Pardon the pun because this is actually no joke. Chase Elliott is “chasing” history, in the form of a NASCAR Hall of Fame father and all that entails.
The gap is considerable but appears to be slowly-but-surely lessening between NASCAR’s current Most Popular Driver and his dad Bill Elliott, who won that award a record 16 times via a fan vote. Chase Elliott, 23, is a heavy favorite to repeat as “MPD” and one of the serious favorites to win Sunday’s (1 p.m. CT) 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
A victory Sunday would be especially significant for the son, who also won Talladega’s spring race this season. A season sweep at Talladega was something the father – a two-time race winner at the 2.66-mile tri-oval – never accomplished despite his status as one of the greatest superspeedway racers. During the track’s storied history there have been seven season sweeps: Pete Hamilton in 1970, Buddy Baker in ’75, Darrell Waltrip in ’82, Dale Earnhardt in ’90 and ’99, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2002 and Jeff Gordon in ’07.
The fact that the 1000Bulbs.com 500 is part of Talladega’s 50th anniversary weekend adds another layer of importance. And of course, when you’re talking “real time” it doesn’t get more real than this: Sunday’s race is the second event (of three) in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12. Elliott needs a victory to advance to the Round of 8 which begins in two weeks.
The pressure is on and not only for Elliott, due to the inherent wild-card factor Talladega represents. The track is renowned for tightly-packed competition and more than a few multi-car incidents which spare no one. If ever there was a race where a longshot could get lucky, snare a victory and advance in the playoffs, this is it.
Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, credits his April Talladega triumph to avoiding wrecks and cooperating with fellow Chevy drivers.
“We made a pretty conscious effort with our manufacturer to try and do a better job of working together; it worked at Talladega,” Elliott said. “Hopefully it works out [again]. That’s the thing, we can put as much effort as we want or as little effort as we want, but it’s never going to [ensure] you aren’t going to crash or have a bad day there.
“I expect we’ll do our part on our end to try and make as good of a day as we can out of it, but no guarantees.”
There never are, at Talladega Superspeedway.
Integral to this week’s 50th anniversary celebration is the debut of the new Talladega Garage Experience infield fan area that includes the unique structure dubbed BIG BILL’S Open Air Social Club, a 35,000 square-foot party waiting to happen. Big Bill is a reference to the speedway’s founder Bill France Sr., also the founder of NASCAR.
The new fan amenities are the culmination of the year-long Talladega renovation titled Transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project presented by Graybar. The $50 million endeavor is part of an overall upgrade initiative at various facilities owned by the track’s parent company International Speedway Corporation.
“Obviously I haven’t been around for very many of the 50 years, but Talladega has always kind of felt like a home race to me,” added Elliott, from Dawsonville, Georgia, 150 miles to the Northeast. “Anytime you race close to home, it’s nice because you don’t have to go very far … definitely the crowd makes you feel at home too. They certainly made me feel like that in the spring. I look forward to getting back over there. If it goes good, it goes good. If it doesn’t, we’ll figure it out after that.”
Elliott and his Monster Energy Series rivals take to the track for the first time on Friday. Practice sessions are set for 12:35-1:25 p.m. and 3:35-4:25. Foodland/Food Giant Qualifying is at 3:35 on Saturday.
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series is also at Talladega for the first of three Round of 6 playoff races, Saturday’s (12:30 p.m.) Sugarlands Shine 250. The trucks will also have two practice sessions on Friday, at 11:30 a.m.-12:25 p.m. and 3:35-4:25. Qualifying is set for Saturday at (9:35 a.m.).