Even though he won’t be promoted full time until next season, Chase Elliott is proving to be a quick study in the Sprint Cup Series.
In only his second career Cup start, the defending Xfinity Series champion had an impressive 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
But don’t take our word for it. Just listen to team owner Rick Hendrick.
“Chase drove such a good race,” Hendrick said. “I think he drove up to 11th on the green, stayed out of trouble, great feedback.
“He sounds just like a 10-year veteran, never gets rattled, good feedback, and the car was never off. For him to come out here and finish 16th, I’m really proud of him. That just shows how mature he is.”
Elliott, 19, is set to replace Jeff Gordon in the legendary No. 24 car next season.
Elliott finished a disappointing 38th in his Cup debut at Martinsville a few weeks ago.
“I have no idea, I wish I had an answer for you, I don’t really know,” he said when asked the difference between his race at Martinsville and Sunday at Richmond. “I felt like at Martinsville, too, we had a good car. I didn’t do my job like I needed to there, and got us in a wreck 60 laps into the race, and that’s not the thing to do.”
But he was spot-on in Sunday’s race, completing all 400 laps in the No. 25 Chevrolet and staying out of trouble.
“Fortunately we were able to run laps today, able to stay on the lead lap and battle really hard, especially towards the end of those long runs, and to race with some good cars,” Elliott said. “I think that’s something our team should be proud of.”
Prior to the start of the race, crew chief Kenny Francis told Elliott a goal would be to finish all 400 laps and to earn a top-20 finish.
“I felt like we had a really solid day overall,” Elliott said. “I was a little disappointed though there at the end that I fell back and then couldn’t get going at the restart.
“But overall, everybody on our NAPA team did great this weekend. I thought we had a fast car, especially in race trim. The guys made good adjustments to qualify where we did. We had a great car on the long run.
“We could really run well and run some guys down late in the run. Unfortunately, it always comes down to the short runs in these things. So, we’ll try to get better and hopefully try to have a better effort at Charlotte (Motor Speedway for next month’s Coca-Cola 600).”
And what will be on his mind come Charlotte?
“Expectations are we still just want to put together solid races and try and stay on the lead lap of those things,” Elliott said. “You try to race with some competitive cars, and I thought we did that today.”
Hendrick paid Elliott a big compliment by comparing his radio demeanor with six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
“He amazes me,” Hendrick said of Elliott. “What amazes me most about him is how calm he is, and the feedback he gives, and he’s right on the money. He never gets excited. The tone in his voice never changes, kind of like Jimmie (Johnson).’’
(Contributing: Dustin Long)