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LAS VEGAS -- While much of the NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie class was dealing with a day of hard knocks and tough lessons at the super fast Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott proved himself up for every challenge and among the class of the entire field finishing fifth behind four Sprint Cup drivers in Saturday's Boyd Gaming 300.
It's the 18-year old's first career top-five finish in the Nationwide Series and moves him to fifth in the championship standings only 14 points behind leader and JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith. The left front of Elliott's No. 9 Chevrolet, however, came in too low during post-race inspection. NASCAR also confiscated the right rear shock from race winner Brad Keselowski's No. 22 Ford and will take it to the Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C., for further review.
Elliott, son of 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott, was second running alongside Keselowski on a restart with 33 laps remaining but spun his tires getting up to speed. It created a frantic final laps and Elliott had his work cut out for him to stay among the top-five where he had run all afternoon.
While several other high profile rookies like Ty Dillon and hometown favorite Dylan Kwasniewski were dealing with pit road speeding penalties and hitting the walls, Elliott's position up front allowed him to glean what he could from the veterans, including his team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fourth.
"The big difference was unloading with a fast race car,'' said Elliott, who drives the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevy. "That goes farther than you think, especially for a rookie and a guy that's never been on this mile-and-a-half race track.
"There's some things I learned what not to do, obviously restarting on the outside of the front row with Brad [Keselowski], he took me to school there and taught me a lesson. But I'll just put that in the memory bank.
"I felt like we were capable of running with those guys. I don't know if we had what it took to win the race, Brad was just really really good. I feel like our car was capable of being in the top-five and we finished fifth so not a terrible day."
His team owner Earnhardt would agree.
The two spoke on pit road after climbing out of their Chevrolets, their conversation ending with Earnhardt patting him on the shoulder and saying, "good job man." Later Earnhardt sent Elliott a congratulatory message via Twitter to his half-million plus followers.
"He's [Elliott] better than he knows he is, it's what we're all sitting here talking about,'' Earnhardt said. "First of all, I've never really spent much time around Bill Elliott, but I got a chance to work with him the last couple weeks. He's older than me so I respect my elders, but man, I was really impressed how good a spotter he was. And he says it ain't the first race he's ever watched.
"He's just really smart. That's just him having that kind of intuition all through Chase's career has really helped Chase along to where he's a lot better than most rookies are when they come into this series. I'm real happy for him.
"I'm not surprised. The guy's got a ton of talent. He's gonna go a long ways. He's just got a great mentor in his father. It's really made a big difference in his life."
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