One of NASCAR’s youngest and brightest stars looks primed for greatness.
Chase Elliott, who will start on the pole Sunday at the Daytona 500, won the first of two NASCAR Can-Am Duels on Thursday night in dominating fashion, capping off quite a successful week leading up to the Great American Race. The Hendrick Motorsports driver will bring 10 points with him into Sunday’s race, as well as what looks to be one of the fastest cars in the field.
It’s the second straight year that Elliott has won the pole for the Daytona 500. He’ll start alongside his Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was chased down in the final laps of the second Duel on Thursday by Denny Hamlin, who went on to win the race.
Thursday night’s Duel not withstanding, Elliott still doesn’t have a Cup race victory on his resume. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most-hyped drivers in recent NASCAR memory, and with good reason.
In 2016, Elliott’s first full season on the Cup level, he took home Rookie of the Year honors, qualified for the Chase and finished 10th in points. Not bad for a 21-year-old that had to deal with the pressure of taking over the No. 24 from NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, as well as living up to his father — Nascar legend Bill Elliott.
In 36 races last season, Elliott finished in the top 10 an impressive 17 times, including 10 top five finishes. But while Elliott’s career has taken off since racing full time on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, it certainly wasn’t surprising for anyone who was paying attention.
In two full seasons in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, Elliott notched four wins, a whopping 53 top-10 finishes and a series championship in 2014. Elliott was voted the series’ most-popular driver in both of those seasons, and he’s already one of the most popular on the Cup level; although, he has a long way to go before passing Earnhardt.
NASCAR is at a crucial point in its history. Television ratings have been declining for a few years, and the sport has a new sponsor on the Cup level in Monster Energy. The return of Earnhardt surely will have some tangible impact, but the sport needs young, talented drivers for young, casual fans to embrace.
Being young, talented and charismatic doesn’t matter if you can’t win, though. But if last Sunday’s qualifying and Thursday’s Duel offer any indication, it’s that Elliott likely has many trips to the winner’s circle in his future.
Thumbnail photo via Peter Casey/USA TODAY Sports Images