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.”

 

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report