January 11, 2014 — Report by Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — Dustin Long photo — DAYTONA BEACH, FL — Like father, like son.
The draft has always come easy to drivers with the surname Elliott, and Saturday afternoon during NASCAR Nationwide Series drafting practice, 18-year-old Chase Elliott proved he’s learned a few tricks of the trade from his legendary father, two-time Daytona 500 champion Bill Elliott. Young Chase took his brand-new NAPA Auto Parts #9 Camaro to the top of the practice sheets during Preseason Thunder, clocking a quick lap of 47.874 seconds (187.993 mph).
“Today was great,’’ the younger Elliott said post-practice. “It’s amazing how much you can feel the air at a place like this and today was the first time I could get a feel for that.’’
Chase, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the JR Motorsports team, spearheaded a one-two-three knockout during the four-hour drafting session for the JRM team. His father Bill timed in second-quick with a lap of 47.879 seconds (187.974 mph), proving that even at 58 years young, he has not lost any of his magic at the World Center of Racing. The elder Elliott won four total events in Sprint Cup competition at Daytona, and holds the track qualifying record which still stands to this day (210.364 mph). Bill tested the #5 Camaro for JRM in advance of team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. racing the car in the DRIVE4COPD 300 next month.
JRM’s returning driver for 2014, Regan Smith, completed the triple play with a quick lap of 47.885 seconds (187.950 mph). Smith hopes to avenge a near-miss at Daytona from 2013, where he was leading on the final lap of the season opener a year ago before being turned by his drafting partner Brad Keselowski (Tony Stewart ultimately won the event).
Ty Dillon clocked in fourth to give the Bowtie brand a sweep of the top four positions on the speed charts (47.922; 187.805). 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne completed the fast five as the fastest Ford, with a lap of 47.938 seconds (187.743 mph).
James Buescher, making his first on-track appearance for RAB Racing after departing from his father-in-law Steve Turner’s operation, was the fastest Toyota of the afternoon, clocking in 13th-fastest with a time of 48.203 seconds (186.710 mph).
Sprint Cup Series testing yesterday saw very few drafting packs, but Nationwide teams spent a large chunk of time on Friday afternoon in multi-car groups on the track.
Absent, however, was the two-car tandem draft which has been a big part of racing at Daytona recently, most notably during the final lap crash this past February which saw Kyle Larson’s car ultimately end up in the catchfence.
The use of new cooling systems similar to those in use in the Sprint Cup Series cars, which don’t allow drivers to stay hooked up nose to tail without overheating the pusher’s engine, has lessened the likelihood of the tandem drafting. But officials have taken things one step further, saying they will black-flag teams which tandem during practice sessions and races.
“They made it very clear that if we tandem (draft) at all, if you lock bumpers, both cars will be black-flagged,” Joe Gibbs Racing veteran Elliott Sadler expressed after one of his afternoon runs.
“If your bumpers lock up, you’re going to get black flagged,’’ Nationwide Series Director Wayne Auton confirmed, adding that officials had already discussed the mandate with the drivers. “That’s going to be the rule, and we’re going to stick with it.’’
However, bump drafting will still be acceptable, Auton added.
NASCAR Nationwide Series testing continues tomorrow with a morning session from 9 AM ET until noon ET, and then an afternoon session concluding the day from 1 PM to 5 PM ET. Camping World Truck Series teams will then take to the track on Monday and Tuesday.