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In Chase, NASCAR has another Elliott in pipeline

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

The future is now at Hendrick Motorsports, or at least is warming up on the sidelines.

There is another talented driver patiently waiting for his opportunity to join the iconic names of racers like Terry Labonte, Tim Richmond, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who have helped make Rick Hendrick one of the most successful owners in NASCAR.

This 17-year-old prodigy has a familiar last name, too.

Just over two years ago, Hendrick signed Chase Elliott – then a 15-year-old high school freshman – to a multi-year driver agreement.

Elliott is the son of fan favorite Bill Elliott, who won the 1988 championship in what now is the Sprint Cup Series.

Much like his father, Chase not only is finding success on the track – he owns victories in Late Models, Legends, Bandeleros, go-karts and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series – but he appears to be assembling a sizable fan base.

“Chase is such a quality young guy, kind of a Jeff Gordon-like personality and mannerisms. He’s got the whole package – the name, the pedigree, the talent,” Hendrick said. “I was willing to invest in that and see where it could go and what he could do.

“What most impresses me about him is his attitude about racing – it’s just like his dad’s. He’s not going to pull up and push people out of the way. He drives smart to work his way up and once he gets to the front, he’s gone.”

Chase doesn’t look at the opportunity with HMS any differently today then he did two years ago. He remains just as thankful.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime to come race at one of the best organizations in stock-car racing,” he said. “To have a guy like Mr. Rick Hendrick behind you and supporting you and believing in my abilities – I can’t thank him enough for that.

“I don’t just want to be a Sprint Cup driver, but I want to be a champion. I want to be a part of the success here. I want to be here as long as I can possibly be.”

Bill Elliott was known for his 44 Cup victories and championship as well as his unique connection to fans.

He was named NASCAR’s most popular driver a record 16 times, including 10 years in a row (a record he shares with Dale Earnhardt Jr.).

“My dad was the man,” Chase said, “and he still is in my book.

“I hear from fans who say they look forward to seeing an Elliott back in NASCAR and I think that’s really cool.”

Hendrick has a full stable of Cup drivers in Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne with none likely departing anytime soon. That leaves plenty of time for Chase to continue his development.

After running a full 2012 schedule in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, this season Hendrick will field an entry for Chase in nine Truck series races as well as five races in the Automobile Racing Club of America series. His first Truck race will be April 6 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Hendrick said he “absolutely” sees Chase as a part of Hendrick Motorsports’ future.

“At some point down the road, Jimmie, Jeff or Dale, somebody will retire someday and you need someone to come along,” Hendrick said. “I just think Chase has got the talent and the way he handles himself, I just think he’s going to be a superstar. I really do.

“I think he’s going to be a Davey Allison or a Jeff Gordon. And I think he’s going to be a guy the fans connect with – and this sport needs another Bill Elliott, another Jeff Gordon.

“It needs those guys who have roots in the sport. I think Adam Petty (who died in a May 2000 crash) was going to be that. I think Chase is one of those guys.”

It sounds like a dream scenario.

“I know in the back of his mind Mr. H has a plan for where he would like me to be,” Chase Elliott said. “I caught myself last year kind of looking ahead, but that’s not how success comes.

“This year, I’m running in the Truck series and ARCA and I need to focus on that and do the best job I can behind the wheel. That’s what will determine my future.”

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