Column: Chase Elliott’s promotion perfectly timed for NASCAR

11 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the second consecutive year, the final day of the Sprint Cup Media Tour centered around a Chase.

For the second consecutive year, it was the biggest story of a typically bland week marked by the incessant regurgitation of smiley-faced clichés and platitudes about an upcoming season.

For the second consecutive year, everyone knew the news was coming – though in this case, the timing wasn’t certain.

Yet it couldn’t have been better.

Chase Elliott, the rising star and scion of an illustrious stock-car racing family, was named Thursday to supplant Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet next season.

His father, who still is the most famous member of the family, will be inducted Friday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, honoring the Dickensian legend of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.”

The salute to the immensely appealing Bill Elliott (voted a 13-time most popular driver) inextricably will be linked to the coming-out party for Chase Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion who seems as polished at 19 as his media-shy father ever was.

In the rich annals of NASCAR’s knack for enjoying the opportune – Richard Petty notching his 200th victory with President Ronald Reagan in attendance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. triumphing at Daytona International Speedway in the first race after his father’s death there, Gordon winning the debut of NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – this qualifies as another serendipitous moment.

After a week of hand-wringing since Gordon’s retirement announcement about how and where the next generation might emerge in the wake of a superstar’s departure, here was the answer.

Elliott’s ascendance to Gordon’s ride was far from stunning. He has been under contract to Hendrick Motorsports since 2011, and even before he made his NASCAR national series debut in 2013, Rick Hendrick said he already was confident enough to put Elliott in a Sprint Cup car.

His breakthrough 2014 season – becoming the youngest champion in NASCAR history while winning three times as a rookie in the No. 9 Chevrolet fielded by Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports – made it a lead-pipe cinch that he was ticketed for a first-tier ride with Hendrick.

But the rollout of Elliott’s promotion – and whether he’d be tabbed to replace Gordon (Hendrick could have waited another season and tried to maneuver into picking off another star) – wasn’t certain.

Now it makes perfect sense – particularly for NASCAR, which could use a feel-good story after an offseason blemished by a few salacious headlines.

Last year, NASCAR closed the Media Tour with the unveiling of its new Chase for the Sprint Cup format. While the its debut eventually was met by a thrilling finish in the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the revamping of the Chase lingered as a polarizing storyline.

It’s hard to make the case, though, that Elliott’s news wasn’t overwhelmingly positive, if not universally well-received (aside from the few remaining boo-birds who still are living to ridicule and taunt anything involving Gordon since the four-time series champion burst onto the scene 20 years ago).

For the second consecutive year, a Chase is the Media Tour’s indelible memory.

But this time, the rewards will be reaped much more quickly for NASCAR.

Andretti ‘getting closer’ to re-signing Alexander Rossi in IndyCar

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
Leave a comment

TORONTO – Team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com that contract negotiations with both Alexander Rossi and Honda Performance Development are progressing positively with hopes of reaching a conclusion “within the next week or two.”

Andretti spoke to NBCSports.com and to NBCN’s Robin Miller Sunday at the Honda Indy Toronto.

“I think things are getting there,” Andretti said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re close. I can’t comment, but I think things are going in the right direction.

“Honda has been great. They’ve been really good to work with. I’m hoping we can put something together there, too. We’ve been part of Honda for so long. I think we are getting real close there.

“I’m hoping to have this resolved in the next week or two.”

Rossi, who is in the final year of his contract, finished third in the race, one position ahead of championship rival Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

That leaves Rossi just four points behind Newgarden heading into Saturday night’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Rossi’s agent is his father, Pieter.

NBCSports.com spoke to Pieter Rossi before the race, and he also expressed optimism that a deal will be reached soon for his son as the star driver, 27, enters the prime years of his career.

Andretti had separate meetings with Honda Performance Development officials and with Pieter Rossi in the hours leading up to Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.