FORT WORTH, Texas – The siren at Georgia’s Dawsonville Pool Room is silent no longer.
Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, captured his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory Friday night during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in only his sixth series start.
“I can’t believe it,” Elliott said after climbing from his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro in victory lane. “Just to have this opportunity is a once in a lifetime opportunity for any racer trying to make it to the top. It just means the world to me. I can’t believe it man.”
In order for Elliott to win Friday’s race, he had to beat some of the very best NASCAR has to offer. He didn’t back down from the challenge.
Kevin Harvick started on the pole and dominated the first part of the race, leading the opening 87 laps at the 1.5-mile speedway. He finally gave up the lead for the first time on lap 88 to Kyle Busch, who had charged from the rear of the field after missing qualifying earlier in the day.
Busch held the lead through a series of green-flag pit stops, but was slowed when the caution flag waved on lap 121 for a crash involving Chad Boat. Busch retained the lead during pit stops under caution, but he wouldn’t stay there for long.
Elliott, who had been running in the top six most of the night, restarted fourth on lap 125. Within 10 laps Elliott had driven by Kevin Harvick and then his boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. before setting his sights on Busch. On lap 135 Elliott made his move under Busch, taking the lead for the first time.
The young rookie held the top spot for the next 20 laps, but Earnhardt slowly began to reel him in. On lap 155 Earnhardt moved past Elliott to take the lead and slowly began to pull away. Earnhardt built a comfortable lead on Elliott until the final caution flag of the day waved on lap 168 for a crash on the backstretch involving Chris Buescher and Jamie Dick.
All the lead lap cars came down pit road for their final pit stops during the caution period, with Harvick stealing the lead off pit road. He was followed by Elliott, Earnhardt, Kyle Larson and Busch.
Harvick was able to maintain the lead during the restart with 23 laps to go, but Elliott stayed glued to the bumper of his teammate. Harvick constantly changed his line over the next few laps, trying to block Elliott’s momentum.
Harvick’s luck ran out with 16 laps left. Coming out of turn four Harvick’s car appeared to bobble, allowing Elliott to drive around him on the high side to take the lead away. Once out front Elliott was untouchable, eventually driving to a 2.666-second victory over Busch.
Ironically, Elliott said he leaned heavily on Harvick to help him prepare for Friday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. It certainly paid off.
“I went to him for a lot of advice this week. He helped me out and gave me some tips that I feel like helped tonight,” Elliott said. “To pass him for the lead there at the end, that’s pretty crazy. I can’t believe it. I really can’t. This is just awesome.”
Bill Elliott was on hand to watch his son score his first Nationwide victory and was just in awe of how quickly his son has taken to the Nationwide Series cars.
“I’m about speechless,” said the proud father. “I keep saying, for never having been to some of these places – Vegas, California and now here at Texas – and to come out and beat the kind of guys he has beat, he has done a great job.”
Larson chased Elliott and Busch home in third, followed by Harvick and Earnhardt. JR Motorsports had three cars in the top five (Elliott, Harvick and Earnhardt) with a fourth (Regan Smith) finishing seventh.