Chase Elliott will forever be linked to Jeff Gordon.
Elliott replaced Gordon in the famed No. 24 Chevrolet last season, and there’s a chance for an even more unique link between the two Sunday.
If Elliott wins the Daytona 500, a real possibility considering he’s starting from the pole position, it would mark his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. The win would come in his 42nd career Cup start — the same number of starts Gordon needed to win his first.
Count Gordon among those high on Elliott’s chances, too, after Elliott won the pole and then the first duel race Thursday night.
“The pole was exciting, but seeing what he did in the duel [Thursday] night was incredible,” Gordon said. “When you talk to Chase, there’s been a little bit of hesitancy and doubt in what he’s capable of doing on the restrictor-plate tracks [like Daytona]. He gained a lot of knowledge and experience last year and now I see that paying off. He’s a quick study.
“What he did [Thursday] night was one of the most impressive things that I’ve seen him do yet.”
Elliott, 21, has long been mentioned as a future face of NASCAR and winning will only help his profile grow more in the sport. Despite zero visits to Victory Lane, Elliott had a successful rookie campaign.
Elliott led a lap and finished fifth in the spring race at Texas Motor Speedway; he had two runner-up finishes at Michigan; and he made NASCAR’s version of the playoffs and came in 10th.
Elliott has carried that into his sophomore campaign with a hot start by winning the pole and the duel. Much like Elliott, Gordon’s first win in a Cup car was a duel race in 1993 before he won his first real race in 1994 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gordon sees the duel win leading to only more good things for Elliott.
“I hope that’s going to lead to Daytona 500 wins, Brickyard 400 wins and championships soon,” said Gordon, who finished his career with 93 wins and four championships.
Elliott would love to follow in those footsteps and is certainly among the heavy favorites to win NASCAR’s signature event Sunday.
Elliott didn’t make any bold proclamations after winning the duel, but sounded confident in his team’s ability to return to Victory Lane once more this weekend.
“Oh, I definitely think we have a shot at it,” Elliott said. “If I didn’t feel that way, like I always say, I’d stay home. I feel like we have a shot on Sunday. I feel like we had a shot before we got down here.
“[Winning the duel] hasn’t changed my opinion on that. I’m looking forward to it obviously.”
Elliott feels he has grown substantially with a full year under his belt and better understands what is required from him each and every weekend. He may have over-thought things at times, and not utilized the ample number of practice hours on the race track as well as he should have.
It’s a new year, though, and it seems like only a matter of time before Elliott puts it all together. He certainly isn’t letting his near-misses from a season ago weigh on him.
“I obviously look at those races, and you’re disappointed that you had missed opportunity, but I kind of use it to motivate you to try to go and do a better job next go-around,” Elliott said.
“So it’s one of those things where, yes, it was unfortunate that we had opportunities and couldn’t get it done,” he said. “At the same time, those are mistakes that you need to learn from and correct. Hopefully, those opportunities will be there again and you can capitalize on them again next go-around.”
1 p.m. Sunday/KDFW Ch. 4