For most 18-year-old men, high school graduation day is all about hanging with friends and celebrating the accomplishment. Not so for Chase Elliott. For him, it was a jet ride from Iowa Speedway back to Atlanta for a ceremony, only to turn around and head back for a press conference. It was an annoyance to have to miss the opportunity to improve upon an already respectable lap time. In that press conference, he confirmed that, indeed, he had checked out long before they gave him the piece of paper to mark the accomplishment. The man has moved on to bigger benchmarks. From a young age, he has been performing on a larger stage, displaying talents which they never taught in high school.
Elliott is leading the points race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with two wins, and now five top-five finishes under his belt this season already, he has his eyes on the championship. He is a composed young man, confident and already comfortable dealing with the bright lights. He handles his professional responsibilities like an old hand. On the track, he is even better.
There is no mistaking him for a novice on the track. Leading the pack in the Nationwide series, anyone who saw him drive and did not see him would never pick him out as being a man of his age. With three of the top six qualifiers being under the age of 22, that could be said of many of the drivers who raced this week in Iowa. He was one of two, along with Ryan Blaney, who finished in the top five this week.
Elliott finished No. 4 this week, behind Sam Hornish Jr, Ryan Blaney, and Regan Smith. He and Blaney both expressed in their post-race interviews that they felt they did not do well in the short runs, and that re-starts were particularly difficult. Elliott said that he felt like he was playing “catch-up.” His comments expressed disappointment with the finish, and mentioned some pit road issue which caused some difficulties, but emphasized the fact that he and his crew handled the good and bad “as a team.” Disappointment aside, he still remains atop the standings in the Nationwide Series, and has already set his eyes on the next race in Charlotte.
This Sunday, the Nationwide Series was the only game in town for stock car racing. The All-Star race in Charlotte was run on Saturday night, along with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race in Iowa. This is a showcase weekend for the Nationwide drivers, and full of increased scrutiny and an extra day of work. For Chase Elliott, there was also a little matter of a round-trip journey back to Atlanta to graduate from high school thrown in. When asked about the schedule after the race, however, he said that it was, “Just a part of it,” and just another weekend at the office.
A top-six qualifying position, a high school graduation, and a top-five finish is a bit more than most men his age handle over the course of a weekend; even a NASCAR driver. For Chase Elliott, though, it was just another working weekend. With this much composure and this level of results, it seems like a safe bet that NASCAR Nation will be seeing more of him on Sundays in the very near future.
Commentary By Jim Malone
Press Conferences Iowa Speedway: 5/17/14 and 5/18/14
NASCAR Media Guide for 2014