NSCS: Chase Elliott Will Struggle This Year, and Why That’s Okay

Photo Credit: Noel Lanier

Chase Elliott’s Daytona 500 debut didn’t go as he and crew chief Alan Gustafson planned, but that’s not a reason to worry, Elliott fans.

Elliott is thought by many to be the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, and that sentiment was further established when Elliott won the pole for the Daytona 500, beating a lap put up by two-time Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth.

Elliott was heavily favoured by fans, analysts and even odds makers alike going into the Daytona 500. He felt a pressure most rookies don’t feel going into the Daytona 500, and it was a pressure that was wrongfully put on his shoulders.

The pressure on Elliott was met with a crushing reality when he got loose in dirty air beside Carl Edwards on lap 20 of the race. Elliott spun into the infield grass, and when his splitter dug into the grass, it destroyed the front end of the No. 24 car, effectively ending his chance at a Cinderella Story win.

“I hate it,” said a dejected Elliott. “It had been such a fun week and you hate to end the race before it even got started. Just disappointed for everybody.”

Elliott would go on to finish his first Daytona 500 in 37th after spending time in the garage.

Of course, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Elliott is a talented race car driver, but he is going to struggle this year – and that’s okay.

When you look back at his five Sprint Cup races last year, you’ll see three really solid, top-20 finishes, but you’ll also see two poor finishes. Those two came at two of NASCAR’s hardest tracks – Martinsville and Darlington. In his Cup debut at Martinsville last year, Elliott spent a lot of the day in the garage following an early crash coupled with power steering issues. He finished that race in 38th. Later on in the year at Darlington, Elliott wrecked on lap 229, and finished 41st. It was a disappointing result at a track he had previously won at in the XFINITY Series.

If Chase Elliott does continue to struggle this year, he wouldn’t be the first high profile rookie with high expectations to fall short.

The man Elliott replaced in the No. 24, Jeff Gordon, was looked at as one of the sport’s next big superstars when he jumped in the car at the end of the 1992 season. When 1993 rolled around, Jeff Gordon started third in the Daytona 500, and led the first lap of the iconic race. Gordon finished fifth in the 500, but the rest of that year Gordon either scored good finishes, or his crew was working on a wrecked race car. The results Elliott had in his few starts last year are reminiscent of that, and that will likely continue going into this season.

The fact is, when fans and analysts put so much pressure on a rookie driver, you can’t be surprised if he lets you down.

Elliott is a future star of this sport. He won his XFINITY Series championship early in his career, and he’s going to continue to win a lot of NASCAR races as his career progresses, but we need to let him mature. Take the pressure off of Elliott, and all of the other rookies for that matter, and just let them race. Let them learn what it takes to make it in this sport, and they’ll be fine.

Elliott has plenty of time to win the Daytona 500, and many other races, but 2016 probably won’t be that year.

Disclaimer: Views and opinions are those of the writer of this article and not necessarily held by OnPitRoad.com or its other staff members.

About Tyson Lautenschlager 552 Articles
A 22-year-old from Ontario, Canada, Tyson Lautenschlager is a Humber College journalism graduate. He is currently the managing editor of OnPitRoad and a chase producer at CTV News Channel in Toronto.

3 Comments

  1. It’s expected of rookies, from me anyway. I was small when I first watched car races, so I remember when Joe Nemechek (I think it was him anyway) crashed a lot. I said something to my dad and Dad said “He’s newer.” In that moment, I learned to expect little from rookies.

  2. I personally disagree with you ideas on Elliott’s rookie year. I’ve been involved in the sport since 1968, so I seen them come and go. Yes, he had some problems in the 500, but all in all had a great speedweeks. Handled Denny Hamlin like a pro in the Xfinity race as well as being on the pole for the 500. Not a bad week for any driver. None of the drivers were ready for the loose conditions the sun and the ambient temps brought on in Sunday’s race. If fate would have had him stay on the pavement instead of the grass, I think it would have been quite a different race. Of course we can all say if, and what if he had stayed in the race but we will never know, but I do think it would have been a decent finish. I have been following Chase since he was running Late Model cars in Georgia when he was 14 years old because I was always a Bill Elliott fan. Yes, I have seen a lot of good rookies come and go in NASCAR, but never one with the maturity and mind presense of what is going on in the entire race, not just driving. One of the other advantages he has over other rookies is the fact that Bill said if we are going to go racing you are going to work on the cars. Like his father, he has a greater understanding of the cars workings, especially setups and what is needed to be done to the car to help the handling then most drivers do for years. One other advantage is his ability to contol his emotions before, during and after the race. The young man has ice water in his veins. All these advantages will help him in his first year in the Sprint series to have a better balanced rookie year. Beyond this the 2016 season really starts this week at Atlanta. With the new Low – downforce cars, which I might add is the best thing NASCAR has done in years to help racing, putting the driver back in the car should make for one of the most exciting years in NASCAR in a while, and it’s about time. It’s going to put every driver on a more level playing field car wise then in years because they will have to drive the cars. No more aero cars glued to the track and running wide open around the turns. It should being back much more passing and better competition. Chase coming out of the Xfinity cars which do not handle as well should help in his change to the new Sprint series cars. It’s going to be an interesting year, not just because of Chase, but for all the drivers. I will give you your opinion on Chase’s rookie year, but I will print this article and file it away and after the year is over I will read it again to see just how close your ideas were on Chase. It will take 9 months to tell, but I think you are not giving Chase credit for how good a rookie he will be when it all said and done. Only time will tell about both of our opinions!

    • I have no doubt that Chase is an incredible driver, and will likely be a Sprint Cup champion someday. My main thought is to just not put too much pressure on him. Whether he does well this year or not, I just don’t want to see a rookie driver have so much weight on his shoulders. The rookie year is supposed to be a year where a driver matures, learns and has fun. The way that some people are putting pressure on him might now allow him to do all of that.

      Thanks for the comment!

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