you know by now that a revolution is well and truly at hand.
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the new championship format, the resurgence of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Generation-6 cars or the early success of the reorganized Stewart-Haas Racing, all of which are fascinating stories on their own.
The revolution in NASCAR is all about the phenomenal surge of young talent exploding onto the scene right now.
Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, 18-year-old Chase Elliott ran down Kevin Harvick, made a ballsy pass around him and then pulled away from Kyle Busch to win his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race in just his sixth career start. Monday morning, he will be back in high school in Georgia, where he can tell his buddies he’s the new Nationwide points leader and, unbelievably, he’s completed every lap in all six races this season.
Two weeks ago, it was 21-year-old Kyle Larson who held off furious late-race charges from both Harvick and Busch to win the Nationwide race on Saturday and then finished second to Busch in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday. Elliott finished a solid sixth in that race.
Afterward, Harvick and Busch, two of the fiercest and most relentless racers on the planet, were laughing and smiling, effusive in their praise for the young guns, who they had great fun racing with.
"Since the first race (Kyle Larson) has come in here, he’s been competitive," Harvick said. "So, he’s a lot like Chase sitting next to me. I mean, it’s like, ‘No big deal.’ They just go out and drive and act like they’ve been here for 20 years. So, it’s pretty fun to see."
After the Texas race on Friday night, Busch had nothing but kudos for Elliott.
"We didn’t get beat tonight. We got our butts handed to us," Busch said.
"Chase Elliott kicked us tonight. I like him because he’s a really good kid and I’ve raced against him in Late Models coming up and he’s always been a class act. He deserves it here and I’m sure he’ll get plenty more. Certainly it was fun battling with him there at the end. I know that we come up a little bit short, but he beat the best out there."
While Larson and Elliott deservedly have drawn the lion’s share of the attention so far, they aren’t the only baby bulls making noise. Ryan Blaney, 20, already has won Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races and figures prominently in owner Roger Penske’s plans at Team Penske.
Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon won the pole for the Daytona 500 and was in the top 10 in points heading into Texas after winning championships in the Nationwide and Truck Series. His little brother, Ty, is third in Nationwide points.
Add in guys like Bubba Wallace, James Buescher, Dylan Kwasniewski, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt — and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few here — and it’s obvious the pool of junior bucks is deep, maybe deeper than ever before.
And what’s especially impressive is that most of these guys coming up through the ranks have their heads screwed on straight, too.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott’s car owner, had this to say about his 18-year-old driver after the race.
"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," Earnhardt said. "You know, it seems like he’s just really prepared himself mentally for what he’s doin’ and 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 has a real calm and smooth demeanor that’s going to benefit him and really take him a long ways. It’s pretty impressive, really, to be honest with you, how his temperament is and personality is and I’m having a lot of fun working with him and look forward to the future."
People ask me all the time if I have a favorite driver I root for. And the answer I always give them is the same: I don’t root for a driver, I root for great stories.
And it’s hard to find a better story than young studs like Elliott and Larson going fender to fender at 190 miles per hour with battle-tested warriors like Busch and Harvick.
The good old days of racing that people like to talk about?
They’re happening right now in NASCAR.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty damned excited by what I’m seeing.