ThatsRacin

No looking ahead as Chase Elliott enters 2nd Xfinity season

NASCAR Xfinity Series and part-time Sprint Cup Series driver Chase Elliott listens to a question during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour in January. Elliott will replace Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet in 2016.
NASCAR Xfinity Series and part-time Sprint Cup Series driver Chase Elliott listens to a question during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour in January. Elliott will replace Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet in 2016. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

As NASCAR kicks off its newest season, much of the spotlight has focused on the budding career of driver Chase Elliott.

He has been in this position before, but it’s not necessarily the scenario that first comes to mind. And it’s one Elliott is not necessarily proud of.

Yes, the 19-year-old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has a chance to win a second consecutive championship in what is now called the Xfinity Series.

But in his racing career he also has gotten caught up in looking ahead, instead of focusing on the here and now – like when he first began drawing the attention of NASCAR team owners a few years ago.

This season the possibility exists yet again as Elliott already has been named to replace legend Jeff Gordon in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series beginning in 2016.

In the weeks leading up to this month’s season opener, much of the fans’ and media’s focus has turned to what Elliott will do a year from now, instead of what’s ahead in the season at hand.

“In years past, I’ve caught myself looking too far ahead and not focusing on what’s going on now and really needing to step back and focus on one weekend at a time,” Elliott said.

“That’s definitely what I want to do this year. I realize that (replacing Gordon) is a year away, and I think everybody else needs to realize that, too – 2016 is a year off. There’s a lot of racing between now and next season.

“I have goals I want to try to achieve on the Xfinity side – try to step up, compete for hopefully more wins and compete for another championship – that would be great.

“There’s a lot of things between now and next season that I’d like to try and accomplish.”

A win at Daytona International Speedway is also on the list, and he’ll have that opportunity in Saturday’s Alert Today Florida 300 season opener.

What Elliott cannot do – what he vows he will not do – is return to the point several years ago when he began planning out a future that had not yet materialized.

“There was a time when stuff was really going good, and I would say, ‘I want to be here a few years, and then I need to go do that.’ That’s not the way at all to go about this and to go about racing in general,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve looked past that a lot and you really have to focus on what you have going on right now. There’s absolutely no guarantees on what the future holds.”

One could not blame Elliott for looking ahead, particularly with how successful he was in his first Xfintiy season, winning three races, rookie of the year honors and the championship.

He now has a full-time ride lined up in NASCAR’s premier series and with one of its most successful organizations and will run five races in the Cup series this year to get a head start.

But this season isn’t about then. It’s about now.

“One thing that I do guarantee is that I have to get the job done regardless of what’s going on. I have to go out there and do the best that I can and contend for wins,” Elliott said.

Anyone who spent any time around Elliott in 2014 should not be surprised with his approach. If anything, Elliott is exceedingly hard on himself.

One of the biggest questions team owner Rick Hendrick had when considering moving Elliott to the Cup series was whether he could handle success.

“When you’re 18, 19 years old, can you handle success?” he said. “Does it go to your head? Do you get smarter than everybody else?”

Hendrick wonders no more.

“Chase,” he said, “is rock solid.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

  Comments