By Will Martin
Friday at Texas Motor Speedway was a non stop hotbed of action in between a food tasting competition (in which yours truly played a part) to qualifying races to determine who shall be slotted where for Sunday’s big race in the Duck Commander 500 to preparing for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 later in the day.
For first timers to TMS I tell you to wear a good pair of walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat of some sort, and clothing for a sudden weather change. If you can, get the ticket that allows you access from everything from the garages where all the drivers, crew chiefs and mechanics are hard at work, tweaking, perfecting and unifying the team with the hope that their car is best equipped to win a given race on said given day.
Last November I marveled at how masterful Jimmie Johnson was when he won his race here at Texas Motor Speedway for an umpteenth time and made it look oh so easy.
Familiarity will do that for you. What about if you have never raced at TMS?
What ended up happening Friday Night at Texas Motor Speedway was something Cinderella could not have scripted better. My pre-race pick to win-Dale Earnhardt Jr.-who had the lead at times before finishing in 5th-can take pride in the fact that one of his racers would end up winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Never raced in Texas and better yet…Monday morning he goes back to school in Dawsonville, Ga. at the ripe old age of 18!
I saw this scenario unfold with my own eyes. Chase Elliott and his #9 car were in the middle of the action all night long. A night where the cautions were few, the lead changes were barely a little more and with 16 laps to go I saw Chase Elliott proceed to pull off a successful pass of pole position starter Kevin Harvick and take the lead.
A lead he would not relinquish in what was a very fast car. Chase got stronger as the race progressed.
Afterward it wasn’t the fact that Chase Elliott won that impressed me. It was more about his level of poise. Something Dale Jr. would address.
“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome to see him succeed. I knew it was just a matter of time. He’s got so much ability and composure and he’s years ahead of guys that are normally of that age, and he’s learning so fast on the fly. People ask me if I talked to him or tutored him or anything, but he’s learning so fast-he’s learning faster than you can teach him what’s going on.
“So it’s a lot of fun to be able to work with great people, great drivers, and great talent and we’re fortunate to have him, and hope he’s-I’m sure he’s enjoying himself and Bill is happy, and the whole team is excited. We got a whole year ahead of us, great opportunity to get more.”
That from Dale Earnhardt Jr. A nice endorsement of performance for the kid from Georgia.
When Chase approached the podium the first question asked (aside from becoming the youngest racer to win a Nationwide event) was what he was thinking and feeling when making the pass to launch him to a surprising victory in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
“I don’t think you can ever take it for granted just because you’re out in front that you’re going to to be able to get the job done. There are so many variables and so many things that can happen. Obviously all those things are running through your mind at all times and obviously my main thing was hoping and praying there wasn’t going to be a caution coming out. My restarts were pretty terrible tonight and that’s one thing I gotta get better on, hopefully next week at Darlington, but definitely Kevin (Harvick) was-it looked like he was a little tight and I knew our car would be a little faster if I could ever get around him”.
And this kid is only 18? Back to class on Monday morning with an exam to get ready for?
“Well, I guess it’s just a normal Monday. Nobody likes Mondays, so I’m sure it will be the same ‘ol deal, go back and get ready to go to Darlington. I don’t know, it will be a normal Monday, I guess. It will be a good feeling to know I had a good weekend. That’s definitely something to enjoy but at the same time we got another race next Saturday night and we gotta make sure we get prepared for that.”
If indeed this is the start of something special for Chase (son of Bill) Elliott in a long and illustrious career then I can say ‘I was there for my 1st 300 race’ the same way he was. The poise, demeanor, and maturity of this kid was what impressed me at the end of the day.
To borrow an analogy perhaps Chase Elliott will become the Jordan Spieth in the racing world. Youth and talent at the ready.
2010 I was there when the birth of Jordan Spieth began at the Byron Nelson. It feels the same way.
More stories to come from Texas Motor Speedway on a historic Big Hoss weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and sports weekend in North Texas.