Chase Elliott stood listening intently as a bright-eyed elementary school student at Carroll Peaks Elementary took his turn to ask the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion a question.
“So you’ve had all this success … what are you going to do next?”
The first thing he’ll attend to is the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, the spot almost a year ago where the then high school senior’s rise in the sport took off like a special blended bottle rocket.
Not only did he win last year’s spring race, but he did it by holding off Sprint Cup veterans Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in the final 15 laps. It was the only the beginning for the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
When the season totals were counted, Chase Elliott had three victories, 26 top-10 finishes and 16 top-fives in 33 races and was the series champion, the youngest in NASCAR history.
Elliott, of course, told the Carroll Peaks student where he was eventually headed. The 19-year-old NASCAR freak is going to the big leagues after this season. He’ll join NASCAR’s senior circuit next year, driving for Hendrick Motorsports and taking over the No. 24 car of Jeff Gordon, who is retiring from full-time racing.
Not in his wildest dreams ….
“Definitely not. It’s exciting,” Elliott said. “I never would have thought it would have worked out the way it has. But there’s a lot left to do and work to be done.
“I’m not Jeff and there’s no replacing Jeff. I just want to do my job and do my part. I go about it the same way as last year and hope we can compete for some wins.”
Though he has become the future of Sprint Cup, it’d be hard to tell by the way he speaks.
Elliott’s last season in the Xfinity Series has not started well. The No. 9 of JR Motorsports limps slightly into TMS for the 7:30 p.m. start.
After a 28th-place finish to begin the season, he has three top-fives, but he expressed frustration after a fifth at the Boyd Gaming 500 last month, saying the team’s finish was far better than how they competed.
“I feel like we’ve had speed the past couple of weekends,” Elliott said. “I hope we can start out good and get better through the weekend. It’s a matter of execution. Everybody has a job. I know my guys will do theirs. I need to do my job a little better.”
Ultimately, any adversity will likely serve him well when he moves up, but any slips thus far have done nothing to make people wonder how good he could be.
“He just seems like he’s already really mature,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., his current boss and future teammate at Hendrick. “A lot of problems that young guys have is that they come in and get a taste of success by winning and then when things don’t go right they get rattled, they get mad and then there is conflicts with people in their inner circle. And then they go through this maturing phase. It’s like Chase has that behind him already.”
He has displayed the instincts of drivers with much more experience. His elders praise his demeanor, how aware he is on the track and how well he communicates with his crew.
Much of that comes from having a Hall of Famer for a father and being around the Sprint Cup most of his life.
A return to TMS where it all started might be just the antidote. Elliott has run well on the 1 1/2-mile tracks in the past.
Elliott insists nothing has changed with his approach despite his newfound stardom and expectations has nothing to do with his sluggish start.
In fact, nothing has changed. He said he goes about his business as if it was his first race. Race and go home.
“Actually, it hasn’t changed much at all,” Elliott said. “For me, I try to go about things the same as I always have. I’m shooting for the same things. I try to go about my business and do my job.
“You got to do your thing and do it well.”