Move over Dale Jr.: NASCAR's new most popular driver is Chase Elliott
With the departure of Dale Earnhardt Jr. from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the immediate question becomes, “Who will carry the banner of the sport going forward?”
To 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick, the answer is a no-brainer.
“I really think Chase Elliott is our biggest tie to our grassroots NASCAR fan,” Harvick said Wednesday on Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve said this a number of times, but I feel like he’s one of the most important ingredients in what NASCAR racing does going forward, because of his family name.
“He has the legacy that’s already been built in this sport by his dad (Bill Elliott) and he’s come into this sport with a great name and already proven that he’s going to be competitive. He has those Southeast NASCAR ties to those core fans that none of the rest of us will ever have, and he’s the guy.”
Elliott, on the other hand would rather have fans relate to him for his own personality and performance.
“I think I just need to be me,” Elliott said. “It’s not really relevant to what I need to be focused on, right? I’ve encouraged people to pull for whoever they find value in pulling for, whatever they find a connection with. Whether that’s me or someone else, that’s their decision, right?”
Nor does Elliott, now in his third full year in NASCAR’s foremost series, feel the weight of his father’s legacy, founded in a career that saw him earn the nickname “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.”
“I don’t really think there is that hanging over me, to be honest with you,” Chase Elliott said. “I think, at this point, I’ve been maybe not in the NASCAR world too terribly long, but I’ve been racing long enough that people know who I am. Not ‘know who I am’ from that standpoint, but know the personality I have. They’ve kind of gotten to know me a little better.
“I think by this point, if people are still following along, they’re following along because of the person I am, I hope. I think that’s all you can ask for. I’ve been very clear and honest about me being me, wanting people to follow along for the right reasons, finding a true connection with someone.”
Jimmie Johnson, Elliott’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, is convinced that connection has already happened.
“I think he’s already won the 2018 Most Popular Driver Award,” Johnson quipped.