January 7, 2014 — courtesy of David Caraviello, NASCAR — Geoff Burke/NASCAR via Getty Images photo — MOORESVILLE, NC — When Chase Elliott slides behind the wheel for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series test this weekend, he knows his legendary father will be right there behind him — perhaps even literally, since they’ll both be on the race track.
The 18-year-old Elliott, who Monday was named the new driver of a NAPA Auto Parts-backed No. 9 car at JR Motorsports, now heads to Daytona International Speedway for the Nationwide Series portion of Preseason Thunder on Saturday and Sunday. Elliott will be one of three JRM drivers at the test, joining teammate Regan Smith and his dad Bill, who will shake down a car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“That’ll be cool,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, JRM’s vice president. To say the least — the younger Elliott may have won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, but to date he’s never driven a Nationwide car. When he does for the first time Saturday, he’ll have the sport’s 1988 premier series champion right there to lend advice.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” the younger Elliott said. “I know it’s just a test, but I think it’s going to be a pretty cool experience for both of us.”
Chase’s car at JRM will bear the same No. 9 his dad used for much of his career, including his championship campaign. Earnhardt Jr. will take part in the Sprint Cup portion of Preseason Thunder slated for Thursday and Friday, but schedule conflicts will prevent the 11-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award from taking part in the Nationwide test.
No worries — a 16-time Most Popular Driver winner was willing to fill in. Bill Elliott’s most recent national series start in NASCAR was the Sprint Cup race at Daytona in the summer of 2012. His last Nationwide race was in 2005. How did JRM convince him to test the car?
“I’m pretty sure we just asked him,” Miller said. “In all seriousness, you know racers, they don’t ever lose the desire to get out of a race car. With the Cup guys testing down there this week and Dale’s schedule … I don’t think the actual driver has to be in the car. … I think it’s just a matter of going and shaking down the cars and working on a few things here and there.
Added Chase: “It was going to be a little bit of a hassle for (Earnhardt Jr.) to be there, and my dad’s name came up, and (we) asked him if he would do it, and he thought that would be kind of cool.”
The elder Elliott certainly knows his way around restrictor-plate tracks, having won six premier series races combined on NASCAR’s biggest venues, including the Daytona 500 in 1985 and 1987. But for the 58-year-old future Hall of Famer, this week’s test is likely a one-time event.
“The Nationwide Series actually doesn’t do a lot of testing, so we don’t have the opportunity to ask a lot of people to test,” Miller said. “Just being that this is restrictor‑plate testing, Bill is a great choice to do that for us. We’ll definitely call him again if we need him, but I don’t see any major plans or whatnot just based on our limited testing resources there.”