Dawsonville NASCAR driver Chase Elliott had never raced on a track quite like Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but that didnt make a difference. The 18-year-old rookie finished fifth in Saturdays Nationwide Series Boyd Gaming 300.
Brad Keselowski won the race, but most of the attention afterwards was directed at Elliott, who in just his third career Nationwide Series start earned his first top-5 and the respect of many of his peers.
One of those issuing praise toward Elliott was his JR Motorsports employer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spent most of the afternoon side-by-side with his latest protg and was just barely able to hold him off in the closing laps.
Earnhardt credits the mentorship provided by Elliotts father, 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, to his sons early success.
(Chase) is better than he knows he is, Earnhardt said after the race. I never got a chance to spend time around Bill Elliott but have worked with him the past two weeks..., and hes really smart. And having that sort of intuition through Chases career has been really helpful and has made him much more prepared than a lot of rookies are when they come to this series.
So Im happy for him but Im not surprised.
Elliott, who qualified in ninth, had to overcome some adversity to record his top-5 finish. The first came on lap 57 when a slow pit stop and untimely caution trapped him as the first car a lap down. Elliott, using the free pass, had earned back his lap and was again running fifth when Matt Kenseth spun directly in front of him.
Elliott was able to evade the spinning No. 20 car and eventually advanced to second-place for the final restart on lap 168. He restarted on the outside lane and just couldnt get going -- a trend from over the entire weekend. Elliott fell back as far as seventh, but was able to rebound to his first top-5 by the end of the race.
Elliott, while satisfied with the result, says he learned a lot racing against Keselowski, Busch and Earnhardt, especially on that final restart.
Im really happy with the run we had, but at the same time theres some things I learned what not to do, Elliott said. Restarting outside the front row with Brad (Keselowski), he took me to school and taught me a lesson. You just have to put that in the memory bank.
I feel like we were capable of running with those guys, I dont know if we had what it took to win the race, but I feel like our car was capable of being in the top-5, and we came home fifth.
The left front of Elliotts Chevrolet, however, was found to be too low during post-race inspection and any penalties resulting from the inspection will be announced early this week.
Elliott will race again on Saturday, March 15, at Bristol Motor Speedway. Unlike Las Vegas, the rookie has three prior stock car starts at the Tennessee half-mile and won the pole for the Camping World Truck Series event there in August.