Probably for the first time in his career, Chase Elliott needed a boost. The 15-year-old driver from Dawsonville, Georgia has seen so much success in the last 13 months that we tend to forget he is just a teenager. 2011 has already seen trips to victory lane, but his move the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East level has not gone without a learning curve. Elliott's best finish is fourth and for a rookie that's good, but remember Elliott won 13 races in 2010, so he strives for success.
With a chance to race on an open weekend from the East Series, Elliott pulled out his old USARacing Pro Cup car, which is very close in size and weight to his K&N car, and headed to the one-mile oval at Rockingham Speedway (NC) on Saturday. When the dust settled from the victory doughnuts on the straightaway, the number-9 car out of the Dawsonville, Georgia shop headed to victory lane after Elliott’s first Pro Cup Series win.
"This means a lot because we struggled with these cars in 2010," said Elliott. "To come here and unload as close as we were to the top half of the field was already a big plus. Then to win the race means a lot more as well."
Elliott had a strong car, but it was not the best in the field. It was clear early in the going that JP Morgan had the best piece of equipment as he led lap after lap in the early stages. Elliott was in the top five early in the race when he had to make a pit stop for a broken hood pin during the first caution.
Spending the next 70 laps playing catch-up, Elliott finally cracked the top 10 around the time of the first pit stops for fuel and tires.
After pit stops, the running order had early frontrunners Morgan, Brad Rogers, and Elliott way back in 10th, 11th and 12th. These three would spend the next 22 laps cutting up the field as they went into the top three with Morgan leading Rogers and Elliott.
A late-race yellow flew on lap 126 and the field hit pit road to put on the scuff tires from practice that the teams had used on Friday. The lone car that stayed on the track was the nine of Elliott, giving him the lead. Elliott's team looked to be playing a strategy game. Come to find out, they had no more tires to fire on their race car.
"It didn't matter, we didn't have a choice to pit," said Elliott. "We had to stay out, our tires were junk from yesterday. We didn't plan on using them. All the others guys knew they would come back into play, but we need those laps to get ready for this race, so it's a yes and no deal."
Elliott then put on a show by turning up the wick on his blue number nine and paced the field over the final circuits of the race, holding off Rogers and Morgan at the finish.
"Elliott really surprised me on old tires," said Rogers. "I knew he would be fast, but I didn't think he would be that fast. We have a great start to the season and this has been a whole other world to driving for Clay's team from last year. Still can't believe he beat us on old tires."
Morgan actually was running second before he bounced off the wall trying to pass a lapped car while attempting to run down Elliott. Finishing third was a heartbreaker after encountering the wall not once, but twice thanks to the aid of a lap car, ending his dream of a Rockingham win.
"It was not our day," said Morgan. "If I had to do it again and I knew the position getting tires was going to put us in I might not have done it. What can you do? It was a set of scuffs that were our emergency set that became available for the race. It's hard to not want fresh tires."
The rest of the top five were Bryan Silas and AJ Frank as nine cars were on the lead lap and 19 of the 31 were running at the finish.
Elliott hopes that the laps they got at Rockingham will be momentum that will carry over into their East program for this coming weekend at Iowa Speedway.
"These cars driver pretty close to each other,” added Elliott. “That's a lot of the reason why we came to this race to get seat time. We feel we can transfer some stuff back into the East program for the bigger tracks like Dover."