Well, that wasn’t in the script.
I and many others have been critical of the Nationwide Series becoming a stomping ground for Cup drivers, who hoover up all the best cars, sponsors and victories whilst the young guns the series is there to develop get left in the dust. In response, we get the standard replies about how they are good for the series, and the only reason anyone watches it.
Chase Elliott cares not for any of this. Only about winning. And in the process, he has blown the Nationwide Series wide open again.
To win at Texas and effortlessly keep Cup ringers at arm’s length was impressive enough. To win at Darlington in his first start, on a track unlike anything else in NASCAR, and coming from 6th on the final restart to do it, is just…awesome.
And he’s only 18. That’s four years younger than me.
…I’ve kinda run out of superlatives.
So instead of adding more gushing praise to the already-huge pile, let’s have a look at just how Chase Elliott has taken the Nationwide Series by storm – and crucially, how he has managed to defeat the previously invincible “Cuppies”.
Equipment must play a big part. I have bemoaned for the longest time how Cup ringers get all the best cars and equipment, when surely these rides should be given to promising youngsters to showcase their stuff. If anything, “Cuppies” should be turning out for smaller teams down the order, leveling up the playing field and giving those smaller teams a much-needed shot in the arm. That’s what used to happen not long ago. But undoubtedly, Chase Elliott has one of the best cars and teams in the game – certainly Jr Motorsports (with Hendrick backing) are one of the strongest in Nationwide currently, with Regan Smith already taking victory in the season opener at Daytona. Sure, his name alone pretty much guarantees he will get sponsor backing and good equipment, but he has proven time and again in his young career that he has the chops to warrant such great gear on talent alone. Let’s not forget his audacious victory last year at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in the Truck Series – fellow young gun with famous relative Ty Dillon certainly hasn’t.
More than anything, he has bucket-loads of confidence and an unshakeable self-belief. When Nationwide drivers talk about it being an ‘honor’ to share track space with “Cuppies,” it feels to me like there is a little too much respect and reverence for the “Cuppies.” And this mentally can defeat a driver before a wheel has even turned in anger. If you go out there believing your opponent is amazing and a massive superstar, you’ve effectively given them a 10-point head start just by dint of them arriving with a reputation. Kyle Busch doesn’t hesitate to rough up Nationwide drivers, but when did you last see the favor being repaid? And this perpetuates a cycle whereupon the Nationwide regulars are now used to trailing home the Cuppies every weekend – it’s kinda the inevitable outcome.
Chase Elliott is having none of this. He has arrived this year without any of this baggage or fear of reputations, and his driving style implicates that he really doesn’t care who he is racing with – as long as he beats them. He led home Kevin Harvick and Busch in Texas without a second thought that he was up against two Cup veterans with a huge amount of success and victories between them. At Darlington, he breezed past the same two opponents, as well as high-profile Cup rookie Kyle Larson and ex-Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth without a second thought.
And this disregard for reputations can only be good for the Nationwide series.
What Chase Elliott has done is blown the doors to the series wide open. He has proven on multiple occasions that the Cup mafia is beatable. It’s incredibly tough to do so, but it is possible. Kyle Larson did the exact same thing at California – even if technically he himself is now a Cup ringer. And if these youngsters can do it, what’s stopping others from believing they can do the same? Perhaps now we will see the Nationwide regulars really stand up and be counted, and not letting the Cup ringers have such an easy time.
‘Oh, but Cup ringers are the only reason anyone watches Nationwide!!1′, I hear you say.
Maybe so. But judging by the deafening cheers that greeted Chase Elliott’s Darlington win, there are a lot more people who want to see these Cup ringers beaten. And perhaps thanks to Elliott’s efforts, this may happen slightly more often.
Tags: Beyond The Flag Camping World Truck Series Chase Elliott Dale Earnhardt Jr Darlington Raceway Hendrick Motorsports Joe Gibbs Racing JR Motorsports Kevin Harvick Kyle Busch Matt Kenseth NASCAR Nationwide Series Texas Motor Speedway