Considering Chase Elliott’s run at Texas followed by his win at Darlington the next week, it would be so easy and so tempting to put him in a Sprint Cup car after the conclusion of the 2014 Nationwide season.
It would also be a mistake.
Elliott is a rarity in the garage. Sure, he’s descended from NASCAR greatness in the form of two-time Daytona 500 and 1988 Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott. Like the elder Elliott, Chase isn’t loud or flashy but rather quiet and introspective. Like the elder Elliott, Chase has a good head on his shoulders, and would rather drive the wheels off the race car than anything else.
Yet he is also the type of driver that is rarely seen not only in NASCAR but in any form of motorsport, no less. He came into the Nationwide Series like he did into his limited Camping World Truck Series campaign, with limited knowledge and experience. Yet in 2013 he won an ARCA event at Pocono and a CWTS event at Bowmanville. This season in the Nationwide Series, he’s got two wins, three top-fives and six top-10s in seven starts.
Seven starts in the Nationwide Series, a true Rookie of the Year contender in a blue No. 9 Camaro owned by JR Motorsports, and he’s the points leader.
He’s a rookie, and there is a chance that he might relinquish that lead, but the way he’s driving that might be easier said than done. He’s a plausible title threat in 2014. If it happens, the stands at Homestead may come crashing down in celebration for the popular driver.
However, there is a chance that if he goes straight to Cup he could flounder, and with someone of Elliott’s caliber that’s a chance that cannot be taken.
Sprint Cup and Nationwide may not be all that different, but they are different. Take the plight of Kyle Larson. He’s been doing a splendid job on the Sprint Cup side of things, and although he has had his struggles, he’s looking good in the RotY fight.
But on the Nationwide side of things he has been a contender for the win week after week, and even won at Fontana earlier this year. It was a win many expected would happen soon, and to see it happen in the fashion that only Larson could deliver was par for the course.
But while Larson is talented and capable of winning races in any series, he’s been put through a bit of a wringer in Cup. It took until Bristol for a top-10 to take place, and he still seems to be trying to grasp footing despite posting a couple of top-fives at Fontana and Texas.
Elliott is not only talented, he is a prodigy. Anyone who doubts that would do good to watch the final restart at Darlington on Friday. He drove aggressively, but with the finesse of a 10-year veteran in those Nationwide cars. He kept his nose clean in a difficult situation at a difficult track, and that’s something that is unheard of in 18-year-old race car drivers.
There is no doubt he’ll be an unstoppable force in the Sprint Cup Series, and he’ll give the crowd their fill of thrills during the race. But there is always room for improvement, and as time goes on this season he’ll become acquainted with those weak points, and with not one but two seasons in the Nationwide Series, he’ll be the best rookie driver in the Sprint Cup Series since Denny Hamlin in 2006.
It would be rough to see him struggle in the Sprint Cup Series after such a spectacular Nationwide rookie campaign (so far). Besides, great race car drivers tend to age like a fine wine, and Elliott can only get better as the years go by. He’ll win titles if he stays a little longer after this season in the Nationwide Series, but if he moves to the Sprint Cup Series too early after this season he’ll struggle a bit before he finds success.
For someone like Elliott it would be a morale killer, and as young as Elliott is that’s a risk that just isn’t worth it. Don’t rush Elliott if he does well this season. Let him grow and mature before he takes to Cup like his father.