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Chase Elliott arrives as NASCAR's next big star

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Bill Elliott rarely got rattled during his three-plus decades racing at NASCAR's highest level. He worked hard, didn't worry about what was going on around him, and did his talking on the track.

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He was ''Awesome Bill From Dawsonville'' and fans idolized the way Elliott conducted himself both inside the car and out.

Now, 11 years after his final full-time season, there's another Elliott turning heads for the very same reasons.

Chase Elliott scored his first career Nationwide Series victory on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, winning in just his sixth start at NASCAR's junior varsity level. He's the second-youngest winner in series history, clocking in at roughly four months older than record-holder Joey Logano, who was 18 years and 21 months when he won in 2008.

They called Logano ''Sliced Bread'' at the time, as in, ''he's the next best thing since ...''

Chase Elliott doesn't need a nickname. He's simply the future of NASCAR, and it's a role car co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Elliott can handle.

''He's just really humble, but very understanding of what's happening to him,'' Earnhardt Jr. said. ''He grew up with his father as a racer and saw how popular Bill was and I'm sure has been in and around situations where he's not going to be overwhelmed with the attention. He's really focused on his racing and trying to do well. He's young, doesn't have a lot of distractions, and, you know, got a good family unit so he should be in good hands.''

As Earnhardt lauded the JR Motorsports rookie, praising Elliott's maturity, calm demeanor, and eagerness to listen and learn, he was asked if the young driver reminds him of anyone else.

''His daddy,'' Earnhardt said. ''They're similar in personality. You had to really work him over to get him upset. He was normally just concerned with his car, getting his car faster, and, you know, back in the mid `80s when Bill and his brothers just focused on what they were doing and they would show up and whoop everybody, you know, and they weren't arrogant and cocky, they just showed up and ran. That's what he reminds me of.''

Chase Elliott, who had a short window to celebrate the win before he had to head back to the dog days of his senior year of high school in Georgia, thinks growing up in racing has kept him down to earth during his rapid rise to NASCAR's national level.

''That's just kind of how I've grown up and I don't know if that's the right or wrong way to be, but that's how I am and hopefully it will work out,'' he said.

And despite the easygoing nature he exudes, he insists he's got a high-level of energy and excitement that rivals any other teenager.

''Winning races gets me excited,'' he said while donning the traditional Texas winners' cowboy hat. ''Hopefully I can do more of that and I'll be more excited in the future.''

That's Earnhardt's hope for Elliott and Regan Smith, the two full-time drivers for JR Motorsports.

Elliott's win on Friday night gave him a two-point lead over Smith in the Nationwide Series standings, and that's where Earnhardt wants his drivers to remain.

Smith led the points for 10 consecutive weeks last season before ultimately finishing third in the final standings.

''We want to win a championship so bad this year,'' Earnhardt said. ''We feel like we learned a lot last year going through that process with Regan, and now we have two teams that are really capable of getting the job done. If everybody keeps their head on straight, let's everybody else - all the drivers in the series make all their mistakes - we should be able to be in a good situation when we get to Homestead.''

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

  
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