Chase Elliott scores first Cup Series win
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
In a time of sagging attendance figures and declining TV ratings, NASCAR finally had a Sunday that has the potential of being the start of a turnaround.
Chase Elliott, one of the young drivers who is in a position to help rejuvenate the sport, scored his first Cup victory in front of an appreciative sellout crowd at Watkins Glen International.
And in a move that symbolized what the day meant for many, when Elliott ran out of gas on the cool-down lap, the likely superstar of the future got a push to his victory celebration from a superstar of the present, his teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
The Elliott family history also was on display with the youngster’s first win.
Elliott’s first Cup victory is remarkably similar to that of his father, Bill Elliott, who was a 16-time most-popular driver and still remains one of the sport’s main attractions.
Both Elliotts got their first Cup victories on road courses, Bill at the old Riverside International Raceway in 1983 and Chase at the Glen on Sunday. Both had eight runner-up finishes before breaking through with a victory, and both had to beat the best in the business to score the breakthrough victory. Bill Elliott defeated Benny Parsons, Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond.
Chase had to outrun two of the season’s Big Three — Kyle Busch in the early going and Martin Truex Jr. in the latter stages — to win a race on the same track where his father got his lone Xfinity Series victory.
And of course both drove race cars numbered 9, a number that has become synonymous with the Elliott family.
Elliott said being able to celebrate with a sellout crowd, the fourth straight for the track, made the moment even sweeter.
“I ran out of gas, so I was coasting around, had a great view to see all the people,” he said. “It looked like a sellout.
“They were standing up, so that’s just a cool thing to see. There’s nothing that can re-create that feeling and looking in the stands and seeing people that excited for you for something that you did.”
Elliott, 22, said he’s enjoyed great fan support through his time in support series and in his 99 Cup starts.
“The fans have been a big part of my career thus far, voting us in a couple All?Star Races and so on,” he said. “I appreciate the ones who don’t support, too, because that drives you to be better, and the whole bit. Appreciate all of them, good and bad.”
Kyle Busch, who led 31 laps in the early going and appeared to have the fastest car most of the day, saw his bid for the win go awry on a pit stop with 34 laps remaining. His crew was unable to completely fill his gas tank, so he had to make a second stop, which put him in 31st place when the green flag flew with 32 laps remaining. Even without the benefit of a caution flag, Busch drove through the field to finish third behind Elliott and Truex. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones finished fourth and fifth respectively, accomplishments for the young drivers that were largely overlooked with Elliott’s win.
Busch said in his postrace comments that Elliott drove mighty well for someone who has relatively little experience on a high-speed road course like Watkins Glen.
“What impressed me the most was just that he was hammer down and elbows up and flying — loose here, loose there and going through everything and doing everything right and really attacking the racecourse and not putting the wheel too far out of shape,” Busch said. “He looked like a pro. That was cool to see.”
Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric summed up the feelings of many in the sport with his postrace Twitter post: “I feel like I just won! Pumped for @chaseelliott. It’s a good day when our sport wins.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighed in on Twitter as well: “Incredible day for @chaseelliott and @nascar and THE FANS!!!”
Team owner Rick Hendrick, who watched the race on TV from his North Carolina home as Elliott delivered his company its 250th Cup win, said he hopes his four-driver outfit is getting some momentum with four races left to run before the start of the 10-race, season-ending playoffs.
“This is the right time to be closing the gap and building that momentum,” he told representatives from Chevrolet. “I’m so proud of all the folks at Hendrick Motorsports for keeping their head down and working hard.”
Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who celebrated his 43rd birthday with the victory, said his young driver has stood strong through the highs and lows of the previous 98 races.
“We all strive for greatness, and everybody wants to do the best things possible, and you want to win the race or hit the three?pointer at the buzzer or catch a touchdown, whatever it is,” Gustafson said. “And when it doesn’t go your way and you have those opportunities, sometimes that can be deflating.
“But at the end of the day, you’ve got to take some solace in what you do, and the fact that you gave it your best and learned from it and moved on, and certainly he has and will continue to do that.”