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.

Learning From Nascar’s All-Star Race

Nascar’s All-Star Race had all the right ingredients to be a fantastic event. The racing was fantastic, the new aero package worked well, and Nascar’s young guns were at the forefront of the racing. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney battled hard in the Sprint Showdown, third-year driver Kyle Larson barely lost the main event to Joey Logano, and sophomore Trevor Bayne made a daring last-lap pass to advance to the main race.

However, as Nascar does year after year, it tinkered with the format of the all-star race, and it ended up hurting the sport. The last 13 lap segment was supposed to feature the first 11 cars pitting and dropping to the back of the pack, forcing them to fight their way through traffic to the front of the field. However, after Matt Kenseth failed to make a mandatory pit stop, half the field was trapped a lap down with no way to get back on the lead lap, creating a disjointed, confusing finish.

Although the racing was exciting, the confusing format was difficult for fans, drivers, and even the announcers to follow. Forcing part of the field to pit is an interesting idea, but for the future Nascar must clearly define and standardize its rules to ensure everyone is on the same page. Nascar keeps getting its decisions 90% right–it will need to clear that last 10% to truly reestablish its standing among fans.

Nascar’s Kickoff

Despite the Daytona 500’s exciting finish, the rest of the race, and Speedweeks as a whole, felt lackluster. With the absence of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, the  truck series caution clock, and the excessive commercials during the 500, the whole week was lethargic. Here, we take a quick look at what did click during the first race of the 2016 Nascar season.

While Fox’s broadcast went a little heavy on the ads, the addition of Jeff Gordon to the booth was a win-win for fans and the network alike. Viewers saw Jeff once more, and the network kept Gordon’s fans interested in watching the race. Although Larry McReynolds scaled back his role to make room for Gordon, the 4-time champion showed a lot of potential in the press box. Jeff’s commentary was insightful and provided an insider’s perspective on the garage. Although Gordon still needs time to develop chemistry with his co-announcers, it was great to see the Nascar legend maintain a presence in the sport after 22 years on track.

The rookie battle was exciting at Daytona as Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott posted strong performances. Elliott, the race’s polesitter, ran up front early, leading the first 3 laps before an unlucky wreck sent him to the garage on lap 18. Ryan Blaney had some better luck, placing 19th in the Wood Brothers Ford and showing serious speed at times during the race. Both drivers turned in excellent performances (3rd for Blaney and 5th for Elliott) at the first Can-Am Duel; their battle for Rookie of the Year looks to heat up even more as the season progresses.

 

 

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.

2016 in Preview

We’re just 42 days from the 2016 Daytona 500 as we count down the top stories of the new year.

Legendary racer Tony Stewart announced his impending retirement near the end of the 2015 season. Stewart’s career is long and storied–his impressive resume includes 48 wins, three Nascar championships, and a 1997 IndyCar championship to boot. Stewart, the first owner-driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992, is expected to retain his stake in Stewart-Haas Racing while giving up his ride to Clint Bowyer in 2017.  Beset by a broken leg in 2013 and the tragic Sprint Car accident which killed Kevin Ward, Jr in 2014, Stewart has failed to win a race in 2.5 years, finishing 25th or lower in points each of the last 3 seasons. While it’s unlikely that Smoke will go out racing for a championship, look for him to try and capture his first ever Daytona 500 victory when he suits up for his last season.

After the 2014 season, which produced some of the best racing in recent memory, Nascar tweaked its rules package for 2015. The result? The quality of racing dropped–fans and drivers complained that the new cars were hard to pass with and led to boring follow-the-leader races. Thankfully, Nascar listened. It modified the rules package again for the upcoming 2016 season, creating low-downforce parts that will cause the cars to slide around more on the track, making them harder to drive and easier to pass. The package’s test at Kentucky produced record numbers of green-flag passes. Look for more of the same in 2016.

Nascar’s 2015 rookie class was, to put it lightly, weak. After a strong group in 2014, 2015 featured little-known drivers such as Brett Moffitt, who captured the Rookie of the Year award despite finishing in the top 30 just twice throughout the season. 2016 promises to feature an exciting battle. Chase Elliott will move up from the XFINITY series to replace Jeff Gordon in the #24 car, while Ryan Blaney will take over the Wood Brothers #21 Chevy and XFINITY series champion Chris Buescher will drive for Front Row Motorsports. These three young drivers have all run very strong in Nascar’s lower levels. It’ll be exciting to see them try and take their talent to the big leagues.

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.