Earnhardt Jr. says Chase Elliott one of several talented Young Guns who will lead NASCAR's future
Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott will lead the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers in pursuit of victory at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on August 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Dale Earnhardt Jr. says NASCAR Nation should be excited about the crop of extremely talented young drivers who are emerging across the stock car racing landscape.
While he is the latest high-profile NASCAR star to announce his retirement from the Monster Energy Cup Series, joining the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, Earnhardt Jr. says with stars like Chase Elliott grabbing the reins there is no need for worry.
Earnhardt Jr., who will move to the TV booth next season for NBC, will make his final start behind the wheel of his famed No. 88 Axalta Chevy at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 19 at the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The veteran driver, who coined the term "It's Bristol, Baby!" after sweeping both events at BMS in 2004, also will compete in the Food City 300 XFINITY Series race on Friday, Aug. 18.
Earlier this season, Earnhardt Jr. said that he was leaving the sport in some very capable hands. Perhaps, some of the best pure driving talent he's ever seen.
"Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, just to name two of probably a dozen guys that I'm excited about," Earnhardt Jr. said. "All those guys have great attitudes, great personalities. I know them well enough to be excited about how fans are going to know them in the future. I feel like that these are the guys that they're the cream of the crop, and maybe I'm the only one that sees it in this room, but I really have a lot of confidence in the personalities that we have. Larson is cool as a cucumber — easy to talk to, marketable. Chase is the same way; so easy and approachable. That's what you've got to be. These guys are effortless at it. So once they start to pick it up and understand the power of what they have at their fingertips, the sky's the limit for NASCAR. I'm super excited about the future."
Elliott, who pumped the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race during a daylong media tour in Nashville Wednesday culminating with a guest-host appearance at the legendary Grand Ole Opry, is in his second season driving the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. Along with Earnhardt Jr., many others have also pointed to him as being the ring leader of a crop of rising stars who has the potential to take NASCAR to even greater heights in the future with their driving ability.
The second-generation driver, who is the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, won the 2014 XFINITY Series championship and claimed the 2016 NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year award. He sits eighth in points at the moment and is still seeking his first victory at the Cup level. Given some of his recent results, it could come sooner than later.
While the Georgia driver hears all of the chatter about how he's the chosen one to give NASCAR fans even more reason to cheer in the coming years, he's patiently letting the sport come to him. He doesn't feel the need to add any extra pressure.
"I just feel a responsibility to do my job and try to go fast," Elliott said. "To try and give (my team) chances to win races and hopefully the rest of it will take care of itself."
Elliott's father was voted NASCAR's Most Popular driver for a record run of 16 times during his career. The younger Elliott doesn't expect to automatically inherit that fan base. He wants fans to like him for who he is.
"I want fans to follow it, for sure; I'd love to have their support," Elliott said. "But, it's their choice. If it's genuine, I think it's great. That's my only request. I want it to be genuine for whoever they want to pull for, whether it's me or somebody else. Find that connection you have with somebody and make it genuine and make it something you want to be a part of and that's what racing is all about, finding your guy. So, whoever it is, great."
There will be plenty of Chase Elliott fans in the grandstands at Bristol Motor Speedway cheering him on in his fourth start at The World's Fastest Half-Mile. In three career Cup starts at Bristol, Elliott has posted two top 10s and never finished outside of 15th. He started on the outside pole for this April's Food City 500 and finished seventh.
"I like Bristol," Elliott said. "The Bristol night race is one of the coolest races of the year, for sure. It's a race I've always enjoyed watching on TV as a fan. It was always one of my favorite races to go to and watch. I think just because of that, it's special to me. So, I certainly want to run well there."
And he's anxious to get to mix it up with Earnhardt Jr. one final time on the high-banks of The Last Great Colosseum. He has much respect for his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
"Dale has been a great ambassador for our sport and I have a lot of respect for him in a lot of different ways," Elliott said. "But, going through all the things he's gone through and to still be the person he is today, it would be so easy to go off down a bad path in his situation… It would be easy to not treat people right or do things wrong. I commend him for his efforts there in doing things the right way over the years from when he started all the way to now. I think he's a better person now than he's ever been. I think every day that just continues to get better. You see all the things he does with his community and everything else."
Just like Earnhardt Jr., Elliott is certain NASCAR's future is solid with the crop of drivers who are just waiting to have their breakout moments on stock car racing's biggest stage.
"Whether you're Dale racing cars or Tom Brady playing football, or LeBron (James) playing basketball, nobody can play or race forever," Elliott said. "At some point it's going to change. It's part of life. Luckily for the fans of our sport, there is a lot of talent that's coming up that are not just racing in Cup right now, but are in the XFINITY Series, Trucks, and even a lot more guys that are racing in the short track world…There's no reason why we can't find people to pull for as a fan moving forward because there are a lot of great people to choose from."
Elliott and Earnhardt Jr. will be joined on the track by many more of NASCAR's elite drivers, including defending Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race winner Kevin Harvick, seven-time Monster Energy Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, young guns Larson, Erik Jones, two-time season winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, and Austin and Ty Dillon, along with veteran drivers Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Indy winner Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.
In addition to watching some of the greatest racing on the NASCAR circuit, there are so many cool options to make a complete weekend of family fun, including great video entertainment provided by Colossus, the world's largest center-hung video screen, lots of party zones like the Bristol Lawn Party, premium VIP experiences like the Chairman's Experience, tailgating, on-site camping, concerts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.
And for families who want to bring the entire clan, Bristol Motor Speedway officials are making it easier than ever for kids to have an awesome experience. Kids' tickets (12 and under) are free and adult tickets are $30 for the Wednesday, Aug. 16 UNOH 200 Camping World Truck Series race and the Bush's Beans 150 Whelen Modified Series race. Friday night's (Aug. 18) Pinty's Qualifying and Food City 300 XFINITY Series event features adult tickets starting at $35 and free kids tickets. On Saturday night (Aug. 19), kids' tickets are only $10 for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, while adult tickets start at $69. For all races, each child must have a physical ticket in hand to enter the gates. The Bristol Motor Speedway ticket office and www.BristolTix.com are the only two authorized locations that can produce the free kids' tickets.
To purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, please call 423-BRISTOL or buy them online at www.BRISTOLTIX.com. Tickets can also be purchased directly from any neighborhood Food City store.