DAWSONVILLE, Ga. (September 7, 2010) – It may not be the Elliott most of you think of when the name comes up in casual conversation but it certainly was an Elliott, the son of NASCAR champion Bill Elliott-in victory lane last weekend at the culmination of the 200 green flag lap Labor Day Classic run at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway after nearly 14 years of the famous racetrack lying dormant. The younger Elliott, now 14, was a week shy of one year old when Jeff Gordon won the final NASCAR race at the speedway back in 1996. When Elliott arrived Sunday at the Atlanta Motor Speedway to watch Dad race, David Hyder, crew chief for the Wood Brother’s racing team informed him that he was the last model driver to win there before they closed the speedway. The senior Elliott had won three poles at the speedway and had run strong many times but never claimed a victory.
In front of an estimated crowd of 9,000 supporters of the efforts to reopen the speedway. This weekend’s victory garnered the second generation driver national exposure from the Canadian Sirius Radio Show to print media in the NY Daily News and several new fans. Elliott qualified second with a speed of just over 119 mph, like pole sitter Andy Loden- he also broke the 16 year old track record set by Ernie Irvan set on April 17th, 1994.
Elliott drew a nine for the invert and started the race in the ninth position. Elliott was on the move at the drop of the green flag taking over the fourth position from Trey Mitchell at lap 25. Hitting his marks and running consistently around the speedway Elliott came up to the lap car of Samantha Legendre and was passing her on the high side when something flew off of a car up ahead, bounced all over the racetrack and was caught by the front grill of Elliott’s Ford Fusion. “Debris on the racetrack” yelled Elliott to his crew. “We’ve got a flat-maybe not-I can feel the sheet metal hitting the ground”. Crew Chief and spotter due to the senior Elliott racing in Atlanta Ricky Turner said “can’t change it if it ain’t flat and it looks good from here”. The Aaron’s Dream Machine pit crew waited ready on the wall and watched. The PASS series officials could not see debris and no caution came out. Elliott stayed on the track and it appeared that the tire was not going down. A caution came out on lap 37 for Mitchell who blew up and spun in turn two from his own fluids.
As much as the team wanted to pit to work on the front nose of the car; Elliott’s Aaron’s Ford Fusion could not pit this early and chance giving up that much track position. They needed to be within their fuel and tire window to go the rest of the way and they were not at this point. So they stayed out.
On the restart Lavender again drove away from the field; Devin Jones, Ryan Blaney, Elliott and Andy Loden made up the rest of the top five. Elliott was able to get around Blaney for third and take the next lap by the flag stand before the next caution came out on lap 36 brought out by Justin Allison and Joey Coulter. Things were getting interesting to say the least. On the following restart the battle for the second position was hot among the second, third and fourth place contenders. For the next 30 laps Elliott worked to get around Jones and finally was able to accomplish that just shy of the half way mark of the race. Elliott was now within his pit strategy window and worked to make up time to the leader and to get a feel for what the car needed so that he could communicate that to his crew while they were prepping for necessary changes during the upcoming pit stop.
Elliott was passing lap down cars and working on feeling what the car needed when Turner, who was spotting this week, came over the radio and said, “Red car [Jody Lavender] is the leader there, go get him buddy”. There was still one lap down car in between them but now Elliott had something to focus on. Caution was displayed on lap 128 for debris. The leaders all lined up to come down pit road for four fresh tires and fuel. Many of the top contenders had secured specialty pit crews for this weekend’s prestigious race but the Aaron’s Pit Crew practiced in the evenings at the shop after work in preparation and felt they were ready for the challenge. Elliott came into the pits in the second position and went out onto the track in first winning the battle off of pit road; “Awesome stop guys”, came Elliott over the radio as he took his position at the point of the field. The Aaron’s Dream Machine Pit Crew worked on the front grill during the pit stop and was able to pull what they now realized was a starter from someone’s car out of the duct work and pull the grill back out from under the car.
Elliott took the lead with Coulter, Lavender, Williams and Jones rounding out the top five. Realizing that Lavender was a fast car Elliott asked Jim Barfield to start giving him lap times on Lavender so he could keep up with how fast he was making up time on him. One lap Lavender would be faster the next they would be the same. Elliott knew he was coming. Caution was displayed on lap 186 when Brandon Ward wrecked in turn two. There would be 14 laps remaining on the restart and Elliott and Lavender lead Jones, Coulter, Williams and Loden to the flag. Lavender got the jump and took the top spot from Elliott, “I lost sight of the flagman, I just screwed up. I still thought I had a shot after I got going and then we got that last caution”. A spin in turn four by Preston Peltier reset the field once again with 13 laps to go. Elliott would not make the same mistake twice. Green flag, green flag yelled Turner from the spotter’s stand Elliott and Lavender ran side by side for two consecutive laps Elliott on the outside this time and Lavender on the inside, before Elliott finally cleared him for the lead and the victory.
Lavender said, “All in all, I can’t complain. I thought I had him [Elliott] but he passed me clean and got me on the high side. At the end I was spinning my tires and got sideways. I told my guys there at the end that tire conservation went out the window and I was going for the win. Unfortunately Chase was a little bit better than us at the end.”
“It was a day I will always remember. When I drove my car up on the platform to hoist us into victory lane I was more than a little concerned because it had been so long since it had been used but my team was there when they opened to gate to push me into victory lane and that was really amazing”.