LEBANON, MO — Chase Elliott, the 17-year-old wonder kid who’s already turned heads on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, lived up to the hype on Saturday night at Lebanon I-44 Speedway.
Overtaking veteran Eddie Hoffman on lap 101, Elliott cruised from there in taking the inaugural Mercy Masters of the Pros 144 on the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Series in front of an estimated 2,500 fans.
Afterward, race runner-up Chuck Barnes Jr. proclaimed the winner — son of legendary NASCAR champ Bill Elliott — as NASCAR’s next big thing.
“He’s a hell of a driver, the best driver out here by far,” Barnes said. “It’s great to see somebody race at this level, someone who’s going to go on and do big things.”
Elliott, of Dawsonville, Ga., won $8,000 and a green jacket — ala the Masters golf tourney which is held in his home state — and wore a smile reminiscent of his father.
“Pretty cool,” Elliott said in victory lane, upon donning the jacket. “I’ve never had a trophy like this.”
Elliott had to hold off Barnes, of Louisville, Ky., on two late restarts. He did so with little apparent trouble, though Barnes did slide into him in turn one on the next-to-last restart of the 144-lap race.
Daniel Hemric of Kannapolis, N.C., charged from his 25th starting position to finish third with Hoffman, who led the first 101 laps, winding up fourth.
Hoffman second-guessed his decision not to take on new tires during a competition caution after lap 99 — though Elliott also shunned tires as other contenders took on two.
“We just got passed,” Hoffman said of Elliott’s move two laps after the race resumed.
Elliott, driving the Aaron’s Dream Machince/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet, said “it was time to go there” though he didn’t know how much grip his tires would have.
“I tried to save our stuff,” Elliott said of the first 99 laps, in which he worked his way from a sixth starting spot to second by lap 50. “I think everybody was on the same plan, riding and saving their stuff until the end.”
The first portion of the race did little to promote quality short-track pavement racing as half of the 28 cars suffered damage in three separate incidents — two resulting in lengthy red-flag delays to clean up the carnage.
The first incident eliminated 19-year-old Ross Kenseth, who had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a skidding car in turn one. Kenseth wound up bopping the wall, his night over after just three laps.
Fortunately for Elliott and the other frontrunners, most of the mayhem took place behind them.
Elliott now turns his attention back to the NASCAR Truck Series, where he’s recorded finishes of fifth (at Martinsville) and sixth (at Rockingham) in his first two career starts.
“I don’t know,” Elliott said of his longer-term plans for NASCAR. “I wanted to get through tonight first. We had a good night tonight. Our next (Truck) race is at Dover in two weeks and hopefully we’ll have a good run there.”
By: Lyndal Scranton