DAYTONA BEACH, FL — official release — Christian Petersen/Getty Images photo — Showcasing the exceptional talents of this season’s championship contenders on one of NASCAR’s most competitive stages has looked almost artless for the top three in the standings.
Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler and Regan Smith have all posted wins, are only separated by three points in the standings and each have an average finishing position in the top 10. The feat for some has seemed almost impossible – yet these three have faced the insurmountable with what appears to be ease.
Chase Elliott, the series point’s leader and Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader, is already being deemed the sport’s next “face” by fans and media alike – and with good reason. He is the youngest driver in series history to lead the standings and the first rookie to win back-to-back races (Texas, Darlington). The son of NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Bill Elliott has posted seven top 10s in nine races this season. His 7.4 average finishing position in the first nine races of his NASCAR Nationwide Series career is the eighth best in series history. He also has a series leading season-to-date Driver Rating of 109.1.
Just outside of Elliott’s quarter panel sits veteran Elliott Sadler, just one point back in the standings. Sadler’s win at Talladega not only ended a 54-race winless streak dating back to Aug. 4, 2012 (Iowa), but also revived his championship form.
“It means a lot for me to get this JGR team to victory lane, Sadler said. “They’ve worked their butts off last year and we weren’t able to reward them. We have a lot of momentum on our side now.”
Sadler has posted four top fives and seven top 10s in the first nine events. But he has finished runner-up in the standings twice in the last three years; 2014 could be the season he gets over the hump.
Filling Sadler’s mirror is Regan Smith, currently third in the standings, three points back from his JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott. Smith opened the season in dramatic fashion, winning at Daytona and scoring a series-leading nine top 10 finishes. Smith led the standings for the first five races of the season and his season-to-date Driver Rating is 98.9.
Expect to see these three up front each week; none have finished outside the top 20 so far this season.