Dale Earnhardt Jr.: No plans to rush or slow down Chase Elliott’s development

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Chase Elliott will not be a one-and-done like Kyle Larson was when it comes to staying in the Nationwide Series.

So says Elliott’s boss, JR Motorsports team president and Sprint Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr.

When asked if the 18-year-old Elliott, who just graduated from high school on Saturday, is on a fast track to jump to the Sprint Cup Series, or whether perhaps the development of the progeny of former NASCAR star Bill Elliott should be slowed down, Earnhardt demurred.

“I don’t think you do either one,” Earnhardt said in a Chevrolet media release. “I think you just set a plan from the start, and you stick with it.

“We have like a two-year plan I suppose, that he runs in the Nationwide Series and I think you just stick with the plan regardless of the success he is having. You have the commitments in line with sponsors and what have you, so I think it will suit him well to relax and not have to worry about that and just follow the plan that he has had in front of him from the start.”

Elliott, who already has two wins this season, finished fourth in Sunday’s Nationwide race at Iowa and continues to lead the NNS points: a two-point margin over Elliott Sadler and Regan Smith, who are tied for second place.

Larson, who is 21, spent just one full-time season in the NNS last season before making the jump this season to Sprint Cup. But Larson’s case is a bit different than Elliott’s in the sense team owner Chip Ganassi needed an immediate replacement for Juan Pablo Montoya, who returned to the IndyCar series after his seventh NASCAR season last year.

Elliott, on the other hand, can – and should – take his time developing,” Earnhardt said.

Plus, even though he is racing full-time for JR Motorsports, Elliott is considered a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports, which does not have any openings on its Cup roster heading into 2015.

“He is really young too, so he has a lot of time on his hands and time to get to Cup level to realize that potential one day,” Earnhardt said of Elliott. “But yes, I think he can just sit there and relax knowing what we tried to set out to do from the start and not really adjust.”

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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”