TALLADEGA, Ala. — Facing the fans near the start/finish line after winning Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, a cascade of cheers bathed Chase Elliott in a way that the sport’s most popular driver had not experienced in his previous victories.
“I was in la‑la land down there when I was looking for the checkered flag,” Elliott said after his victory. “Every time I stood up, the crowd stood up. Every time I got fired up, they got fired up. That’s something you can’t ever take for granted.
“Those moments … you’ll cherish and never forget. Certainly I won’t. These races are too hard to win to not enjoy those moments.”
While the crowd’s roar might not have measured against the cheers for Dale Earnhardt or Dale Earnhardt Jr. when they won at Talladega, no other driver has had louder cheers in recent years there.
It’s another sign that Elliott’s popularity continues to grow.
But that doesn’t mean it’s Elliott’s job to single-handedly lead the sport to higher levels. Such pressure shouldn’t be put on the 23-year-old in his fourth full Cup season. His focus is on better performances and helping Hendrick Motorsports emerge from the funk that has limited its visits to victory lane.
There’s no doubt Elliott will be among those who lead NASCAR’s evolution. His voice grows stronger as he becomes more comfortable in a role where his words carry weight. He also understands there are others who will play key roles now.
Asked if he’s carrying the banner at Hendrick because he’s the team’s only driver to win since last year, Elliott succinctly responded: “I think as long as a seven-time champion is in the building, he will always carry the banner.”
Elliott’s nod to teammate Jimmie Johnson also shows the youngster’s humility and understanding where his place is with Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, among others, competing.
Just as important for the sport’s future will be what NASCAR’s leaders do with schedule changes, the Gen-7 car in 2021 and other changes intended to enhance the racing.
If done well, Elliott and others will benefit. Those cheers Elliott heard Sunday at Talladega could be more dramatic in the future.
Chase Elliott’s first four wins have come on four different type of tracks.
He scored his first career victory on the road course at Watkins Glen. He followed that last year by winning at Dover (high-banked 1-mile track) and Kansas (1.5-mile speedway). Sunday, he won at Talladega, a superspeedway.
The only active Cup driver who scored a road course win among his first four series victories is Martin Truex. Jr.
His first win came at Dover, then he won at Sonoma. Next was a win at Pocono (2.5-mile track) and then Charlotte (1.5-mile speedway).
Kyle Larson defended crew chief Chad Johnston in light of comments Kevin Harvick made last week about Johnston.
Harvick discussed Larson’s slump last week on his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. In the discussion, Harvick raised questions about Johnston being the one who could help keep Larson from being mentally down during such a stretch.
Larson said of Johnston: “I think Chad is an amazing crew chief. He’s proven since he and a few other guys came to our team after the first couple of my seasons in Cup, that’s when we turned around as a team and started winning races and contending, so I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. … I’ve got all the belief in the world in Chad Johnston.”
The Wood Brothers are back in the Race Team Alliance.
As first reported by Adam Stern at Sports Business Journal, Wood Brothers Racing rejoined the RTA earlier this year.
The Race Team Alliance includes most Cup teams with a charter and provides a way for them to work together on matters such as rule changes, cost issues or sponsorship searches. Thirteen organizations, representing 28 of the 36 cars that have charters, are members.
The Wood Brothers left the RTA after not receiving one of the 36 charters in 2016.
Jon Wood, director of business development for the Wood Brothers, said it made sense to rejoin the RTA.
“Harboring ill feelings over something that happened three years ago would only be to our detriment,” Wood told NBC Sports. “We left the RTA when we did, not because we were mad at any of them, but more because we didn’t fit in at the time. We weren’t eligible to be voting members, they had their own set of objectives and we had ours. Now, those objectives overlap and what benefits them, benefits us.”
Kyle Busch’s 10th-place finish Sunday at Talladega continued his streak of top-10 finishes to open the season. The last time a driver placed in the top 10 in each of the first 10 races of a year was Morgan Shepherd in 1990, driving for Hall of Fame car owner Bud Moore.
Shepherd extended his streak that year to 11 races with a sixth-place finish at Dover. The streak ended in the following race when he finished 29th at Sonoma after a blown engine.
As states and the Food and Drug Administration seek to end the confusion on the use of CBD, a cannabis compound, it leads to the question of what NASCAR would approve as a team or track sponsor.
CBD is short for cannabidiol and is the non-intoxicating molecule found in hemp and marijuana. Both are cannabis plants but only marijuana has enough of the compound THC to get users high.
CBD has been added to a variety of products including lotions, cosmetics, diet pills, candy and drinks. The FDA is scheduled to have a public hearing May 31 on the issue.
As for NASCAR, its guideline in regards to sponsorship states that any CBD product cannot contain THC, which is banned under NASCAR’s drug policy. If a team makes a request and the company claims that there is no THC present in its products, NASCAR would allow the team to have the product tested at a NASCAR-approved lab and have the results reviewed before any sponsorship approval would be given.