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Saturday Darlington Notebook: Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson provide electrifying look at NASCAR's future
Driving Chevrolets adorned with those car numbers, NASCAR neophytes Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson staged a remarkable battle in Friday night's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway.
Driving as hard as they could and significantly over the edge of control, Elliott, 18, and Larson, 21, waged an all-out battle for the second position after a restart on Lap 99.
Both cars slid sideways, as the young drivers fought for control. Ultimately, Elliott won the race—his second straight victory in the series—and Larson, a first-time winner at Fontana, Calif., earlier this season, came home sixth.
After the race, Elliott marveled that he was sitting at the dais in the media center, rather than watching his car hauled from the track on a wrecker.
"There was definitely one (instance) that I can think of where I thought our night was 100 percent finished," Elliott acknowledged. "I thought both of us were getting ready to pile it up pretty big, along with probably some more cars behind us.
"I have no idea how both of us held on to that, and he did a really good job holding on to it, and it kind of gave me something to lean up against while I was trying to save it. That was a crazy lap or so there. We raced really hard, he's fun to race with, and fortunately, we raced each other pretty clean."
Clean, yes, but neither driver hesitated to make a move when he had a slight advantage, and both have exhibited phenomenal instincts at very early stages in their stock car careers. Elliott hopes the competition can continue for years.
"I'd like to think so," said Elliott, who along with Larson has been a member of the sport's NASCAR Next program, designed to spotlight future stars. "Kyle's obviously a talented guy, and he's earned his place in the sport, for sure."
EMBRACING THE PAST
Chase Elliott's victory at Darlington couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.
On Sunday at the 1.366-mile speedway, track president Chip Wile and NASCAR president Mike Helton unveiled the first glimpse of a campaign for the 2015 Bojangles' Southern 500 that honors the track's past.
Elliott and father Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, are the faces of a new platform for the 2015 race, which features throwback ticket designs and classic merchandise that recalls the history of the legendary track.
"As the drivers, teams, fans and media leave here this weekend thinking about who visited Gatorade Victory Lane, focusing on the next race and looking towards the 2014 Championship, we're thinking about the future of Darlington Raceway, as we celebrate our past," Wile said.
"Our history defines us. Without history we wouldn't know where we've come from or where we're going. NASCAR legends and loyal fans have all played a role in defining Darlington Raceway. Together, we're celebrating where we came from and where we're going."
The dates of the 2015 Southern 500 have not been announced, but Wile said he is very satisfied with Darlington's current position on the schedule.
It wasn't until 1988 that qualifying speeds at Darlington topped 160 mph.
Since then, speeds at the 1.366-mile track have advanced dramatically. Aric Almirola set a track record at 184.145 mph in the second round of knockout qualifying on Friday. Joey Logano wasn't far behind at 183.870 mph.
"It feels freaking fast, I promise you that," Logano said after qualifying second for Sunday's Bojangles Southern 500. "I remember the first time I came here. I was shaking after qualifying. It is insane. I can't really put it in words.
"I've never driven anything like an IndyCar or anything, but this is the place you go to with the most sensation of speed. Here and Dover you really feel like you are hauling the mail."
The pressure of time trials at Darlington is greater, Logano said, because there's no room for even a slight mistake.
"For one, you are going so fast into Turn 1, and you look at that corner, and you barely lift, and you just book right through it. It's just crazy. I'm having a hard time putting it into words. You go into (Turn) 3, and enter high and your car is loose, and if you go too hard, you'll chase the back end of the car into the fence.
"Then you're right back to the gas and wide open right up against the wall. That sensation of going fast and also having no room for error out there on the race track is what makes it feel like you're just crazy out there."