TALLADEGA — This was a really terrific reminder that some among the younger generation still own respect for history and for their parents:
In an interview with Chase Elliott, I used the phrase “212 point something…”
To which Chase Elliott quickly responded, “212.809.”
Those six digits should be carved in granite somewhere in all this HGTV-meets-NASCAR home makeover at Talladega Superspeedway.
That was the speed in miles per hour that Bill Elliott traveled on April 30, 1987, in circling Talladega during qualifying. It was the fastest official lap in speedway history — and will likely always be, now that NASCAR regulates speeds at ’Dega.
That was the speed that his son knows by heart.
“You’ll never see that in my time unless they take the plates away,” Chase Elliott said. “I think it’s cool. I don’t think it needs to be seen again. We’re going plenty fast enough. Not because I’m scared to go faster, but for the simple fact you don’t have to go fast to put on good racing. We have to put on good shows, and not necessarily beat speed records.”
Let the record show that William Clyde Elliott Jr., has also won a Talladega pole — in his spring 2016 debut, 13 years after his dad last accomplished that feat. Young Elliott’s speed was more than 20 mph slower, at 192.661.
For those who prefer to see things in seconds rather than mph, Bill Elliott’s record lap took 44.998 seconds; Chase’s pole lap in 2016 took 49.704 seconds.
All this is to say, with his family legacy, with a pair of top-five finishes in his previous six starts, if there’s anyone who should be the biggest sentimental choice among the winners-in-waiting at Talladega, it would be 23-year-old Chase Elliott.
Stirring up much sentimentality in Elliott takes a pretty big spoon. However, he did allow in a recent media session in advance of this Sunday’s GEICO 500 that “it definitely seems like a little bit of a home race for me, which I think is really cool. I’m not sure if that’s because we’re close to home (Dawsonville, Ga.) or if that’s just random or happenstance or what it is, but that’s really neat. Just hearing, after the race, people saying that the crowd was fired-up or whatever when we took the lead or something happened, I think that’s pretty neat. So, that may not always be the case. I’ve enjoyed it on days when it has been that way.”
I’d suggest, much as with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase has become a favorite among the Talladega denizens who own a particular appreciation for history and speedway lore, who can recall how Bill Elliott typically brought the hottest hot rod to the track in that old No. 9 Melling Coors Ford, the fastest beer can on the planet.
Though he is a three-time winner in his short career, this season has not exactly sent writers to the thesaurus for synonyms for “spectacular.” He crashed late at Daytona, was a disappointing 19th at his home track in Atlanta, mustered up a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas and was runner-up at Martinsville. Nothing outside the top 20 — but nothing, well, spectacular.
“I feel like we’ve had some really good runs. Runs that I feel like we were capable of winning an event in,” he said. “Then we’ve had runs where we weren’t even close. How you summarize that up, I really don’t know. But we’ve had some shots at them and we’ve had some days when we didn’t have a chance. That’s kind of where we’ve been.”
So, how to change his luck? What must he do, someone asked, to break through at Talladega?
The kid with the respect for history just laughed.
“Not crash,” Elliott said.
Veteran sports columnist Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.