Published April 05, 2014
Fort Worth, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Chase Elliott became a first-time race winner in the Nationwide Series after beating Sprint Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
At the age of 18 years, 4 months and 7 days, Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, became the second youngest driver to win a Nationwide race. Joey Logano holds the series record as the youngest winner. Logano was 18 years and 21 days old when he won in June 2008 at Kentucky.
In January, Elliott landed a full-time Nationwide ride with JR Motorsports, which is co-owned by Earnhardt, his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick. Elliott drives the No. 9 Chevrolet. It's the same car number his father had throughout most of his storied career in NASCAR's premier series.
Elliott's maiden win in Nationwide came in just his sixth start.
"I can't believe it," Elliott said. "Just to have the opportunity to come and race with these guys at JR Motorsports with [sponsor] NAPA Auto Parts onboard, just to have this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any racer who wants to try to make it to the top. It just means the world to me to be here."
Elliott made a bold move around Harvick, his JRM teammate, for the lead with 16 laps remaining. Elliott then took command from there, crossing the finish line 2.7 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Busch, who has won a Nationwide race at Texas a record six times.
"I went to [Harvick] for a lot of advice this week, and he helped me out and gave me some tips that I felt helped me tonight," Elliott said. "To pass him for the lead there at the end, that's pretty crazy."
Elliott's father was in victory lane for the celebration.
"I'm about speechless," Bill Elliott said. "I felt like Chase could do it. I've watched him race in a Late Model car too much. I know how good the kid really is. I'll tell you what and I keep saying it, to come here and having never been to some of these places like Vegas, California and now here at Texas and to come out and beat the kind of guys you beat, you've done one heck of a job."
Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, also came to victory lane to congratulate Elliott.
When Elliott was 17 years old this past September, he became the youngest driver to win a Camping World Truck Series race, doing so at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. He turned 18 on Nov. 28, making him eligible for competition in Nationwide. Elliott is currently in his senior year of high school.
"It's pretty awesome to see him succeed," Earnhardt said of Elliott's first Nationwide win. "I knew it was just a matter of time. He's got so much ability and composure, and he's just years ahead of those guys who are of that age. He's learning so fast on the fly."
Harvick, a five-time Nationwide race winner at this 1.5-mile track, started on the pole and led the most laps with 101. He ended up finishing fourth, one spot ahead of Earnhardt.
Two weeks ago, 21-year-old Larson claimed his first career Nationwide victory in Fontana, Calif. He finished third in this race.
"That was wild," Larson said of Elliott's pass on Harvick for the lead. "He had been trying to make it work, and he must've had an extreme run that one time and got to Harvick's quarter panel and got him loose on the inside of him. From there on, I knew he was probably going to win the race unless we got a caution. But just never got the caution."
Busch led a total of 38 laps, the same amount of laps as Elliott, after starting from the rear of the field. Busch and Larson as well as rookies Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher did not participate in qualifying, held earlier in the day, since their cars continuously failed pre-qualifying inspection due to various technical issues.
"I wish we would've had a little more there at the end, in order to keep up with Chase or at least try to run him down and go see if I could race him a little bit, but it wasn't anything to be having with that," Busch said. "He was in a league of his own for about the last 70 laps. He just took off."
Matt Kenseth finished sixth, followed by Regan Smith and Ryan Blaney. Dillon and Elliott Sadler completed the top-10.
With the win, Elliott grabbed the lead in the Nationwide point standings. He holds a two-point advantage over Smith. Dillon is now 10 points behind.
"We have a great team," Elliott said. "It's still early in the season, so we want to make sure we keep this in the right direction."