Bill Elliott beaming over Chase’s pole win, but wary
Hampton, Ga. — Bill Elliott grabbed the microphone, faced reporters and blurted out, “I’m the father.”
Then Elliott laughed and beamed.
Clearly he is a proud father after Chase Elliott on Sunday became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500 pole. Bill Elliott was a two-time winner at Daytona and the NASCAR champion in 1988, but now Chase is the rising star in the family.
It’s dad’s turn to cheer.
Chase Elliott, 20, joined his father on Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway to promote next week’s NASCAR stop. It was an appropriate setting for the Georgia natives to seek perspective for young Chase opening his rookie season in the spotlight.
“Yesterday was a big deal for us,” Bill Elliott said, noting that about two years ago “we had nothing” in place for Chase’s career. The right doors opened, Chase won the Nationwide Series (now Xfinity) championship in 2014 and then was named the replacement for the retiring Jeff Gordon in the 24 car.
As the new kid on the established Hendrick Motorsports team, the young Elliott was humble as he insisted his team deserved credit for winning the pole.
“I had very little to do with that lap and qualifying time,” said Chase Elliott.
It’s a powerful support team for a rookie, especially when compared with Bill Elliott’s humble start in the late 1970s.
“That stuff we had back then was terrible,” Bill Elliott said. “… You didn’t have the equipment, didn’t have the money, didn’t have anything.”
Bill Elliott also didn’t have the pressure that falls on his son because of his name and his high-profile team. Much will be expected of Chase Elliott as Gordon’s successor on the team that also includes Dale Earnhardt Jr.
That pressure grew when the rookie won the pole with his top speed of 196.314 mph.
“There are a lot of disadvantages,” said the elder Elliott of the expectations that will follow his son. “You kind of set the bar up there. When I came in, I was way under the radar and nobody was paying any attention. For me, it made it easier. … In his position it’s going to be a learning curve and you’re going to have good weekends and you’re going to have back weekends until you get to a point where everything kind of falls into place.”
Earnhardt referred to his new teammate by his real name when he used his Twitter account to offer congratulations for winning the pole.
“William Clyde Elliott II, you ol lead foot,” Earnhardt tweeted.
“Lead foot” looked like a teenager on Monday as he wore his NAPA cap and jacket at an appearance that was scheduled before he won the pole.
He said he knows he will have much to learn on Sunday, next week in Atlanta and through the season. But he has been studying the racing game his whole life.
“Ever since he was a little kid all he’s ever thought about was driving a race car,” Bill Elliott said. “It’s never been anything else.”
Landing the Daytona pole was the first sign Chase Elliott is ready to race on Sundays.
“You’re running with the best guys in the business,” Bill Elliott said. “I know he can do it.”
Track: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile tri-oval), Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
2015 winner: Joey Logano
Duel at Daytona (qualifying)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday