|Chase Elliott continues wowing NASCAR|
|Sunday, April 13, 2014 12:00 AM|
DARLINGTON, S.C. — Chase Elliott isn't really sure what he has accomplished the last two weeks in becoming the youngest Nationwide driver with multiple victories.
Elliott acknowledged he was still in shock over his first series win at Texas Motor Speedway when he doubled up at Darlington Raceway, coming from back in the pack the final two laps on Friday night for a second consecutive triumph.
"Me telling you guys that last week, I still can't believe that, I'm not lying to you," Elliott told The Associated Press on Saturday. "Last week was really a dream come true. To come out of Texas with the win was unbelievable. I'm still not sure I completely believe that, much less to come out with a win at Darlington, that's crazy. I don't know what to think."
Elliott certainly has the pedigree to succeed at NASCAR as the son of Sprint Cup great Bill Elliott. Yet, Chase was never pushed into the sport by his father, growing to love it as he watched Bill Elliott compete toward the tail end of a stellar career.
"It was never forced upon me by any means," Elliott said of his dad. "He pushed me to be the best I could be because that was my decision. He's not one of those dads that force you to do something because they want you to do it."
Apparently, the younger Elliott does that really well.
He outran Kevin Harvick last week at Texas, then moved past veterans Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Elliott Sadler after a late restart to win at Darlington in his first time at the track. Elliott has the points lead (by 7 over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith) and can't wait to relocate from his Dawsonville, Ga., home to the team's race shop in Mooresville, N.C., once he graduates high school next month.
"I think about racing nonstop, whether I'm at school or over at the race track; it really doesn't matter," Chase Elliott said.
So while friends and classmates discuss cut days, vacations and college plans, Elliott focuses on the next race.
Watching Chase compete in late model cars, Bill Elliott thought his son had the driving ability to succeed in the sport. It's the mental makeup of handling the ups and downs that come with NASCAR Bill Elliott works to instill in Chase.
"Here's a roller-coaster and you've got to hang on for dear life and hopefully it ends up where you want it to be on top at the end of your career," Bill Elliott said. "For me, I've been very happy but I know it's a double-edged sword of worrying about your child."
Chase Elliott wasn't the only young Nationwide driver wowing the circuit. Kyle Larson, the 21-year-old driver who won last month at Auto Club Speedway in California, started from the back of the field, yet was second to Busch late in the race before the final restart.
At one point earlier in the race, Elliott and Larson were side by side, bumping and grinding against each other through Darlington's misshapen corners and tight straightaways. It looked as though both young guys would find the wall — and the garage.
"I thought our night was 100 percent finished," Elliott said. "I thought both of us were getting ready to pile it up pretty good."
Instead, the two straightened things out to make it to the end — perhaps one of the earliest tangles the two young stars might have on NASCAR tracks across the country over the next couple of decades.
"I'd like to think so," Elliott said. "Kyle's obviously a talented guy."
Chase Elliott hasn't changed his focus or his goals — he still plans to win as much as possible with JR Motorsports. He's not ready to talk about a move up to Sprint Cup — JR Motorsports is partly owned by NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick — preferring to improve at this level before taking the next step.
It's a sound strategy, endorsed by the Elliott family.
"It's like I told Chase, 'Enjoy it while you can because it's just going to be a revolving door'," Bill Elliott added. "I think that teaches us so much about everyday life."
His son agreed with that assessment.
"I just want to do my job right and do it to the best of my ability and everything else will figure itself out," Chase added.
Tracy brings outspoken opinions to NBC booth
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Paul Tracy, one of the most outspoken and polarizing drivers in recent history, has been given a microphone to opine about the current state of IndyCar.
Tracy begins a 6-race stint as an analyst for NBC Sports Network today at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It's a dream-come-true for race fans, who have longed for someone with Tracy's candor and knowledge to tell it like it is in the booth.
Although Tracy never held back on or off the track during his driving days, he's not sure how far he can push the envelope in the booth.
"I'd like to keep this gig," he joked in an interview with The Associated Press. "Everybody keeps saying, 'Be you, don't hold back, don't be PC.' We'll see how it goes. I'm sure this first race, I'm going to be a little nervous."
Tracy, tied with Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti for eighth on the career victory list with 31, hasn't competed in the series since he ran six races in 2011. He has dabbled in sports car racing, ran once in Robby Gordon's super trucks series last year in his hometown of Toronto but has mostly been settling into life after racing.
It included a short stint on Canadian TV last year during IndyCar coverage but it was far different than the analyst role he'll be playing with NBC Sports.
"It was five races but a lot was fairly scripted," Tracy said. "We had story lines, for use in pre-race and during commercial time. So I've never done a full length race. There's a lot to talk about on the fly, a lot to comment on."
He believes he and Townsend Bell, another analyst who still occasionally competes, are suited well to entertain and educate the fans.
"There's a lot of things I catch — and Townsend catches a lot of things — that a lot of guys who have been out of a car a long time don't see anymore," Tracy said. "When I sit down and watch an IndyCar race or a NASCAR race or a sports car race, I catch things on the camera views that a lot of people miss. Those are the things that I would like to talk about."
Bell said the network wants vintage Tracy in the booth.
"He just kind of kicks back, crosses his arms like the big bull that he is and pipes off when he wants," Bell said. "But the producers are in my ear saying 'Keep poking him, let's get some of that old PT back.' I can tell in the back of his mind, he's thinking about a career in television, so it's a real tug of war for him."
Tracy has a lot of opinions about the series and its participants and he's not shy about airing his observations. Whether he does so in the booth remains to be seen but if he gets comfortable, fans could be treated to many of his musings.
Hunter-Reay wins pole in all-Andretti front: Ryan Hunter-Reay, determined to rebound from a disappointing season, is off to a strong start in what he hopes will be another run toward the IndyCar championship.
Hunter-Reay won the pole Saturday for the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, knocking teammate James Hinchcliffe from the top spot while ensuring an all-Andretti Autosport front row.
Hunter-Reay won three poles last year but as his performance tapered off in the second half of the season, he was unable to defend his 2012 championship. He opened this year with a second-place finish at St. Petersburg and now will try for his first win of the season today at Long Beach.
"It just comes down to this team giving me what I need when I need it," the American said after turning a lap in 1 minute, 7.8219 seconds on the temporary course through the streets of downtown.
Hinchcliffe wound up second after his lap at 1 minute, 7.9403 seconds.
"If you are going to lose pole, it might as well be to a teammate," Hinchcliffe said.
Sebastien Bourdais was third, followed by Josef Newgarden, rookie Jack Hawksworth and Simon Pagenaud.
Honda drivers made up five of the Fast Six spots, with Bourdais the only Chevrolet representative.
"What a qualifying session — you never knew who was going to put in the best lap," Hunter-Reay added. "It was anybody's session."
Well, not anybody.
The session was surprising for who didn't advance into the later rounds.
Defending race winner Takuma Sato didn't make it out of the first group and was penalized for interfering with Hunter-Reay during his lap. The punishment stripped Sato of his two fastest laps in the session.
Also failing to advance was Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, making his second start for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.
In the next group, Will Power failed to move on for just the second time in his career. He last failed to advance out of the first round at Brazil last season.
Defending series champion Scott Dixon did advance into the second round, as did runner-up Helio Castroneves. But neither made it into the Fast Six round, shutting both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing out of the final group.
Juan Pablo Montoya continued to struggle in his return to IndyCar after seven seasons in NASCAR. As he was pushing for more speed on his last qualifying attempt, he lost control of his car and hit the wall. He'll start 16th today.
Also struggling on Saturday was Graham Rahal, who has not found much speed and qualified last in the 23-car field. Oriol Servia, making his first start of the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, also struggled in morning practice but picked up some speed in qualifying and advanced into the second round.
Servia was eliminated in that round and will start 12th.
Townsend Bell to drive for KV Racing in Indy 500: KV Racing will field a third car in the Indianapolis 500 that Townsend Bell will drive.
KV won the race a year ago with Tony Kanaan and now has Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra in full-time entries. The Chevrolet that Bell will drive will be sponsored by clothing designer Robert Graham.
"I promise you we'll be the best-dressed team in the paddock," joked Bell.
In seriousness, Bell believes he's got a chance to win with KV.
"From the moment I get there, I call it getting into battle mode," Bell added. "I had my best finish at Indy racing with KVRT, so coming back with the defending Indy 500 champions is special."
Bell, who has completed 1,308 of a possible 1,400 laps in seven career Indy 500 starts, has a best career finish of fourth. It was in 2009 while he was driving for KV.
"We had a good run in 2009, probably could have won the thing," said team co-owner Jimmy Vasser. "We've always thought we could work together again. I think we have a really strong platform for our superspeedway cars. With Townsend's addition, he's our senior Indy guy, our most proven. We expect great things out of the two Sebastiens as well, but they are going to take great leadership from Townsend and I expect him to give them that."
Bell said the 2009 effort was thrown together at the last minute, ran just one week of practice and started 24th.
Bell competes part-time in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and was part of the winning team in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona.
He'll be racing in the sports car event at Laguna Seca the week before Indianapolis opens for the 500, which is a scheduling change for Bell. In year's past, he's raced the same weekend as 500 preparations began and had to rush to Indianapolis — often a day late — to get in the car.
Shawn Langdon qualifies No. 1 in Top Fuel
CONCORD, N.C. — Defending series champion Shawn Langdon held onto the top spot in Top Fuel qualifying Saturday in the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals.
Langdon piloted his dragster to a 3.753-second pass at 321.81 mph on Friday and the run held up as higher temperatures cooled the runs in the two qualifying sessions Saturday in the event that features racing in four lanes instead of the traditional two.
Ron Capps topped the Funny Car field, Chris McGaha was the fastest in Pro Stock and Michael Ray led the Pro Stock Motorcycle competition.
Capps' 4.059 run at 314.24 on Friday was good enough to carry the Don Schumacher Racing driver to his first No. 1 qualifier of the season and 16th of his career.
McGaha claimed the second No. 1 qualifying position of his career with his 6.523 pass at 213.10 mph on Friday. Ray ran a 6.816 at 197.02 for Star Racing on a Buell.