A week ago some silly columnist in this space suggested that Chase Elliott doesn’t need a nickname.
Silly me. I only got it half right.
“After all his name is CHASE,” Dennis Peltz said in an email.
Expect Mr. Elliott to participate and likely win some of those Chase-related scrums in the near future. Elliott — only 18 — has won two consecutive Nationwide Series races, most recently taming the Lady in Black at Darlington.
He missed his senior prom so he could race.
“I had a good date tonight, the ‘Lady in Black,’ can’t forget about that,” he said after winning.
I love this kid. Not in a “want to take him to the prom” kind of way, but very much so as the new engaging face of NASCAR.
Frankly, the sport needs some charismatic fresh faces to connect with a younger demographic. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is extremely talented but he has to lug around the “Danica’s boyfriend” title. Austin Dillon is extremely talented but he has to deal with the “why are you driving the No. 3 that belongs to Dale Earnhardt Sr.” question.
Along comes Elliott, son of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, who seems unencumbered by great expectations.
“He ain’t even focusing on racing, he’s in school,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., a man who knows about great expectations who also happens to be Chase’s co-owner at JR Motorsports. “Wait until he gets graduated. He’s going to be really trouble for those other boys.”
NASCAR traditionally is bound by family ties. The Earnhardts. The Pettys. The Allisons. The Wallaces. The Elliotts.
Chase doesn’t seem fazed by the NASCAR blue-blood label. He’s in that awkward stage of a kid trying to fit into grown-up shoes. It’s cool to see the candid sense of humor of a teenager, etched in the now-famous tardy note he tweeted out the day after Dale Jr. won the Daytona 500.
“Watching the race, thought for sure we would have the day off. ... #Junior,” Chase wrote on his tardy slip.
Once Chase graduates from high school — mark May 17 on your calendar — his higher education will continue on a weekly basis on NASCAR’s tracks. He has a year, at most, doing the Nationwide thing before he is ready for Sprint Cup.
“Elliott acts like he’s 28 and has won 40 races,” noted ESPN NASCAR insider Marty Smith. “His talent is the biggest surprise to me. I don’t think anyone — Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick included — expected this level of car control and understanding of adjustments this early from Elliott.”
Amen, says Earnhardt:
“I’d like to think we’re going to hold on to him, but he’s ahead of scale.”
Trevor Bayne is Elliott’s closest comparison in terms of promising star-power. But Bayne has fizzled after winning the Daytona 500 in 2011. He hasn’t secured a full-time ride on the Cup circuit and remains competitive but not dominant in the Nationwide Series.
Fame can flame out in a heartbeat.
But don’t expect Elliott to follow the same downward trajectory as Bayne.
The kid is all right, has the skills — and now the victories — to prove that he has much more going for him than his last name.
Haas embraces F1 the American way
Gene Haas can’t stand still.
Just a few months after adding Kurt Busch to his NASCAR star-laden team, Haas announced that he will attempt to launch a Formula One team for the 2015 season.
It’s an ambitious move, and a gamble, too. It’s hard enough to manage four type-A personalities (Busch, Danica, Kevin Harvick and co-owner Tony Stewart) on your NASCAR team. How is Haas going to handle the double duty?
“It’s definitely difficult to do,” Haas said during a teleconference on Monday. “But it’s very similar to what we do now. So I can’t imagine that this challenge is going to be impossible. We do this every day. We bring four Cup cars to the races almost every week, and they show up and they compete. People have been questioning how we do that.
“I don’t go out there and personally build the cars or anything. But we have competent people who get that done, and that’s what it’s all about: trying to find the right people to do the right job and not be hoodwinked into hiring people who promise you the moon and can’t deliver.”
Haas has other challenges, including the fact that no United States-based Formula One team has competed on the F1 circuit since 1976. Haas will move forward with blinders on as he looks to establish a two-car team.
It will be run separately from the NASCAR team.
“Our job is not to reinvent the wheel,” Haas said. “Our job is to race cars and win races. ... We’re going to spend our money wisely. We’re going to do it with an American flair for design and efficiencies, and that’s how we’re going to control our costs.
“We’re not going to be an European-led team. We’re going to be an American-led team, and we’re going to do it the way we think is the most efficient.”
There are fewer and fewer eyeballs on NASCAR these days. Sports Business Daily reports that Saturday’s Southern 500 from Darlington earned a 3.2 overnight rating on FOX — down 9 percent from each of the past three years (3.5) and the lowest ever for a Sprint Cup telecast on FOX (dating to 2001). The previous low rating was a 3.3 overnight for the 2009 Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix, also run on a Saturday night.
Tweet of the week
“Watching the masters waiting on the little man to wake up. Still pumped about the win last night! #4thewin” @KevinHarvick, reflecting on his last-lap victory at Darlington on Saturday night.