With second straight Nationwide win, Chase Elliott melts the normally cold, cruel heart of Darlington’s Lady In Black

Leave a comment

The Lady in Black – a.k.a. Darlington Raceway – hates almost everybody. That’s why so many of NASCAR’s best over the last five decades have been brought to their knees by her curse-like power and icy demeanor.

But at the same time, she has been known to have a few favorites.

She absolutely loved NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson, gracing him with a record 10 trips to victory lane during his Winston Cup career.

It’s also pretty clear the Lady likes Jeff Gordon (seven wins, most of any active driver at Darlington).

On Friday night, the old grand dame of NASCAR racetracks practically melted into a blushing schoolgirl, because the way young Chase Elliott won the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 Nationwide Series race proves that she’s quickly gotten sweet on him, too.

Competing in his first-ever race at Darlington – the same place his father Bill won at five times in his illustrious Winston Cup career – the younger Elliott ignored things like Darlington’s hardest walls in all of NASCAR, drove like he didn’t need the mandatory yellow rookie stripe, and he barely walked away with an infamous Darlington stripe, as well.

And when the Lady in Black wiggled her finger, as if to tell young Chase to follow her to victory lane, the dark-haired Elliott returned her gaze with an impish grin. It was enough to melt the Lady’s heart as she cheered him on to the last lap win over another Elliott – Elliott Sadler.

While it may be hard to believe that an 18-year-old kid drove the way he did Friday night, it’s also clear that this is not just any regular 18-year-old kid.

He’s the progeny of one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers ever, a likely prospect to be a first-ballot vote next month into the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2015 induction class.

And it’s pretty clear that Awesome Bill from Dawsonville taught his young son some very valuable lessons, because the way Chase rallied forward from sixth place to  the checkered flag in the last two laps wasn’t just him, it was vintage Bill, as well. As team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. whispered off-camera about Elliott to ESPN announcer Dave Burns, “He’s REALLY good.”

“Holy cow, man, that was crazy,” Elliott said in the kind of fashion you’d expect a guy who is still an 18-year-old high school senior to respond. “Here in the stands and at home on TV, that had to be fun to watch. I know it was fun to be part of (as a driver).

“It just worked out our way and away we went. … This is just unreal.”

With his win last week at Texas, Elliott becomes the seventh driver in Nationwide Series history to earn his first career wins in back-to-back fashion. Even more, in the first seven NNS races of his career, Elliott has two wins, another top-five, three top-10s and his worst finish thus far was 15th in the season opener at Daytona.

Even when Sadler got loose on the final lap and threatened to take out his young rival, the younger Elliott did exactly what his father used to do behind the wheel: kept the pedal mashed to the floor and hung on for dear life.

“I can’t believe it,” Elliott said. “I can’t believe last week (at Texas), much less here at Darlington. This truly is a dream come true.

“This is a place that I’ve already loved watching races (at), probably my favorite racetrack to watch a race at for a long, long time, and just to come and be a part of this race is unbelievable. But to come and win this thing is a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Darlington also carries the nickname of the Track Too Tough to Tame. But Elliott certainly tamed it with his impressive win.

You know what, maybe the Lady In Black just has a thing for the Elliott family. After all, in 52 career starts there, Chase’s father Bill compiled an outstanding record of five wins, 22 top-fives and 35 top-10 finishes.

And with the way the younger Elliott drove more like his dad than an average 18-year-old kid Friday night, it proved without a doubt that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Right, Lady in Black?

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”