MONTE DUTTON - LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
For some reason, it is alleged that, at age 22, Chase Elliott is under intense pressure.
He hasn’t won a Monster Cup race yet.
Well, my God.
He has finished second seven times!
Make him stay after school and write on a chalkboard 500 times, “I must win a race … I must win a race” … and so on and so forth. Or, more in touch with modernity, make him sit behind a laptop and transcribe interviews. That’s my idea of punishment, and it would certainly enhance his popularity with the press.
But you know and I know it’s not going to happen. Rick Hendrick probably makes him autograph “hero cards” for hours.
Believe it or not, this is all just nonsense.
This year Elliott is switching from No. 24, immortalized by his predecessor at Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon, to No. 9, immortalized by his father, Bill. If slight young Chase were a football player, it would be akin to switching from Jimmy Brown’s No. 32 to Walter Payton’s No. 34.
It’s not a way to tell a kid, hey, no pressure! Take your time.
Life is hard. To those of whom much is given, much is asked in return.
Seven times Elliott has finished second. His father required eight before he first visited victory lane at Riverside in 1983. Bill didn’t begin his career in top-flight Hendrick equipment. Bill worked his way up to top-flight equipment driving for a team the family owned. His career took off when industrialist Harry Melling game on board. In Bill’s first second-place finish, at Darlington in 1979, he drove a Mercury with No. 17, not 9, on its sides and roof. The sponsor was King’s Inn.
Bill’s first Cup start was in the third race of 1976. His first victory was in the last race of 1983.
Speaking of his dad, Chase said, “He finished second a lot before he won a race, too. Kind of weird. But I think I've run second almost as many times as he has before he won his first race. I think that's probably the biggest similarity we've had so far. I'd have to start winning a lot and do really good before we can talk about any other similarities from this point forward.
“Definitely a similar start, although he got started at an older age. That whole dynamic was different than how it is now.”
To summarize in regard to Chase Elliott, do not panic. Remain calm. All is well.
Elliott is calm. From the moment I first saw him, he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. His parents, Bill and Cindy, raised him right. He wasn’t spoiled. The first time I noticed that the father had the potential of greatness, I was watching him at Darlington in 1981. The first time my eyes perked up in regard to the son, I was watching Chase win a Nationwide (now Xfinity) race at the same track in 2014.
I’m not the slightest bit panicky about Chase Elliott’s progress. I think the panicky people are the ones who desperately want him to fill a void. Gordon’s gone. Tony Stewart’s gone. Dale Earnhardt Jr.! Gone! Carl Edwards! The fans who check out a race from time, while it’s between innings of the baseball game, know the names of more drivers who are gone than the ones who are there.
As the son of a Hall of Famer, Elliott has a perspective that is likely going to prevent him from subscribing to the panic around him. When he doesn’t win a race he could have, he’s a little hard on himself because his father probably lectured him from the first time climbed into a go-kart not to make excuses.
By the way, Bill Elliott debuted in Cup at age 20, but he didn’t have much of a chance to win at the outset of his career. When Chase got a Cup ride, no one in the qualifying line, asked, “Who in heck’s that?” They said, “Why, that’s Chase Elliott. That’s Bill’s boy.”
No one wondered if Bill Elliott was the next David Pearson. Lots of folks hope Chase is the next Dale Jr.
It’s not easy being expected to put a sport on his shoulders when his shoulders aren’t fully formed. A lot has changed since Rockingham in 1976, and it’s a good problem to have, if not an easy one to solve.
“There are guys that people like and there are guys that people don't like. That's what makes the sport, not just one person that everybody likes,” he said on the Charlotte Media Tour. “As much as you may think, not everybody liked Dale. That's just the facts. Most people did. The majority did. But a lot of other people have other drivers, too. It's not just about one person.”
“This season? Heck, I think just the obvious: try to win a race. Starting year three, I think at this point I ought to know how to do that much, at least. Think that I'm capable of doing it. I think we've had the speed and the ability to compete for wins. I think we've shown that on more than one occasion. Just a matter of actually doing it. Sounds like a broke record, but you just got to go do it. We're capable. Just got to make it happen.”