Chase Elliott wins Talladega pole chasing father’s legacy

Associated Press

May 1, 2016

        

NASCAR driver Chase Elliott looks on after qualifying first for Sunday's NASCAR auto race at Talladega Superspeedway Saturday in Talladega, Ala.

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Step into the Talladega Time Machine, please.

Chase Elliott led the single-car qualifying pack to win the pole for Sunday’s Geico 500. Consider it a nice homage to his father, Bill Elliott, who set the all-time NASCAR qualifying record of 212.809 mph here on April 30, 1987, to capture the Winston 500 pole at Talladega.

“This is definitely a special place,” Chase Elliott said. “It’s cool to get it done today.”

The connective tissue to NASCAR’s past greats did not stop there. No. 24 is on the pole. No. 3 will be second in line, as Austin Dillon starts alongside Elliott.

It’s a throwback move to the days of Jeff Gordon (24) and Dale Earnhardt Sr. (3).

“…Man, this is cool,” Elliott said. “Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here.”

Elliott — a rookie replacing Gordon on the iconic No. 24 this season — led the first three laps at Daytona, but his car took a spin off Turn 4 and nose-dived into the infield grass on the Daytona International Speedway after the 18th lap.

The hope, obviously, is to stick around for the finish.

“Well, obviously I have a lot to learn,” Elliott said. “The race last time at Daytona didn’t go so good. Hopefully for me, I’ll just try to take what I learned and try to cut down those dumb mistakes that I made in the Daytona 500 this year and just try to be smarter.”

It is Elliott’s fifth top-10 start this season, as he tries to nudge his way toward the Top 10 in the Cup standings. He currently stands 11th.

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will start third in his favorite restrictor-plate car he has nicknamed “Amelia” (after Amelia Earhart). Chevy now has the top three qualifying positions, trying to offset the recent dominance of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Dillon will be looking for first Cup win, driving for Richard Childress Racing.

“It would be huge,” he said. “There’s a lot of history here from Dale and RCR. Good stuff happens for RCR here.”

Chase Elliott’s qualifying speed of 192.424 mph is reflective of an evolving NASCAR business model with a premium on safety. Not long after Bill Elliott’s record-run, NASCAR mandated restrictor plates at its super speedways in Talladega and Daytona.

The plates cut down on the speed, but that only makes the chaos more manageable. Everyone talks about the Big One leading up to the races here, and those expectations are often fulfilled.

It leads to a lottery feel in every race, with winners and losers predicated on who can manage to avoid the pile of cars flying all over the track after some misguided move by somebody scrambling to the front.

Saturday’s lonesome loser was Joey Logano, whose car got turned around, slammed into the wall and flipped on the last lap of the Xfinity race. Logano was all right, even though his car was in shambles.

“It is what it is,” Logano said. “That is speedway racing. If you put 40 cars in a pack going 200 mph racing for a win we are going to crash. Let’s be honest. It is exciting though and our cars are really safe. That is the hardest hit I have ever taken.

“…Yeah we hit hard, yeah the ego is a little hurt but I am OK.”

Logano will be ready in a Cup car on Sunday, along with 39 other drivers. The smart money may be on one of the dominant Chevys or Toyotas, but the Talladega Shuffle is only a blink away.

“There’s plenty who can win this race,” Gordon, now an analyst with Fox Sports, said. He wasn’t trying to be diplomatic or condescending. He was 100 percent right.

Chase Elliott starts at front with a nostalgic touch, but as always, it’s avoiding the pinch that matters.