Initiating Chase Elliott
At Daytona 500 Media Day on Tuesday, rookie Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott was a hot topic coming off capturing the pole for Sunday’s 58th running of the Daytona 500.
Jimmie Johnson, who also sat on the pole for his first Daytona 500 start in 2002, answered a barrage of questions on his 20 year old teammate. He gave his thoughts on the youngster’s experience within the sport:
“Thankfully his dad is Bill Elliott (a NASCAR Hall of Famer, 1988 NASCAR Champion & 2-time Daytona 500 Champion). Thankfully he's grown up in these motorhome lots, at the tracks, on the road. He's watched his father have great success. He's got a very, very good pulse on things. We all see it and we all know he's going to do a very good job.”
Johnson pointed out that being a green horn in the Cup Series has some dues that need to be paid, such as being put on testing duty:
“He's low man, but at the same time there's certain test sessions that have come up that really could be useful for him. Getting those reps, having the seat time. Now once we get into the Goodyear tire tests, other really meaningful test sessions, even if the driver is a little grumpy about losing a day or two to testing, the driver's team, the driver's engineers, crew chiefs (all say), ‘Oh, hey, we want that.’ We're trying to be aware of that and let him get as many reps as we can.”
Jimmie and his Hendrick team are keeping things interesting with a little light hearted fun, as well:
“We're finding ways to haze Chase. But we have to wait a few more months until he turns 21, then it's an open gate. It's like we're dealing with a minor in some respects. So we're going easy on him.”
When asked what it’s like being a young driver in NASCAR, Johnson shed some light:
“The aspect of driving the car is one dimension to a Cup driver's job duties. To manage pressure, it's easy when it's simple, when you first get started. Everybody gives you the space you need. Your sponsors, ‘we're just going to let you find your way,’ the team, all of that.
After eight months go by, you get to the end of the first year, have you won and can you win? You've won, can you win again? You're 15th in points, can you be 10th? You're 10th, can you be 5th? The machine starts, and that part grinds on you and wears you down. That's the part that's hard.
I think that's why you're seeing drivers retire and step down at an earlier age. It's just the grind, it's everything. If it was just simply showing up and driving like you did your rookie year, you'd never get Stewart or Jeff Gordon out of the seat. They'd go forever.”
Speaking of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie is going to have to get used to having Chase behind the wheel of the 24, rather than Gordon, who made it his office for 23 years, and was a mentor and teammate to Johnson:
“It is strange, but I still haven't raced against the 24 yet, so I don't know exactly. But it was really weird seeing a picture of him posted. I think I saw it on Twitter. He was standing around the 24 car with Chase and Alan (Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief). The car was on pole. Jeff was standing there in street clothes. I never thought I would see that. There's been some weird, but there's more weird coming.”