NEWTON — What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, Chase Elliott was just “one of the kids” working his way up the NASCAR ladder. Sure, he was named one of NASCAR Next, showing his growth as a professional race driver.
But, Elliott was only 17, which meant he was restricted to competing only on the shorter tracks in NASCAR events. He was making strides in his limited NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.
Elliott comes into Sunday’s Iowa Speedway Get To Know Newton 250 as the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series leader. It is Elliott’s first Nationwide start at Iowa Speedway, a place he has won while competing in the K&N Pro Series East.
Elliott has a one-point lead over second-place Elliott Sadler and is just three points up on third-place Regan Smith.
“Everything has been decent so far, and there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Elliott said of his start to the 2014 season. He and his team were in Newton on May 6 for track testing. “There are a lot of aspects of it we need to be better at. I thought we were better at Richmond than a lot places we’ve run this year, including the two places we won. The scoreboard didn’t show it, but I felt as a group we were better.”
Driving the JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet Camero, Elliott had back-to-back wins in early April this season at Texas and Darlington. He finished second at Richmond. In the nine races this season, Elliott has posted seven top-10 finishes and hasn’t finished lower than 19th.
Elliott said he is hoping to have worked out some of the rough spots the team was experiencing during the week off coming into Iowa.
“I’m hoping to be able to win here at Iowa,” he said while standing in the Iowa Speedway garage during the May 6 testing. “It is the same Iowa Speedway track. I really didn’t see much difference in it than when I was here last year driving the truck race. I’m looking forward racing here in less than two weeks.”
Elliott is the son 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott. He is comfortable and confident in the racing world. The Sunoco Rookie takes the level of competition in stride as he forges his own path in NASCAR.
“The competition level is the big difference from trucks to the Nationwide Series. All the teams are capable of winning at this level. You just strive to be a little better than the next guy,” Elliott said.
And this weekend is the 18-year-old Elliott’s high school graduation. Elliott graduates from his Georgia high school Saturday morning before flying back to Iowa to participate in the Get To Know Newton 250 Sunday.
“Iowa (Speedway) has a cool atmosphere to race in. The track keeps adding character. This is a great short track to race on. We drivers love it because its a good size to really put on great shows, which will bring more people to the races,” Elliott said.