The general thinking in short track circles was that it would be hard for Chase Elliott and his Aaron’s team to top their phenomenal 2010 season which saw them win major races and championships at tracks all across the country. But on Sunday in the Speedfest 2011 race at Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, GA, they took a major step at proving the skeptics wrong.
Elliott swept both of the Late Model features, outrunning some of the nation’s best short trackers – as well as NASCAR driver David Ragan – in the process.
Elliott started third in the first race, a 150 lapper for Pro Late Model cars and drivers. He passed Shane Sawyer on lap six for second place and moved on to challenge Ragan, who won a Late Model race at Lanier on Jan. 9, on lap 18. He took the lead a lap later and maintained the top spot until the mandated 100-lap break.
During the run, he updated his crew on the handling of his No.9 Aaron’s Dream Machine, telling crew chief Ricky Turner via radio that his car was tight in the center of the corners and loose on exit.
On his pit stop, the Turner-led crew changed right-side tires and adjusted the chassis.
At the restart of the last 50 laps, Elliott lost three positions, falling behind Ragan, local driver Dwayne Buggay and Austin Hill.
With his father and spotter Bill Elliott encouraging him to keep his focus, Elliott passed Buggay on lap 123 and took second placed from Hill 13 laps later.
The caution flag flew three more times in the last 14 laps, but it was the white-flag and checkered-flag laps that brought the fans to their feet..
Elliott and Ragan took off for the last restart on lap 144 and battled nose to nose for the next four laps until Buggay decided to mix it up with them on lap147. The three racers took the white flag three wide, Buggay on the bottom, Elliott in the middle and Ragan on top. Entering turn one, Ragan spun, but Elliott and Buggay battled side by side to the checkered flag with Elliott crossing first by a fender.
Elliott then turned his attention to his Super Late Model and to the headline event of Speedfest.
He started eighth, and just 10 laps into the race had passed Daniel Hemric for sixth. He moved past Bubba Pollard and Grant Enfinger for fourth by lap 13 and was working to pass Paul Kelley for third just as a caution flag flew.
Elliott restarted in fourth place on lap 25 with Kyle busch Motorsports driver T.J. Reaid leading Dwayne Buggay, Kelley and Elliott. Elliott passed Buggay for second on lap 30 and began tracking down Reaid for the lead.
Ten laps later Elliott moved to the outside of Reaid to take the lead, but he lost the top two spot to Kelley and Hemric on a restart at lap 61.
Elliott battled back, taking second place on lap 64 and the lead on lap 72. Elliott, Hemric and Pollard continued to swap positions, and Elliott wound up in second place at the 100-lap halfway break.
Turner, the crew chief, opted to take no fresh tires for the last 100 laps, which put Elliott back in the lead, with his competitors lining up behind him, the running order determined by how many fresh tires they took. The more tires taken, the further back in the field they restarted.
Turner’s strategy worked well from the start as Elliott paced the field for the next 40 laps which included two cautions, but a bad restart following the next caution moved Elliott back to third behind Pollard and Hemric.
Elliott radioed an apology to his crew. “Sorry about that; just a bad start on my part there,” he said.
Elliott steadily battled back, taking second from Hemric on lap 171 and the lead from Pollard on lap 193.
The race ended with two attempts at green-white-checkered-flag runs, and Elliott, using the outside line, prevailed both times to get his second win of the day.
“My team is absolutely the best, and I wouldn’t trade Ricky [Turner], Jim [Barfield] and these guys for anyone out there,” Elliott said. “we had some great drivers that I raced with today, and they definitely made me work hard to get here.”