With second straight Nationwide win, Chase Elliott melts the normally cold, cruel heart of Darlington’s Lady In Black
Apr 11, 2014, 10:57 PM EDT
The Lady in Black – a.k.a. Darlington Raceway – hates almost everybody. That’s why so many of NASCAR’s best over the last five decades have been brought to their knees by her curse-like power and icy demeanor.
But at the same time, she has been known to have a few favorites.
She absolutely loved NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, gracing him with a record 10 trips to victory lane during his Winston Cup career.
It’s also pretty clear the Lady likes Jeff Gordon (seven wins, most of any active driver at Darlington).
On Friday night, the old grand dame of NASCAR racetracks practically melted into a blushing schoolgirl, because the way young Chase Elliott won the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 Nationwide Series race proves that she’s quickly gotten sweet on him, too.
Competing in his first-ever race at Darlington – the same place his father Bill won at five times in his illustrious Winston Cup career – the younger Elliott ignored things like Darlington’s hardest walls in all of NASCAR, drove like he didn’t need the mandatory yellow rookie stripe, and he barely walked away with an infamous Darlington stripe, as well.
And when the Lady in Black wiggled her finger, as if to tell young Chase to follow her to victory lane, the dark-haired Elliott returned her gaze with an impish grin. It was enough to melt the Lady’s heart as she cheered him on to the last lap win over another Elliott – Elliott Sadler.
While it may be hard to believe that an 18-year-old kid drove the way he did Friday night, it’s also clear that this is not just any regular 18-year-old kid.
He’s the progeny of one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever, a likely prospect to be a first-ballot vote next month into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2015 induction class.
And it’s pretty clear that Awesome Bill from Dawsonville taught his young son some very valuable lessons, because the way Chase rallied forward from sixth place to the checkered flag in the last two laps wasn’t just him, it was vintage Bill, as well. As team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. whispered off-camera about Elliott to ESPN announcer Dave Burns, “He’s REALLY good.”
“Holy cow, man, that was crazy,” Elliott said in the kind of fashion you’d expect a guy who is still an 18-year-old high school senior to respond. “Here in the stands and at home on TV, that had to be fun to watch. I know it was fun to be part of (as a driver).
“It just worked out our way and away we went. … This is just unreal.”
With his win last week at Texas, Elliott becomes the seventh driver in Nationwide Series history to earn his first career wins in back-to-back fashion. Even more, in the first seven NNS races of his career, Elliott has two wins, another top-five, three top-10s and his worst finish thus far was 15th in the season opener at Daytona.
Even when Sadler got loose on the final lap and threatened to take out his young rival, the younger Elliott did exactly what his father used to do behind the wheel: kept the pedal mashed to the floor and hung on for dear life.
“I can’t believe it,” Elliott said. “I can’t believe last week (at Texas), much less here at Darlington. This truly is a dream come true.
“This is a place that I’ve already loved watching races (at), probably my favorite racetrack to watch a race at for a long, long time, and just to come and be a part of this race is unbelievable. But to come and win this thing is a feeling I’ll never forget.”
Darlington also carries the nickname of the Track Too Tough to Tame. But Elliott certainly tamed it with his impressive win.
You know what, maybe the Lady In Black just has a thing for the Elliott family. After all, in 52 career starts there, Chase’s father Bill compiled an outstanding record of five wins, 22 top-fives and 35 top-10 finishes.
And with the way the younger Elliott drove more like his dad than an average 18-year-old kid Friday night, it proved without a doubt that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
Right, Lady in Black?
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
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