The 2010 racing season has seen 14-year-old Chase Elliott accomplish some amazing feats, among them winning the reopening race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, sweeping Late Model championships at Five Flags Speedway and Mobile International Speedway, impressive runner-up runs in the All-American 400 at Nashville and the USAR Pro Cup race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and racing wheel-to-wheel with Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch in several events.
But his performance on Sunday at the historic Winchester Speedway topped them all.
In front of a packed grandstand, Elliott drove like a veteran in becoming the youngest winner ever of a race that has a previous winners list that reads like a Who’s Who of American stock car racing. He joins great drivers like Bob Senneker, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Mike Eddie, Butch Miller and Kyle Busch in winning on a high-banked track that challenges even the most seasoned drivers. With 34-degree banking in the turns, the Indiana track bills itself as the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” and automobile races have been hosted on the site since 1916.
Throughout the history of the track, few could ever have imagined that a 14-year-old could win the track’s marquee event in his second attempt. But Elliott did just that.
And that was something that had his father, Bill Elliott, who normally is reserved in his comments about his son, gushing with praise.
“He drove a really smart race,” Bill Elliott said. “That’s a tough race track, a lot like Bristol. I believe you could put Chase in a Cup car at Bristol right now and he’d be fast.”
Bill Elliott also pointed out that his son’s 12 wins this season, most of them in major short track events, give him one more than his dad won on the Cup circuit in his dream season of 1985.
Chase Elliott qualified his Aaron’s Ford Fusion ninth out of the stellar field of 39 drivers. Johnny VanDoorn who was crowned the CRA series champion following the event, started from the pole followed by T.J. Reaid, Scott Hantz, Terry Fisher Jr., Eddie Van Meter, Clay Rogers, Ross Kenseth, Elliott and Donnie Wilson.
The green flag waved for the start of the 39th annual Winchester 400, and Elliott passed Clay Rogers on the start but was passed in the process, so he maintained his ninth place position. Soon after, Elliott passed Kenseth for the eighth position and maintained that until the first caution on lap 30. On lap 39 Rogers had engine problems and was soon out of the race.
Elliott, reporting to his crew that he was pretty happy with his car at that point, continued to pace himself, and gained the seventh position from Van Meter and then the sixth when Hantz blew an engine.
The next caution came on lap 67 when Tim Steele wrecked. Another caution on lap 86 when Kenseth blew a tire and hit the front straightaway wall just as Elliott had passed Barnes Jr. for the fifth position, but the field reverted back to the running order before the caution lap. Elliott restarted on lap 96 in the fifth position due to one of the top five leaders pitting. The restart order was Van Doorn, Reaid, Wilson, Barnes and Elliott with David Stremme on Elliott’s back bumper. Elliott quickly cleared the lapped drivers lined up on the inside and worked to keep Stremme behind him. Elliott cleared Barnes for the fourth position on lap 113 and Van Doorn for the third position on lap 121.
Around lap 136 crew chief Ricky Turner came on the radio and said, “If that thing starts to sputter bring it down pit road for fuel.”
But only a few laps later, on lap 143, caution was displayed and Elliott brought the Aaron’s Ford Fusion to the attention of his pit crew for two right side tires and fuel. The Sprint Cup-style pit stop was flawless, and Elliott restarted second behind Van Doorn.
Elliott maintained his spot in the lead pack throughout the middle portions of the race, and by lap 275 he was within his window of strategy for fuel and tires. When the caution came out on lap 283 he brought the Aaron’s Lucky Dog Ford to the attention of the crew for fuel and two right side tires. Another flawless performance put Elliott out of the pits first and a new leader was on the board for the first time in his career at Winchester. Elliott maintained the lead, lapping drivers until the next caution on lap 324 when he brought his machine to pit road for the final stop, this time for two left side tires and fuel.
Three drivers stayed out, and Elliott restarted in the fourth position but another wreck involving leaders brought out the caution on lap 336.
Elliott restarted in the second position on lap 348, and with a capacity crowd cheering him on, passed Barnes for the lead on lap 357. Two more cautions interrupted the last 44 laps, which included the field being frozen on lap 395 when Stremme blew a tire and wrecked, but Elliott maintained his lead and eventual win.
Elliott’s father, standing atop the spotters stand, radioed his congratulations, saying, “This is by far the biggest win of your career son. Great job everyone.”
Chase Elliott pointed out that his historic win was a true team effort.
“It shows how hard everyone has worked because of what goes into a race like this one,” he said. “I just can’t believe it really.”
And he said that even though he’s had a dream season so far, there’s still room for improvement.
“We’ve been getting a lot closer all year, and I still think we lack a little in certain areas, but everybody keeps working hard,” he said.