Johnson wins NMPA Richard Petty Driver of the Year
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Jimmie Johnson , who won a record-tying seventh NASCAR championship this past season, has been voted the winner of the 2016 Richard Petty Driver of the Year Award presented by the National Motorsports Press Association. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports , was named on 62 percent of the ballots cast for the award of the NMPA membership. Others receiving votes were Carl Edwards ( Joe Gibbs Racing ), Martin Truex Jr . ( Furniture Row Racing ), Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart ( Stewart-Haas Racing ) and Joey Logano ( Team Penske ). Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Johnson are the only NASCAR drivers to win seven titles in what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series . The announcement was made during the NMPA's annual Convention and Awards Dinner held in Concord, North Carolina. It marks the seventh time Johnson, 41, has received the Driver of the Year honor. He also won the award in 2004, '06, '07, '09, '10, and '13. Johnson won five races in 2016, including the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway that clinched his seventh championship. He ended the year with 11 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 36 races. The award is named in honor of Petty, NASCAR's win leader in its top series with 200 victories. It has been presented annually by the NMPA since 1969. Twenty-three different drivers have won the award since its inception. Other awards: Veteran motorsports journalist Al Pearce was named the 2016 recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association's Pocono Spirit Award. Pearce raised more than $13,000 through the auction of a racing helmet bearing the signatures of the 20 living World Driving Champions as well as those of Phil Hill and Sir Jack Brabham prior their passing. Proceeds from the project, which took nearly four years to complete, went to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation. ... Veteran public relations representative Dave Ferroni was named the 2016 recipient of the Ken Patterson Helping Others Award. Ferroni has been involved in various forms of auto racing for more than 30 years. His company, DMF Communications, currently handles public relations for Furniture Row Racing and driver Martin Truex, Jr. in NASCAR's premier series. ... ESPN.com motorsports writer Bob Pockrass was named the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association's Joe Littlejohn Award for 2016. The award is named after the former track owner from Spartanburg, South Carolina, and is presented annually by the NMPA in recognition for outstanding service to the organization. Pockrass recently completed his eighth year as secretary treasurer for the NMPA. Richard Petty Driver of the Year Determined by vote of the membership, the Richard Petty Driver of the Year award has been presented annually since 1969 to recognize the season's most outstanding driver. It is named in honor of the seven-time NASCAR premier series champion: 2016, Jimmie Johnson ; 2015, Kyle Busch ; 2014, Kevin Harvick ; 2013, Jimmie Johnson ; 2012, Brad Keselowski ; 2011, Tony Stewart ; 2010, Jimmie Johnson ; 2009, Jimmie Johnson ; 2008, Carl Edwards ; 2007, Jimmie Johnson ; 2006, Jimmie Johnson ; 2005, Tony Stewart ; 2004, Jimmie Johnson ; 2003, Ryan Newman ; 2002, Tony Stewart ; 2001, Kevin Harvick ; 2000, Bobby Labonte ; 1999, Dale Jarrett; 1998, Jeff Gordon ; 1997, Dale Jarrett; 1996, Terry Labonte ; 1995, Jeff Gordon ; 1994, Dale Earnhardt; 1993, Rusty Wallace; 1992, Davey Allison; 1991, Harry Gant; 1990, Dale Earnhardt; 1989, Mark Martin; 1988, Rusty Wallace; 1987, Dale Earnhardt; 1986, Tim Richmond and Dale Earnhardt; 1985, Bill Elliott ; 1984, Terry Labonte ; 1983, Bobby Allison; 1982, Darrell Waltrip; 1981, Darrell Waltrip; 1980 Dale Earnhardt; 1979 Cale Yarborough; 1978 Cale Yarborough; 1977, Cale Yarborough; 1976, Darrell Waltrip; 1975, Richard Petty; 1974, Richard Petty; 1973, David Pearson; 1972, Bobby Allison; 1971, Bobby Allison; 1970, Bobby Isaac; 1969, LeeRoy Yarbrough.
Darlington announces 2017 throwback theme
RELATED: See the 2016 Darlington retro schemes DARLINGTON, S.C. (Jan. 18, 2017) -- Another historic celebration of the sport is in store for Darlington Raceway in 2017. The track is pleased to announce "Year 3" of its award-winning throwback campaign for the Bojangles' Southern 500 race weekend on Sept. 1-3, 2017. The Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR will be celebrating the 1985-89 era of the sport in 2017, which like the 1975-84 period it celebrated in 2016, was a time of exceptional growth and exposure for NASCAR. "The track will be celebrating the 1985-89 time period of the sport during our throwback weekend in 2017," Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said. “As we enter the third year of our throwback campaign, we’ll be focusing on drivers, personalities and moments that were compelling in that timeframe, such as the emergence of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott winning the first Winston Million, and the growth of the NASCAR XFINITY Series (formerly the Busch Grand National Series). It will be an exciting era for the track and industry to celebrate." As the sport moved into the late 1980s, NASCAR champions such as Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace, among others, made a tremendous impact on the sport and will be celebrated during the Labor Day weekend festivities. This year is also the 50 th anniversary of Richard Petty's one and only Southern 500 victory (1967). The honoring of champions from 1985-89 is just one part of the track's overall strategy to celebrate its history. Darlington Raceway 's throwback campaign focuses on specific eras plus the historic moments and drivers that made impacts at "The Track Too Tough to Tame." For the third straight year, Darlington Raceway is also excited to announce it will once again highlight its rich history with a commemorative ticket design for the Bojangles' Southern 500 linking the past, present and future. "We’ve enjoyed producing the commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program,” said Tharp. “It’s important that our fans who attend the Darlington Raceway NASCAR weekend walk away with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport." The retro design will link 1987 Southern 500 champion Dale Earnhardt, who ranks second all-time with nine NASCAR Cup Series wins at Darlington Raceway , as well as 2016 Bojangles' Southern 500 winner Martin Truex Jr . These special tickets will be used for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 . Tickets are expected to be mailed to customers starting in mid-June. There will also be a retro-style ticket for the NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 that will be unveiled at a later date. Ticket renewals have been mailed so current fans can renew their seats and race day experiences for the 2017 Labor Day weekend. Renewing tickets early guarantees seats at the track's best prices prior to the opening of all remaining seats to the general public on February 22. Renewing customers receive many great benefits for being a loyal customer, including the raceway's best pricing, for Labor Day weekend. Renewal benefits include: -The track’s best prices for the Bojangles' Southern 500 -Convenient five-part payment plan -Special renewal pricing for Darlington Stripe Zone Hospitality ($30 savings) -Special renewal pricing for pre-race pit passes ($10 savings) -Special renewal pricing for all-inclusive driver intros, pre-race concert and pre-race pit road access ($15 savings) -Special renewal pricing for FanVision rentals ($25 savings) -Special renewal pricing for Racing Electronics scanner rental ($15 savings) -Special renewal opportunity to purchase NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 tickets for just $25 each when you renew your Bojangles Southern 500 ticket package ($5-10 savings) Guests may renew their tickets and campsites by calling 866-459-RACE (7223) or visiting www.DarlingtonRaceway.com/renewals. The renewal deadline is Friday, Feb. 10. The Tradition Continues on Labor Day weekend as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 ® is set for Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. The NASCAR XFINITY Series VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 will race on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. You can keep up with all of the latest news from Darlington Raceway at DarlingtonRaceway.com, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DarlingtonRaceway and on Twitter at Twitter.com/TooToughToTame.
Despite bumps, Elliott's impressed Gordon, father in rookie season
MORE: Buy tickets for Homestead-Miami Championship Weekend Bill Elliott remembers the conversations with his son. "I said 'If you want to race, then we'll go race. But if you want to go hang out with your buddies on Saturday night, then you can do that. It's your choice,' " Elliott recalled recently. Chase Elliott wanted to race. He wanted to race small cars and big cars, on dirt and on asphalt. So he did. He raced and he won and he lost and he learned. And in 2016, two years removed from winning NASCAR's XFINITY Series title, the youngster was handed the keys to his future -- the seat in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driven at the time by four-time series champion Jeff Gordon . Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) signals the end of the '16 season. Elliott will enter the race 10th in points, having qualified for the championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup but falling out of title contention after a difficult second round. There have been "a lot of ups and downs this year," he said. "I think the biggest thing I've seen as I've run throughout this year, and Jeff touched on it as we talked in the offseason, he just kept bragging on this group of guys and how good they were and kept saying, 'Man, you're going to a really good group.' I think you have to see some of those things firsthand to really recognize it and appreciate it and as I've gone through this season I really have. I've got some of the best cars you could have to drive. They make me look a lot better than I am. "Those are the kinds of people you want to be surrounded with if you can do that. I really had nothing to do with the group of people that I was assigned, I was just lucky to fall into place where I did at the time I did. That's been one of my biggest takeaways." "I've had some really good cars to drive and I think having that good relationship with this group and to be able to count on the job that Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) does ... he does an incredible job and doesn't get enough credit; he makes my job as easy as you could have it." Elliott has 10 top fives and 17 top-10 finishes this season and won a pair of poles -- at Daytona's season opener and the unpredictable Talladega. He earned career-best second-place finishes at both Michigan races this year and was third twice in the opening round of the Chase. "I think he's very competitive and in the race car to me he's a veteran," Gordon said. "I know he's beat himself up a few times outside the race car but I like that. That means that second or third is not good enough for him. He's got a bright future." The fact that he was able to qualify for the Chase, Gordon said, wasn't a surprise. Not after Elliott won the XFINITY Series title his first time out while driving for JR Motorsports. Paired with teammates Jimmie Johnson , a six-time series champion, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., at HMS, Gordon expected the 20-year-old to excel. "You still never know," Gordon said. "Especially at the Cup level it's very competitive. Not just in the garage level but at Hendrick. To have Jimmie and Kasey and Junior as your teammates, that's going to make you have to step up. But I don't think we would have put him in there if we didn't believe in him. And you know there are going to be some growing pains. I would say there have been far less than I anticipated." Gustafson worked with Kyle Busch , Mark Martin and Gordon at HMS. He said there was never a question of talent when it came to Elliott . But others with talent have come and gone. Younger drivers can go fast but going fast is only part of the equation. Race conditions, passing, altering one's line to adapt to changing track conditions, and the race on an off pit road are additional hurdles to overcome in order to contend. It's what Gustafson refers to as "the art of racing" and said it is something that's "definitely underappreciated" today. "He does that really well," Gustafson said. "Typically in my experience it takes some time to master passing or running in traffic or where you need to move on the track, what you need to do to improve your position. He does a really good job at that. You always can get better -- I think it's something he can learn and change and grow with but I've been pretty impressed with his first year and how he handles all that. "His maturity and mental aptitude and demeanor are pretty far beyond his years. ... Everybody makes mistakes but I think he minimalizes a lot of what you typically see in rookie." LEARNING CURVE Gustafson said Elliott's ability to adapt and digest information quickly when he has struggled in a particular area or at a venue has been impressive. Often, it's the next trip back to that track, or even a year or two, before such improvements bear fruit for a driver. For Elliott , it's sometimes much sooner. Over the course of a weekend in some cases. "It doesn't change through practice but then once he's able to go and digest it, think about it and come back with a game plan ... he attacks it and makes significant improvements," Gustafson said. "It's impressive. I don't know that I've ever worked with a driver that had that ability." The technology available today has been a big help. Elliott will often pour over information gleaned from his teammates while awaiting changes to the car during practice or at day’s end. Where someone brakes in the corner, how fast they pick up the throttle, how much steering they're putting in their car can help when he’s searching for more speed or a better handling ride. And he isn't hesitant to change. The stopwatch doesn't lie, he said. "If the guys have found a way to get you out on the track better for one lap or get you around the race track better for long runs, and that's a proven fact from the stopwatch or tire falloff or whatever data that you can see, then there's no denying that fact," Elliott said. "I think that opens your mind up to try and see what they are doing and how they're going about their job. Amongst our guys or any of the guys in the garage, I just can't see that person X has a car that's that much better than mine. I think you have to recognize that we're in a pretty tight boundary of competition and for you to be way off, well maybe you need to think about how you're driving. Because I know my guys haven't missed it that bad." Gordon, now a FOX NASCAR analyst, says being young or new to the series is a plus; it's easier to absorb the reams of information available without the baggage of preconceived ideas. "You're a sponge," he said, "so you can adapt quickly. "As a team we have to take advantage of that because the longer you go, the harder it is to do that. I think that's one of the things that's made Jimmie so great over all the years is he's been able to do that as well or better than anybody that I know. Someone like Chase, that's as talented and young as he is, I see that in him. That's why I think they've performed consistently very well." Bill Elliott says he tries to look at his son's progression as a driver and not as his son. Either way, he's been impressed with what he's seen. "I think he's done a great job from a driving standpoint," Elliott said. "I really didn't know ... when you come into these deals and you think 'OK, I'm getting in Jeff Gordon 's car and it's already got a pretty good history to it, a damn good history to it, and what are the expectations for a kid that's come in and only run a handful of Cup races prior to this? I've been very impressed." A FAN FAVORITE The elder Elliott won the series' most popular driver award, overseen by the National Motorsports Press Association, a record 16 times. Earnhardt Jr. has won the award the last 13 years. In fact, the award, which has been presented annually since 1953, has gone to someone named Elliott or Earnhardt every year since 1991. Could the younger Elliott be the next in line? He has quickly developed his own following of younger fans while appealing to those who were fans of his father, the 1988 series champion, and to those who were fans of Gordon and the No. 24 team. Voting for this year's MPD award closes Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET. ( www.mostpopulardriver.com ) "The fan base that I acquired the years that I ran was just so phenomenal," Bill Elliott said. "They supported me through thick and thin. I'd fall out of races on some days and there would be fans that would tell me, 'We don't care if you never win another race; we're behind you 100 percent.' To have that kind of following ... I think it just had to do with my background, how I got into the sport, I wasn't part of the established group. I worked hard and tried to do things the right way, which I didn't always do that. But I tried really hard to take care of the race fans because I really respected the fans, whether they were pulling for me or the other drivers. "I think Chase has been very good and very gracious with the fans and he's been able to pick up that group, plus Jeff had a strong fan base. When you've got everything else ... being involved with Dale Jr. on the XFINITY Y side got him exposed to a lot of people. Winning that championship the first year and coming back and finishing second last year, there was a lot going on." Chase Elliott says seeing fans wearing the No. 24 gear carrying his likeness and name wasn't something he was expecting as the year got underway. And while the competition side of the sport is where he's focused, he understands the importance of the fans. "They're what makes it go around," he said. "One thing my dad always touched on was if you're having a bad day or not feeling well, not doing too good, you have to recognize that whether there are two people at an event or 2,000, if you make one person’s day then that goes a long way with that person. Coming from him, I think that's a pretty good word of advice and something to help keep things in perspective." He listens. And he learns. Even if it's sometimes hard to tell. "We were in the shop one day and we were working on the Late Model car," Bill Elliott said. "He asked me how to do something and I told him. Then he argued with me and I told him, 'Well, do it your way.' So there you go. "You know how kids are."
McMurray's Darlington scheme honors Bill Elliott
RELATED: Vote now for your favorite Darlington scheme BUY TICKETS: Darlington Jamie McMurray 's No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet will honor Bill Elliott at this year's Southern 500 throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway . Elliott ran the "Mac Tonight" scheme originally in 1997, and the midnight blue car will ride again in the Sept. 4 Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) The McDonald's scheme harkens back to a McDonald's "Mac Tonight" advertising campaign. "I am excited that McDonald's is bringing back the Mac Tonight paint scheme for this race," McMurray said. "Last year was so much fun to see all the different throwback looks that teams had for the Southern 500 race. I think that Darlington has done a great job to get so many of the teams to participate and have a unique weekend to celebrate the history of NASCAR." RELATED: See all the Darlington throwback paint schemes This year's throwback theme focuses on the era of 1975-84. More than two dozen throwback paint schemes for this year's running of the Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sunday, Sept. 4, 6 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR) have been announced. The program launched last season and is expected to continue for the next several seasons. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Bill Elliott finds joy in watching his son's rise
RELATED: From tardy slip to pole-sitter " Gordon gets chills watching No. 24 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The pride on Bill Elliott 's face was unmistakable as he emerged from a small radio interview room Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway . An hour earlier, his 20-year old son, Chase Elliott , had furthered the family's storied name by adding his own remarkable chapter to Daytona 500 record books by winning the pole for Sunday's race. And his dad was visibly moved. The great event's youngest pole-winner ever – by three years – Chase Elliott had just completed a press conference where he was as mindful of realistic expectations for a young rookie in his first Daytona 500 as he was humbled by the historic achievement. RELATED: Relive Chase's Daytona pole, frame-by-frame Chase gets his balanced disposition honestly. His father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott , was never one to give in to the hyperbole through an amazing five-decade NASCAR career that included a Cup championship and 44 wins – including two in the Daytona 500 (1985 and 1987). RELATED: Father-son duos with 'Great American Race' pole awards However, this Sunday afternoon, Bill Elliott was wearing the smile of an extremely proud dad – and willing to share the experience with a couple reporters. As calm and calculating as Bill was during his own racing career, he was almost effusive in the pride and love he felt for his son this day. "I try to tell him, 'Enjoy it,'’" Bill Elliott said, grinning. "Because the problem is, then the years turn into 20 to 30 and to 40, and you wonder where it all went." Bill Elliott and his wife, Cindy, had watched their only son's qualifying laps around the sport's most famous speedway while managing both high hope and tempered expectation. As usual, they stood away from the spotlight, only emerging when Chase had sealed this very big deal. "We were in the shadows – where we usually are – just watching and taking it all in, then we walked onto pit road to celebrate with him," Cindy Elliott said while waiting for her son to complete his media obligations Sunday afternoon. "I guess you could say we just had a big Valentine's gift. We're so excited for him. It's a long week so we're pacing; one day at a time." Some of the reserve and realism that characterized Bill's great career is readily evident in his son as well. While answering questions from the media moments earlier, Chase Elliott came off as a much wiser, more sensible person than someone 20 years old should be. He is noticeably measured, and takes time to think about the questions – and he got a flurry of them Sunday afternoon – before answering. And quite often, as he typically does, Chase delivered an alternate perspective from what people might have anticipated. Although cognizant of the hype, Chase does not give in to the great expectations as he takes over Jeff Gordon ’s famed No. 24 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports . He is simultaneously reverent of Gordon's career achievements and yet realistic about the learning curve he, himself, will endure not only this season, but for several to come. And his father's steady guidance and support is both evident and invaluable. "For some reason, he just thinks this is where he wants to be, and that' s it," Bill Elliott said. "I've told him numerous times, 'You know, if this isn't what you really want to do, you need to find something else. It will chew you up and spit you out.' He says, 'Nope, that's what I want to do.' Since he was a little kid it was, 'Yep, I want to drive a race car.' "Since he was little – four or five years old – he always had his Matchbox cars and run them around on these little tracks, totally focused. He'd sit on the pit box on Sundays and tell [then Elliott's team owner] Ray [Evernham] all this stuff." The Elliotts have been such staunch supporters of their son, and subsequently his biggest cheerleaders – whether Chase was winning the prestigious Snowball Derby late model race as a 16-year old or the 2014 XFINITY Series title as an 18-year old in his first full year of big-time NASCAR competition. They have supported, but they have never pushed. “Watching Chase grow up and watching him race, he was pretty good when we raced go-karts on road courses," Bill Elliott recalled. "Then when he moved up and we ran Bandaleros and Legends and he did well with that. But he really excelled when he got in a late model car. That just seemed to be when the light switch went on. And thereafter, no matter what he got in, the heavier, the bigger the car, the better he got. "I'm very proud today. No matter what today brings and Thursday [Can-Am Duels] brings and next Sunday brings is another piece of the puzzle. … You just have to take Daytona and do the best you can to get through it. You just never know."
Meet Eddie D'Hondt, Chase Elliott's spotter
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of interviews with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series spotters. Eddie D'Hondt, Spotter for Chase Elliott , No. 24, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet HOW DID YOU GET STARTED SPOTTING? "I was the GM at Evernham Motorsports when Bill Elliott was driving. I actually started spotting for Bill -- I guess about 16 years ago. I had been managing teams up until that point. I just sort of fell into it. I used to drive Modifieds. It just worked. I've been doing it ever since." WHAT OTHER DUTIES DO YOU HAVE WITH THE TEAM? "We have a team meeting on Tuesdays, the driver, the crew chief and all the engineers. I have two reports I'm responsible for putting together for that meeting. That takes up most of my Monday, it's a lot of video work and some other technical work, but that's the other part of my job." DO YOU SPOT IN OTHER SERIES? "I spot in every series every weekend. I do 105 races a year; Rolex, Modifieds, Truck, XFINITY , Cup. In depends on the series as far as who I'm spotting for each weekend. I did all of Chase's XFINITY races, Cole Custer 's XFINITY races; I do Ryan Preece when I'm not doing the 88 XFINITY car. I do Cole's Truck races. The Ferrari team in Rolex." HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WITH CHASE? "Just this year. For four or five years I was with Jeff (Gordon); three years with Kyle (Busch) before that." WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST RACE AS A SPOTTER? "It was with Bill . I guess the (2001) Daytona 500 , the race that Dale (Earnhardt) passed away." WHAT'S THE MOST BIZARRE THING YOU'VE SEEN WHILE SPOTTING? "Oh my gosh. I've lived up here all weekend for 16 years so I've seen a lot of stuff. There have been so many things. It's a great vantage point. Every single weekend we get to see a lot of what no one else gets to see." WHAT'S BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE AS A SPOTTER? "Homestead with Jeff last year and (the win at) Martinsville. I'd have to say those two. Jeff was just special. He is a special guy. He got in the trenches with you, he became your friend. You wanted to fight with him. I was working with Kyle Busch when Alan Gustafson (Gordon's crew chief at the time) came and got me, sat down and struck a deal and five years later, here I am." WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR JOB? "Probably the travel. I’ve been on this circuit since 1996, prior to that I raced on my own. Being away from your family is difficult. Both my boys are working in the garage, so if I want to see them I have to go find them in the garage somewhere. The rest of my family is always home, so that's the hard part." WHAT CURRENT DRIVER WOULD MAKE A GOOD SPOTTER? "That's a good question. Maybe Carl Edwards . He likes to talk." WHICH TRACK IS YOUR FAVORITE? "Bristol and Martinsville. Probably those two. I grew up on the short tracks. The thrill of the short track, anything can happen at any moment. The flow you get into in those races, I enjoy that." WHAT IS ONE THING ABOUT WHAT YOUR JOB ENTAILS THAT THE AVERAGE FAN MIGHT NOT KNOW? "Today, it's become way more intricate than what people realize. We're providing information that we never did before. You have all engineers now on top of all these pit boxes, not guys that grew up short-track racing. These guys are all engineers now. So they talk to the drivers less and it's fallen into our laps now to provide more and more information on things like rubber buildup, lanes that are working, braking, backing up corners. We're talking more about driving than safety. Most of the guys up here, just go down the line, used to drive. They have some kind of wisdom about what it feels line so you're able to talk about it. And the guys that didn't drive have educated themselves. Those guys on the pit boxes, they're looking at data."
Family powers Bill Elliott into NASCAR Hall
Humble beginnings couldn't slow eventual rise from 'Awesome Bill' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be inducted Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. on NBC Sports Network. CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Elliott arrived on the scene after the careers of his fellow 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmates had already come to an end. But the man who would become known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" for his exploits on the track has much in common with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. The five will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight. A familiar thread connects those who reside in the Hall, one that often includes humble beginnings, hardships and eventually success. RELATED: Every class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Elliott , 59, and his family are an integral part of that thread. George, the patriarch, ran a small building supply business in Dawsonville, Georgia. "A hole-in-the-wall deal," Bill says today. The elder Elliott also built race cars, helped other local racers and fielded entries in NASCAR as early as the 1960s. "Daddy carried cars to Daytona in the early '60s, he would carry two cars down there and run a Sportsman or a Modified or some kind of race," Elliott said. Box vans used in the family business served as transporters for the race cars. "He'd back the trailer down there to the loading dock and he'd load them up in the van trailers and carry them down there, then try to find a place to unload them,” Elliott said. "It was like the Clampetts went to Daytona." It wasn't much but as Elliott noted, it was a common sight among those who chose the stock car racing path at that time. "Back then, such a different way of doing things. Anybody could come show up at Daytona with some kind of race car," he said. "I think those are the things that I look back on and were so much fun early on. You go to our little garage down there, you could just throw something together. I remember going to one of the shops of one of the guys Daddy was helping. They were putting a '63 Ford together. They had taken a car out of the junkyard, were taking the interior out and welding the roll bar in it, getting it ready to go. But I mean it was just a stock '63 Ford. Whatever it came with, that's what it had. And those days are gone." Elliott made his first start in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 1976, driving for his family-run team that included brothers Ernie and Dan Elliott . But it wasn't until ’82, when the team was purchased by businessman Harry Melling, that Elliott became an "overnight success." By the time his career had ended (he made his last official start in 2012), Elliott had won 44 races, one series championship and was voted the series' most popular driver 16 times. His wins came on stages big and small -- few bigger than the Daytona 500 , which he won twice, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at rugged, old Darlington Raceway . RELATED: Read Bill Elliott's Hall of Fame capsule It was at Darlington that Elliott officially picked up another moniker, "Million Dollar Bill " when a Southern 500 win in 1985 earned him the Winston Million bonus. Elliott's move into stardom coincided with a rise in speed on the race track. Before the advent of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, speed grabbed headlines. And no one went faster than Elliott , who ended his career with 55 pole positions. His qualifying mark of 212.809 mph at Talladega remains the fastest qualifying lap ever for a NASCAR event. But that feat wasn't the record that stands out in his mind, he said. "If I was outside looking in at my career, the biggest thing that impresses me was running 210 (mph) at Daytona in 1987," Elliott said. "I sat there and I watched Cale (Yarborough) try to run just 200 (in 1983) and turn over off Turn 4. We came back, ran 205 in '85 and we came back in '87 and stepped it up five more mph average. That was with no technology. That was just the luck of the draw and the things we did at that point in time; that's what really impressed me. "When I first went there I think I ran 171 or something and I thought, 'Man I'm out of control. How can you run any faster?' " Elliott's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame comes just as his son, 19-year-old Chase, prepares to begin his own Sprint Cup career. It was announced earlier this week that Chase would run five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, then take over the organization's No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time champion Jeff Gordon steps down at year's end. RELATED: Gordon: Chase is the 'total package' The younger Elliott didn't witness a lot of his father’s exploits as they took place. But he's relived them through video replays. "There were a lot of races where he took it to 'em, man," Chase Elliott said. "He wore them out. That's cool to look back on and see. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done and for what they did. To do it with what they had (at the time) was very, very impressive. I think a lot of people let that slip by. "They were kind of on their own there in Georgia and a lot of people don’t realize that. They didn’t have a lot of help; they didn’t have a big team. It was just them. It’s very, very impressive to see what they were able to do."
Hall of Fame caps off Bill Elliott's whirlwind week
1988 champion gets inducted, says Chase's Cup news was the bigger deal Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: Five inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame " Chase scores Cup ride CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Elliott often outran the competition, but recently the former NASCAR premier series champion has been trying to outrun his emotions. It's been quite the past few days for Elliott , the 1988 champ, and his family. On Thursday it was announced that his son, 19-year-old Chase, would make his first start in the Sprint Cup Series later this year. On Friday, the elder Elliott was one of five drivers inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His son landing the ride with Hendrick Motorsports , where he will take over a car perhaps even more famous than that of his father was the bigger deal, Bill Elliott said. "Let me tell you this little story," Elliott offered after he, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White were officially inducted into the Hall. "I called Chase – I think it was Wednesday night and I was talking to him and he said 'guess who called me?' "I said 'I don't know.'" Told it was someone named Jeff, the name didn’t register. "He said, ' Jeff Gordon called me.' He was so excited that Jeff Gordon had picked up the phone and called him," Elliott said. "… That meant so much to him (to talk about) what his next step and what his next role was going to be." Elliott made the No. 9 Ford Thunderbird one of the most recognizable cars on the track during his career. In addition to his championship, he won 44 times in premier series competition. He, along brothers Ernie and Dan, set qualifying records likely to remain unbroken as well. Gordon, scheduled to end his driving career at the end of '15, has won 92 times and four championships with Hendrick Motorsports . For fans that began following the sport in the early '90s or later, Gordon’s brightly painted No. 24 Chevrolet quickly became just as recognizable and even more successful. He's won on nearly ever track where the Sprint Cup Series competes, and several that are no longer on the schedule. And now Chase Elliott prepares to step into the ride once Gordon steps aside. MORE: Gordon calls Chase the 'total package' As much as the sport has changed since Bill Elliott arrived on the scene in the latter part of the '70s, one thing has remained constant – the cycle of drivers that show up, make their mark and eventually depart. Gordon is making plans to exit. Elliott's son Chase is preparing to arrive. Not much different than when he and his family first showed up, the elder Elliott said. "When I came in you had Cale (Yarborough), David Pearson, all those guys kind of winding down," Elliott said. "Then I watched Richard (Petty) retire and now it's turning … again." At that time such changes didn't catch his attention, he said, explaining that with a limited budget and much to learn, "all I cared about was just trying to go race. "There was so few of us, we really didn't worry about anything else," Elliott said. "It was kind of like you were driving down the road with blinders on, you were really oblivious to anything else going on." PHOTOS: Best moments from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony His son understands what lies ahead, Elliott said on a night he was honored for what took place in the past. "He's an incredibly good race car driver, and I'm not saying it's because he's my kid," Elliott said. "… I've said all along he's better than I ever thought about being." Maybe so, but the father was no slouch. Among his 44 victories are four that came in the in the twilight of his career before he began to scale back his racing schedule. Driving for Ray Evernham, who had helped guide Gordon to three of his four titles, Elliott won at Homestead, Pocono, Indianapolis and Rockingham. "There aren't many names that transcend a sport," Evernham said. "If you're not even a baseball fan you know the names Ruth or Mantle; even the most casual football fan knows Lombardi and Unitas. "In our sport, in motorsports, they know Foyt and Andretti and Earnhardt and Petty and even casual fans know Bill Elliott because of the things he's done. "It's an honor to have him as a friend, and it's been a great ride."
Drafting 101: Chase Elliott's crash-free course in Duels
MORE: Full starting lineup for 500 RELATED: Can-Am Duel 1 results " Photos from Duels DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Chase Elliott 's first taste of Daytona 500 qualifying racing Thursday night ended well with the 20-year-old rookie securing a sixth-place finish in the first of two Can-Am Duel events. The Daytona 500 pole-winner led the first two laps of the race before eventual race winner -- and Elliott's Hendrick Motorsports teammate -- Dale Earnhardt Jr . took control leading all but 27 of the 60 laps. Elliott expected it would be a learning experience -- a high speed lesson in speedway drafting with the big kids. And it certainly proved to be. "Just a lot of things learned for me, got into a few positions, had a few things happen that I should have stopped before they did happen," Elliott said. "The top was pretty dominant, I feel like whatever lane Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) was in, was moving forward fast. He does a good job working the air and that was something I struggled with." Elliott spoke at length with his crew on pit road after climbing out of his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet after the race. This year's version of Speedweeks is simultaneously a learning experience and a high-profile opportunity for the promising young talent. Elliott , son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott , has taken over the driver's seat of just-retired Jeff Gordon 's famed No. 24 Chevrolet. He was well aware many eyes were on him for that reason. After becoming the youngest Daytona pole-sitter in history this past weekend, the expectations are high for the rookie. RELATED: Bill finds joy in Chase's rise in NASCAR None higher, however, than Elliott's own. Standing on pit road after the race he was still scrutinizing his performance, and speaking about learning opportunities. "We've got to be aggressive with the side-draft and keeping guys pinned down at times," Elliott explained of the lessons he learned Thursday night. "It's just being mindful of which lane is forming up ahead of time and the good guys make that happen and recognize that. "We have some areas I know we need to work on and some things I need to recognize before they happen and the good guys do that so I've got to learn. "But," he said turning around and looking at his unscathed Chevrolet, "the car's in one piece. Just got to take it and try to correct things." In addition to working with his teammates on the track, Elliott's six-time champion HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson was on the radio and stood on the pit road stand, offering assistance to his first-year Cup teammate. "Jimmie's up here; he says just make sure you block the middle," Elliott was told at one point. His veteran spotter, Eddie D'Hondt, was mindful of guiding the rookie too. "The tough part here is you just don't want to ever lose this draft. Just keep that in mind," D'Hondt told Elliott early in the event, adding a couple laps later, "So right here you're always in looking your mirror looking to block the middle. See what Kasey did ahead of you was try to side-draft Dillon. What we want to watch here is that not all of your help here bails and goes to the top and you get conga again. But they're not." Another Elliott teammate, the race winner Earnhardt, made a point to speak with the rookie before the race began and told him, "I'm not going to be helping you tonight and don't help me, don't worry about where I'm at. "Do everything you can to keep the lead, don't give the lead up. ...You've just got to be selfish." RELATED: Junior wins Can-Am Duel No. 1 Elliott said he looked forward to getting together with the group for a post-race review, but was encouraged overall and eager to put the lessons learned to use in Sunday's Daytona 500 . "The car's in one piece and we were able to bring it back all in one piece and that was a goal in itself," Elliott said. "That experience gained tonight was the most important thing and I feel good about that and I know there are some things I need to do differently an just correct for Sunday."
Elliott sheds rookie label, battles for Bristol top five
RELATED: Full results from Bristol BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Coming off a career-best Sprint Cup Series finish of fifth at Texas last weekend, Chase Elliott has outdone himself, earning a fourth-place finish in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway . The 20-year-old qualified 19th for the short track event, Elliott's second-lowest qualifying spot since the start of his rookie season. But that was only motivation for the young rookie to battle his way up through the field. "We started off real slow," Elliott said post-race. "We didn't qualify as well as we'd like to on Friday but I thought we hit on a couple things yesterday in final practice that, fortunately, we carried over to today and were able to kind of run our way up through there." Elliott ran as high as second during Sunday's race, but he didn't get there without a few bumps at "The Last Great Colosseum." The Hendrick Motorsports driver experienced a loose wheel early in the 500-lap event, causing him to come down pit road while the green flag was out. But thanks to his No. 24 pit crew, Elliott didn't fall too far behind. "Hate to have a loose wheel," Elliott said. "But the guys did a good job overcoming that with a fast pit stop under green, only losing two laps, so that was big to keep us in contention there and try to get back on the lead lap. So, definitely a long afternoon, but that was the biggest thing that kept us alive." Despite Elliott's strong finish at Bristol, as well as four other top-10 finishes this season, he's got fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ryan Blaney to battle with week after week. The No. 21 driver also has been running in the top 10 consistently, with an average finish of 19.2 through eight races ( Elliott's average finish is 15.8). Even though Blaney also had a strong showing at Bristol, running in the top five and top 10 and ultimately finishing 11th, the Wood Brothers Racing driver felt his Ford deserved better. "It was good until the end," Blaney said. "We should have run fifth, easy. ... We had a good race car and got stuck on the bottom for three straight restarts and went backward. That's pretty disappointing when you know you have a top-five race car." For Blaney, the Food City 500 was not the 22-year-old's first go-around at Bristol in the Sprint Cup Series. Blaney made a start in the No. 21 Ford in 2015 for Bristol's fall night race, finishing 22nd. This was Elliott's first Cup Series start at Bristol, a track his NASCAR Hall of Famer father Bill Elliott earned his first short-track victory at in 1988. The younger Elliott's only other short track experience in the Cup Series was his run at Richmond in 2015, where he finished 16th.