The Future of Chase Elliott

After Dale Earnhardt Jr, no Sprint Cup driver has a better pedigree than Chase Elliott. He’s the son of Bill Elliott, a former champion, NASCAR’s most popular driver, and the first racer to ever win the Winston Million. In his brief career so far, Chase has shown he has the potential to equal or one day even surpass his old man’s accomplishments.

Chase Elliott made a name for himself in short track racing, rising through the ranks while still in high school. He ran part-time in the truck series in 2013, winning his first race at just 17 years old. When he moved up to the XFINITY series, Chase dominated–he won the championship his rookie year and and placed 2nd in 2015.

Elliott’s potential stems not just from his accomplishments, but from his driving style. He’s a hard charging driver; he pushes his car to the absolute limit and always searches for new grooves on track sometimes hurting his car in the process. In that way, Elliott races like a young Jeff Gordon–he runs hard and sometimes reckless, but shows a lot of potential.

Perhaps its fitting that as Elliott moved up to the Cup Series in 2016, he took over Jeff Gordon’s old ride. So far in the season, Elliott has posted 11 top 10’s, 5 top 5’s and a pair of poles. He sits 6th in the points standings and appears to be knocking on the door of his first Cup win. While it’s impossible to know for sure if he will continue his success, the future does look bright for Chase Elliott.

Ranking the 2016 Rookie Class

We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016 Nascar season, and one of the most exciting storylines is this year’s rookie class. While the 2015 rookies were lackluster (Rookie of the Year Brett Moffitt can’t even find a ride) the 2016 group has a number of promising prospects. Here we take a look at this year’s rookies and rank them by how likely they are to succeed in Nascar’s big leagues.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, will be running a full-time schedule in 2016 with the historic Wood Brothers racing team. Blaney finished 2nd in the truck series in 2014, before being forced to a limited schedule last year. Blaney won two Xfinity races and a truck series race driving for Penske, but what was perhaps most impressive were his performances in the Sprint Cup series. Driving for the Wood Brothers, Blaney notched 6 top 20’s in the 11 races he competed in without engine problems. With the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, expect Blaney to be very competitive in 2016 and to have a long and successful career once he eventually moves to Penske’s full team.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, the son of legendary Nascar racer Bill Elliott, will be taking over Jeff Gordon’s 24 car in 2016. Chase and Ryan Blaney are equals in almost every way–they are both excellent racers who look to be in the Sprint Cup series for a long time. Elliott has experienced far greater success at Nascar’s lower levels. He burst onto the racing scene in 2013, winning the Silverado 250 at Mosport with a daring last-lap pass. Elliott won the Xfinity series championship in 2014 and placed 2nd in 2015, racking up 4 wins and 27 top 5’s in his two year stint. Chase Elliott has big shoes to fill. If he can translate his lower series success to the Sprint Cup, he’ll be able to write his own legacy.

Chris Buescher

The man Chase Elliott lost this year’s Xfinity series championship to is Chris Buescher, the 23-year old from Prosper, Texas. While Elliott’s racing style was often boom-or-bust, Buescher took a more conservative, methodical route, racking up 2 wins and 20 top 10’s en route to a championship victory. Although he drove for Roush in the lower series, Buescher will be racing for perennial backmarker Front Row Motorsports in the Cup series. Why? Although Buescher is a top prospect, funding is very tight for Roush these days. Rather than add a 4th car to their stable, Roush formed a technical alliance with Front Row, bringing Buescher in this season. Expect to see Buescher in a Roush car sin the near future, possibly as soon as next year–Roush driver Greg Biffle is the oldest Sprint Cup regular and is entering the final year of his contract. If Biffle bows out, Buescher could fill his seat.

Brian Scott

Lastly, we have Brian Scott. Scott has shown himself to be a capable racer in the Xfinity Series–although he has never won a race, he’s recorded 73 top 10’s in the past 5 years. While many other drivers would have lost their ride to younger prospects, Scott has held steady, supported by his family’s Shore Lodge sponsorship. Scott brings this money to Richard Petty Motorsports this year, taking over Sam Hornish’s ride. Scott projects to be at best, a racer like Paul Menard–a consistent, if mediocre driver who can occasionally put together a strong performance. However, don’t count him out just yet–many great drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, were lowly-regarded in lower series before making the jump to the Sprint Cup. Scott showed decent speed in a limited schedule for Richard Childress Racing last year–maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs.

The Caution Clock

Last week, Brian France announced a new race feature that angered many Nascar fans–the Caution Clock. The clock, which will only be rolled out in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016, will cause a competition caution to fly 20 minutes into every green flag run. While many have accused Nascar of creating manufactured excitement, the Caution Clock has pros and cons–I break them down below.

While the caution clock would be a radical departure from traditional Nascar racing, it does have some pros. It would create more exciting racing. Despite what purists may say, very few fans enjoy seeing long follow-the-leader green flag runs. The caution clock would also eliminate Nascar’s penchant for debris cautions. The sport has long been criticized for waving the yellow for tiny pieces of debris on the track, just to bunch up the field. These cautions are often unpredictable; at least with the caution clock, teams will know when yellow flags will fly and can strategize for them. Finally, the caution clock wouldn’t exactly be a major game changer. Brian France has already stated that it will be turned off when there are 20 laps to go, and even while it is on, it will be used sparingly. This chart, created by Reddit user dmcgrew, demonstrates that the caution clock would have rarely come into effect during last year’a truck series. There are only two races in which it would have flown more than once. Ultimately, despite all the controversy, the caution clock could have almost no effect.

cclock

Most Nascar fans, however, are against the change, and for good reason. The caution clock would eliminate long green-flag runs, but the excitement it creates is manufactured, not real. It would interrupt exciting battles for the lead and could lead to more commercials, as broadcasters would show them every 20 minutes, at minimum. The caution clock would virtually eliminate an exciting part of Nascar races–green flag pit stops. With the caution clock coming out every 20 minutes, teams would rarely get an opportunity to pit under green and make up positions through strategy calls. The caution clock would put an end to the tension fuel-mileage races create, with drivers making passes on track while anxiously trying not to run out of gas. The caution clock would dramatically change Nascar strategy, and not necessarily for the better.

At the end of the day, we won’t know what the Caution Clock will do until we actually see it in a race. It could end up adding excitement to mind-numbing green flag stretches, or it could break up exciting green flag battles and strategy calls, preventing teams from ever making green-flag pit stops. For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Prospects: A look at the future of Nascar

The 43 drivers who race week in and week out won’t be around forever. Many drivers are starting to call it quits–Jeff Gordon is retiring this year. Fellow drivers such as 44 year old Tony Stewart, 45 year old Greg Biffle, and even 39 year old Jimmie Johnson won’t be around forever. But who will replace them when they finally decide to hang up their helmets?  Here, we take a look at the six most promising prospects in Nascar.

Jeff Gordon, the first of Nascar’s big guns to leave, will have Nascar’s most promising prospect replacing him–Chase Elliott. The son of the legendary driver Bill Elliott, Chase has been making a name for himself in Nascar’s lower series. At the age of 17, he became both the youngest pole sitter and the youngest winner in the Camping World Truck Series, beating Ty Dillon at the Canadian Motorsports Tire Park. Elliott entered the Xfinity series his rookie year and performed spectacularly, winning 3 races and the championship. He currently sits 2nd in the standings this year and is poised to move into the Sprint Cup Series in 2016.

Another son of a former racer, Ryan Blaney, looks to be an extremely promising driver as well. The son of Sprint Cup veteran Dave Blaney, Ryan climbed through the ranks of Nascar’s K&N series before securing a full-time truck ride with Brad Keselowski in 2014. Blaney excelled in his rookie year, posting 12 top 5’s and a win en route to a second place finish in the standings. After BKR scaled back its operations, Blaney was left without a full-time ride for the year. However, has excelled in his limited seat time, posting 3 top 5’s in 5 Nationwide races and landing a part-time Sprint Cup ride with the Wood Brothers. Look for Blaney to move up to the Sprint Cup in the near future, possibly landing a full-time ride with the Wood Brothers as soon as next year.

Erik Jones’ rise was faster than anyone could have predicted. Soon after Chase Elliott became the youngest truck winner in August 2013, the younger Jones broke the record himself, collecting a victory in November at just 17.5 years old. He won 3 Camping World Truck Series races and one Nationwide race while driving part time in 2014, and currently sits third in the Truck Series standings. At 19 years old, the Joe Gibbs developmental driver has a lot of time and a lot of room to grow. With a full contingent of competitive drivers in JGR’s cup stable, it could be a year or two before Jones gets his shot at a competitive Sprint Cup ride.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. made history in 2013 by becoming the first black driver to win a national series race in 50 years. Bubba, as the popular driver is nicknamed, placed 8th in the Truck Series points standings in 2013 but showed a marked improvement next year, finishing 3rd overall. After Joe Gibbs Racing was unable to fund a full time ride for Wallace in 2015, Bubba accepted an offer to drive for Roush Fenway Racing’s Xfinity team. The 21 year old currently sits 6th in the Xfinity standings.

Nascar Returns To Indy, But Does Anyone Care?

On Sunday, Nascar made its annual sojourn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hosting the memorably named Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com. Wow. The person who came up with that name needs to take a serious look at what he’s doing with his life. Anyway, the race was won by Indiana native Ryan Newman, who beat Jimmie Johnson not by passing him on the race track, but by having a faster green-flag pit stop. Indeed, there was very little passing on the race track. There was just one on-track lead change during the race, the rest coming during green-flag pit stops.

171181-310-253

 

The race featured no side-by-side action and virtually no passing, as it has been since 2008. The track was repaved that year, eliminating the outside groove on the track, and along with it, much of the interest in the race. Tony Stewart was vocal in his defense of Indy, saying, “It doesn’t have to be two- and three-wide racing all day long to be good racing. If you want to see passing, we can head out to Interstate 465.’ Fans, however, appeared to disagree with Stewart, and in large numbers. Barely half of the seats at Indy were filled. The backstretch grandstands were closed off completely.

Indeed, the race stood in stark contrast to the Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora. The Nascar return to dirt was one of the most exciting races of the season, featuring beating and banging as well as exciting passes for the lead. At the Brickyard, no one so much as scraped the wall. There were only 3 cautions in the 160 lap race. Two were for mechanical problems concerning Timmy Hill‘s OxyWater Ford, and the other one was for drive-line issues in the 31 car of Jeff Burton. The Mayor would finish last, falling 3 spots in the standings. The end of Burton’s Chase hopes? It might be, especially considering how he’s performed so far this season. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman gained three places in the standings with his win. He is now only 20 points behind Martin Truex, Jr., and could be poised to make a Case run. Meanwhile, the Chase standings shuffled. Brad Keselowski‘s 21st place finish dropped him out of the top 10, and Jeff Gordon moved in. Gordon is currently only 1 point ahead of 11th place Stewart. Unlike the racing at Indy, the battle for the Chase is heating up.

 

 

BOOM OR DUST? Nascar returns to dirt at Eldora

On a hot, steamy Wednesday night, Nascar made history. For the first time since 1970, a Nascar National Series raced on dirt. The Camping World Truck Series traveled to the small town of Rossburg, Ohio to race on the historic Eldora Speedway, home of some of the biggest dirt races in the country. The track drew a sell-out crowd, and millions more tuned into the Speed Channel for a chance to watch history. Nationwide regular Austin Dillon won the race, holding off Nationwide rookie Kyle Larson as well as Cup driver Ryan Newman. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the CarCash Mudsummer Classic.

1. Kenny Schrader makes history

Schrader is all smiles after winning the Keystone Light Pole. Image credit goes to Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

Nascar veteran Kenny Schrader made history by becoming the oldest pole winner in the history of the sport. 58 years young, Schrader snagged the top spot in qualifying and immediately backed it up with a win in the first heat race of the night. The semiretired Cup Series veteran eventually finished 14th in the main event, but throughout the night you could tell that he was having the time of his life.

2. Norm Benning is the Man of the Hour

That’s probably the first and last time you’ll ever hear that being said. 61-year old Norm Benning is a Camping World Series staple, competing week in and week out in his unsponsored truck. He’s respected in the garage for doing the best he can in his sub-par equipment, but he has never come close to winning a race. But in a wild Last-Chance Race to make the filed at Eldora, Benning was the star, holding off part-timer Clay Greenfield for the final transfer spot in the race.When he got out of the car, Benning was mobbed by crew members and fans alike, congratulating him on his accomplishment. It was a feel-good story on one very special night.

 

The legendary Scott Bloomquist couldn’t conquer Eldora speedway in a truck.
Credit: Getty Images

3. Dirt ringers have an off night

It speaks volumes about the level of competition in the Truck Series that none of the dirt track regulars entered in the race were able to contend for the win. One of the most disappointing finishers was Scott Bloomquist. Bloomquist, who has won over 500 dirt track events, went down a lap early and never recovered, ending up 25th. Bloomquist was trying a radical suspension that involved removing the front sway bar. Obviously, it didn’t work. Other dirt ringers also disappointed. Late model racers Jeff Babcock and J.R. Heffner fell out early with mechanical issues, while veteran dirt racer Joe Cobb finished well out of the running in his 2009 Dodge Ram. One pleasant surprise was Jared Landers, who ran well inside the top 10 until an incident with Ty Dillon ended his chances at a good finish.

4. Sauter tumbles in the points

Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Toyota Tundra, got caught up in the incident with Landers and Dillon and eventually took his truck to the garage. Unfortunately for him, this cost him big-time in the standings. Sauter was right behind Ty Dillon in the points standings entering the race. But now, Johnny is tied for 5th in the standings with Timothy Peters, and is just one point ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brendan Gaughan, who are tied for 7th. The championship battle just got a whole lot more interesting.

Sauter and Ty Dillon fought hard during the feature as well as in the 8 lap heat race preceding it. Image Credit goes to Getty Images