Age does not seem to matter to Chase Elliott. He's always seemed much older than his 17 years, whether that's due to his eloquence and politeness, or his rise through the racing ranks.
The son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott returns to the sport's national division this weekend, in the Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway. A victory would make him the youngest winner in the circuit's history, surpassing Ryan Blaney, who prevailed at the same Hawkeye State track at 18 years and eight months last September.
But to the younger Elliott, the only number that matters is the position of his No. 94 truck at the end of Saturday night's event.
"I haven't thought about it a whole lot," he said of potentially breaking Blaney's record. "For me, we are just there to win like everybody else is, and try to do a better job than the next guy. So haven't really put a whole lot into my age, and how old I am, and how old the rest of these guys are. Just more so our personal program, and what we need to do to be a little bit better."
Such focus would certainly make dad proud. Bill Elliott has seen his son's rapid progression, through Bandolero and Legends cars, into late models and the K&N Pro Series -- and now into NASCAR's national ranks. Thanks to a rule change late last year that lowered the minimum Truck Series age to 16 for road courses and ovals of 1.1 miles or less, Chase has already made three starts on that circuit, finishing sixth or better in all of them.
His most recent NASCAR national-series outing was the Truck Series event at Dover in late May, where he finished fourth. The next month, he became the youngest driver ever to win an ARCA race on a speedway when he prevailed at Pocono. Later, he held the lead in the final lap of an ARCA event at Road America, before bobbling in a corner and finishing fourth.
It all sets the stage for Elliott to potentially make a breakthrough at NASCAR's national level, like Blaney did a year ago. His father, winner of 44 races at the sport's premier level, certainly thinks it's possible.
"I think (he's) very close," Bill said. "I mean, given the right circumstances, as good as we've run the past number of races ... you don't necessarily have to have the best truck. You've just got to put yourself in position to win.
"We've got a great group of guys around him, and given the right circumstance, I believe he can have them. But on the flipside, it can go the other way, too. But I think it's very, very possible. I mean, we ran really well at Dover. You kind of look at that scenario and how tough a race track that is, and now we're going to Iowa and he's had good success there in what he's run there. So, you know, he's got a pretty good understanding of that race track and he seems to do very well at those type race tracks, from Phoenix to Iowa to Loudon to Dover. We've got to kind of take it a step at a time, but I feel that things are going in a very good direction."
Chase, a Hendrick Motorsports developmental driver who won a K&N Pro Series East event at the seven-eighths mile Iowa track last season, would certainly agree. In his most recent Truck Series race, he started second and led 15 laps before finishing fourth.
"I think we are pretty close, personally," he said. "I feel like everything is where it needs to be to have success. I feel like our trucks are fast, and all the guys do a really good job. I feel like if we can just get to Iowa this weekend and I can do my job and know what I want when we unload and just put together a mistake?free race, I think we are right there, man. I feel pretty confident in that, and yeah, the biggest thing is just me learning. I've made a lot of mistakes these past three races, and if I can just put a mistake?free race on my end and if the guys can do their job, I think we are right there."
Moving up the ladder so quickly is not without its challenges. Aside from the late bobble that likely cost him a victory at Road America, Chase said he also struggled at Dover with green-flag pit stops. He's placed an emphasis on trying to improve in that area, calling pit road his "biggest speed bump so far."
But those growing pains haven't stopped Rick Hendrick from saying he'd like to put Chase in a full-time Nationwide Series ride next season -- by which time he'd meet the minimum age requirement of 18 -- should the sponsorship come together. Hendrick, which fields Elliott's truck in conjunction with Turner Scott Motorsports, hasn't put together a full-time Nationwide ride for a single driver since 2006.
"I feel like I'm ready for it, personally," Chase said. "I think given the right opportunity, I feel like I can do a good enough job behind the wheel to be competitive at that level, and hopefully that's what works out.
"Obviously, a lot of it is still up in the air. I don't want to jinx anything by any means. Obviously, we are shooting for full?time doing something. I don't know what that will be, but me personally and us as a group, we want to go race full?time next year, and I think if we can have a good rest of the season this year and get some good results and finishes, and hopefully get to Victory Lane, I think next year will figure itself out."
First things first -- like his senior year of high school beginning in the fall, and Saturday night's Truck Series race in Iowa. Bill Elliott struggles to grasp how far ahead of the game his son is. "My God, what the kid's already won is incredible," he said. But he's not quite ready to envision Chase in a NASCAR Victory Lane -- not just yet, anyway.
"I'll worry about that when the time comes," Bill added. "But it is a good thing. You just never know. I mean, you don't count it until it happens, and you worry about that on the next step. ? I guess I'm too much of a realist. But you know, it's a tough sport, and that's one thing you've got to understand about it. It's not a very forgiving sport, and I think you've seen that the last number of races here with Jimmie (Johnson) and all the guys. Somebody can have a really good race going, and all of a sudden things can turn around and go the other way. It's just, Lady Luck's on your side that afternoon, and (you) put all the pieces together that you come out in Victory Lane."
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