DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) Chase Elliott is certain he made strides from his time in the Xfinity Series. He knows he would not be ready for Sprint Cup racing next year without his Xfinity time.
Elliott, the 19-year-old son of Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott, worked his way up on the track to race in NASCAR's Triple-A series in 2014. He became the first rookie and youngest driver ever to win a NASCAR national series championship.
The success Elliott showed in Xfinity caught the attention of Hendrick Motorsports, which selected the teen to fill the Sprint Cup seat of retiring four-time champion Jeff Gordon next season.
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Elliott said his Xfinity races - he won three times in 2014 and once this season - gave him the chance to compete against several Cup drivers and to see how a similar machine handles.
''I think it's good to have the opportunity to race against the Cup guys when you are kind of first getting going,'' Elliott said. ''I know that is a mixed subject, but in my opinion, I think it's good.''
Kyle Larson also understands how important for him it was to race the Xfinity Series.
Larson, now 23, had run sprint cars growing up and signed a development deal in 2012 with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. That led Larson to NASCAR's Truck Series and then to the Xfinity Series in 2013, where he became the tour's rookie of the year.
He moved up to Sprint Cup with Ganassi in 2014, but still drove in several Xfinity races, winning at Fontana and Charlotte that season. Larson has done the same thing this year, keeping his steering wheel in Xfinity with 10 races so far this year.
''It really gave me some confidence that I could compete against anyone'' when racing in the Xfinity Series, Larson said.
Chris Buescher hopes to understand that feeling, too. The 22-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver has won two Xfinity races this year and holds a 25-point lead over Ty Dillon with seven events to go. Elliott is 28 points behind Buescher in third.
Buescher believes the ability he has shown on track with his Xfinity team will get him, like Elliott and Larson, to the Sprint Cup Series.
''It's really the only option you have,'' said Buescher, who signed a development deal with RFR in 2009.
Buescher said the Xfinity car is similar to what a racer would use in Sprint Cup.
''You use the same chassis that our Cup cars use at Roush with some very minor tweaks,'' Buescher said. ''It's exactly what you need to get ready.''
Buescher ran a handful of Sprint Cup events this season, his best finish a 20th place at Fontana last March.
''There are very distinct differences in the two series, but it's very important to have the seat time in each division before you move up to have the right experience,'' Buescher said at Darlington Raceway earlier this month.
Buescher is not sure when his chance to move up for good will come. Roush Fenway runs three Sprint Cup teams with multiple winner Greg Biffle, former Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won two Xfinity Series titles before advancing to Sprint Cup.
Buescher said Roush had thrown him a ''curveball'' with some comments in August that the driver was ready for the next step. His focus, Buescher said, is finishing the Xfinity Series season strong and perhaps capturing another division title for RFR.
Elliott has felt that split focus, too. Last year, he knew he was being considered for Sprint Cup rides while completing a championship season in Xfinity.
He is sure he will use everything learned on track to succeed at the higher level.
''It allows you to get used to some of the things that you might see later on down the road a little bit at a time instead of being thrown at you all at once,'' Elliott said.