I really do not think anyone would have guessed at the beginning of the 2014 season that we would be celebrating a rookie driver winning the Nationwide Series championship. Having watched drivers like veterans Elliott Sadler and Regan Smith with many years of driving experience work so hard for so long to win a championship, it is not an easy task.
Winning a NASCAR championship is the dream of every driver, young and older. Those who have raced for several years are all too familiar with the challenges and how many small things have to come together perfectly to have a successful season.
In the past few years, the Nationwide Series has become more of a proving ground in and of itself instead of just being a stepping stone for young drivers to gain experience in hopes of proving themselves worthy of a Sprint Cup ride at some point. The current field of drivers gave us an exciting season to watch. They stand on their own worth.
One young driver came in almost completely untested. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to put a last minute deal together with sponsor NAPA (who had pulled out of the Sprint Cup series due to some sad circumstances in 2013) and a driver with a well-known name like Chase Elliott, there wasn’t a great deal of time to plan.
Once Chase took the wheel and came out of the gate with the poise and maturity of a veteran, things suddenly started changing and expectations grew beyond what everyone might have wanted. It can be scary to see a driver get such a great start, winning races and shooting to the top of the standings, you wonder if it is coming too easy. Is a disappointment coming?
I think back to Dale Jr.’s rookie season. When his dad took the risk to put this young driver in a car knowing what would be expected of him because of who he was, the name that he carried, it must have been a very nervous time. Yet the kid did his dad proud. Dale Earnhardt had very little time to groom his boy once Dale Jr. started his career. The time that they got to race together and against one another was something that I am sure both were very excited about.
We have every reason to hope that Bill Elliott will enjoy many years of celebrating his son’s success. To have your teenager take the titles of rookie of the year, champion and most popular driver in his first season has to be almost surreal. Who would have thought it would turn out this way? I think maybe a father who knows his son and an owner who knew how to give the son what he needed to show his own talent and skill. Fathers and sons, sons and fathers, they share dreams, they share failures, they share success and they share genes that can’t be denied.