Tony Stewart: Chase Elliott has ‘extremely good chance’ of being as good as his father

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For one driver it’s his last season, his last Chase.

For the other, named Chase, he’s doing almost everything for the first time.

The first driver is Tony Stewart, the three-time Sprint Cup champion who is retiring from the series after this year. The second is Chase Elliott, son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and successor to former “Wonder Boy” Jeff Gordon.

The 2016 season has been kind of a surreal experience for both drivers with Elliott getting the chance to race against one of his “heroes” before Stewart transitions into solely an ownership role in NASCAR.

“I’ve enjoyed racing with him,” Elliott said. “I’m glad that he decided to wait one more year because that is a pretty special moment for me to be able to race against one of my heroes like that.”

Each has been in the other’s orbit since Elliott was about 5 years old, spending time with Bill Elliott, who was still racing at the time.

“Tony is a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time,” Elliott said Thursday during the Chase Media Day in Chicago. “As many of you guys know, Tony was the first guy, other than my dad, I was ever okay with pulling for. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him.”

When Elliott sees how Stewart interacts with Kevin Harvick‘s son, Keelan, it conjures memories of how Stewart interacted with Elliott at a similar age.

Stewart remembers a little kid who never said a word around him for years.

“He would be at the car every week,” Stewart said. “Bill would bring him to the car every week because he wanted to come down and see us.

“I got him to smile maybe four or five times in the three years. But he wanted to come down here. You knew he was engaged (in what was going on). You knew he wanted to be there. You could see it in his eyes. But he never spoke. He never said one word for the first three years. When he got a little older, he started talking finally.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be mute or what.”

Seeing Elliott advance through NASCAR’s ranks to be a competitor on Sundays has made Stewart do a double take and realize how long he’s been racing.

“You never dream at that spot, at that time, that these guys are going to grow up and they’re going to follow in their father’s footsteps,” Stewart said. “I’d say Chase has got an extremely good chance of being every bit as good, if not better, than his father, and his father was great. … When you see these kids that are growing up now, you don’t realize how old you are until you realize how old they are now. Start doing the math. You’re like, ‘Hmm, it’s changed a lot.’”

Now, the drivers are attempting to make history as competitors. Stewart is aiming for his fourth Cup title and the first since 2011.  Elliott is one of two rookies  (Chris Buescher) in the postseason, the first since Denny Hamlin in 2006.

Unlike Stewart, who won three races as a rookie in 1999, Elliott is still looking for his first victory while driving Hendrick Motorsports’ famous No. 24 car. Elliott has managed seven top fives, including two runner-ups at Michigan.

“I think there’s a big portion of him that’s extremely disappointed that he hasn’t won a race up to this point,” Stewart said. “But I think the competition level keeps going up, and it makes it harder and harder to win as a rookie.

“I think he’s had an awesome year. I mean, he’s done a great job. He’s went to a lot of places for the first time and been spectacular in his first attempts there. So he’s definitely going to be a marquee guy. I mean, he’s already a marquee guy and is in his rookie season.

“As time goes on, some of us that are getting up there in age and are retiring, he’s going to be the guy that’s going to carry the flag and carry the torch for NASCAR.”


Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.