|Elliotts, Burtons make it family affair at track|
|Friday, June 14, 2013 12:20 AM|
Jeb Burton and Chase Elliott could have saved a stamp.
Turned out, the best spot to send Father’s Day cards in auto racing these days is Victory Lane.
Burton, the 20-year-old son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward, raced to his first NASCAR Truck Series victory Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Elliott, the 17-year-old son of 1988 Cup champion Bill, followed the next day with a win in the ARCA Racing Series at Pocono Raceway.
Like fathers, like sons.
Bill Elliott won five times at Pocono in the Cup series. He was all smiles as he joined Chase at the podium to celebrate the special win.
“I autographed a picture from the last time I was in Victory Lane here in ‘02 and Chase was about this big,” Elliott said, holding his hand about waist high. “Now, 10 years later, here he is in Victory Lane himself in an ARCA car. He did a great job.”
Elliott and Burton won shortly after they were selected for this season’s NASCAR Next program. NASCAR Next, formerly known as Next9, highlights drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 who might one day star at the Nationwide or Sprint Cup level.
When Burton took the checkered flag, his father, who was spotting him from high above the high-banked, 1 1/2-mile track, told his son to do the burnouts he had always wanted to do.
“This is the most special moment in motorsports I’ve ever experienced and I know it is for my family, too,” Ward Burton said. “This is huge. I can’t begin to tell you the trials and travails and all the sacrifices we’ve all made. I didn’t have the financial resources to give Jeb the kind of motorsports experience background that a lot of these guys have. He’s just driving off of pure raw talent. He doesn’t have the experience.”
That was hard to tell at Texas.
Elliott became the youngest ARCA winner ever. He took advantage of an ARCA Racing Series rule change that allows 17-year-olds to drive at both Pocono Raceway and Kentucky Speedway this year as long as they complete a test and meet other requirements by the series.
He also drives in the NASCAR Truck Series, though because of his age is only allowed to compete at tracks no longer than a mile. He has two top-5s in three series races.
Elliott, who signed a developmental deal with Hendrick Motorsports, leans on his father for advice and the two exchanged notes after last week’s test at Pocono. Winning at a track where his dad, one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, had so much success meant even more to him.
“I’m always used to coming and hanging out and watching dad race,” he said. “For me to have an opportunity to race here at Pocono means a lot, much less go to Victory Lane. I knew it would mean a lot if we could do it and we were fortunate everything worked out.”
Burton, nephew of current Sprint Cup driver Jeff, already had three poles and four top-10 finishes in his six races this year.
“It’s a relief,” said Burton, the youngest driver to win a truck race at Texas.
Elliott has only a handful of Truck races left this season. He can expect his dad to be there every mile along the way.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Bill Elliott added. “He’s done a good job in everything he’s raced in. He’s won at a lot of different things and this is just kind of another era. I try not to get upset one way or another. I’ve been through this sport since the ‘70’s and I’ve seen every side of the world you can see.”
There’s no better view than his son celebrating in Victory Lane.
WON’T BE WINLESS: Helio Castroneves so much wants to win his first open-wheel championship that he would have been willing to go through an entire season without winning a race to make that happen.
The Team Penske driver, in his 13th IndyCar season after four years in CART, won’t have to.
“If it takes more second places than firsts to win the championship, then sign me in,” Castroneves said last week.
Then he led the final 132 laps at Texas for his fourth career victory at the track. That also put him in sole possession of the season points lead, breaking a tie with Marco Andretti, now 22 points back.
There are still 11 races left and the series is on the second of four consecutive ovals Saturday at the Milwaukee Mile.
“We can’t stop now because the championship is still wide open,” said Castroneves, the 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner and the IndyCar season runner-up in 2002 and 2008.
Castroneves got the first victory of the season for Penske with his ninth top-five finish in 16 Texas starts.
“For us, we want to win races. It doesn’t matter at this point who is who,” Castroneves added. “I know the press itself has to write stories and (the Penske drought) is over now but I don’t feel any pressure. I feel pressure to go out there and perform the best and when you have the opportunity, you have to go for it.”
SIX-PACK OF WINNERS: Through eight IndyCar races, there have been seven different winners from six teams.
“Yeah, it’s been amazing. Any weekend, it could be any driver in this series,” Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “I would say 15 to 20 drivers, any weekend could be theirs. … You go into every race thinking you can win it. There’s not a whole lot or other series out there that’s like that. It’s great to see all the changeups.”
Six different teams have won the last six races, with Team Penske joining the group at Texas last weekend.
Andretti drivers James Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay won the first two races before Takuma Sato took A.J. Foyt to Victory Lane in Long Beach. Then came another win by Hinchcliffe.
As for Milwaukee, where the series is this week, the defending champ is Hunter-Reay.
BACK IN THE SADLER: After a pair of disappointing races, Elliott Sadler found success Sunday at a track that’s always treated him well.
Sadler notched just his second top-5 in the Nationwide Series since March when he finished third at Iowa Speedway. It was the fifth straight top-five at Iowa for Sadler, who remains the only driver to win there besides the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing team since 2010.
Sadler slipped to seventh in the points chase after following a 13th-place finish at Charlotte with a disastrous 28th-place finish at Dover.
He is back in fifth place after a strong run at Iowa. More importantly, Sadler thinks the No. 11 team might have discovered the setup it’s been looking for.
“This is a good momentum-builder for me and my race team. Felt like we found some direction this weekend, which is good coming off of two tough races,” Sadler said. “We’ve got a few things to work on but we know what direction to go in.”
LEFFLER REMEMBERED: Tony Stewart remembered Jason Leffler as a friend, teammate and doting father to 5-year-old son Charlie Dean a day after the NASCAR driver was killed in a crash at a dirt track.
“Jason Leffler was a great racer and an even better friend,” Stewart, the 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion who was once a teammate of Leffler’s at Joe Gibbs Racing, said Thursday. “To not have him around to talk about whatever race one of us had just run, or were going to run, will be hard. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, especially his son, Charlie, who Jason loved more than anything.”
The 37-year-old Leffler, a 2-time winner on the NASCAR Nationwide Series, died Wednesday night after the crash in a heat race in a 410 Sprint Car event at Bridgeport Speedway, a 0.625-mile, high-banked dirt oval about 15 miles southwest of Philadelphia.
A spectator, 40-year-old Chris Taitt of West Deptford, said Leffler had been in second place, apart from other cars when his winged car slammed into a wall at the fourth turn. Taitt ADDED the wing was “flattened like a pancake” and the seat appeared to be displaced.
The sprint car event was the track’s highest profile event so far this year, with better-known drivers, more expensive tickets and a bigger prize — $7,000 — than the usual Friday and Saturday night events.
Sprint car races can be dangerous for drivers and spectators, with many facilities lacking the SAFER barriers that are standard in NASCAR and IndyCar.
Three drivers were killed last month in crashes on dirt tracks. Driver Josh Burton died of injuries sustained in a crash at Bloomington Speedway in Indiana; and two drivers were killed in a race in Nevada. In March in California, two people were killed when a car careened off a dirt track and crashed on pit road.
Leffler’s representative, Spire Sports, said funeral arrangements are being made.
“Despite his many accomplishments, Jason still followed in the same footsteps of his heroes that would race anything, anytime. All Jason wanted to do was race. He was the life of every party and a true racer,” Spire wrote in a statement. “We will miss Jason dearly and know that his family appreciates all the thoughts and prayers.”
Panther Racing Owner John Barnes, for whom Leffler raced in 2004 and 2005, said the racer had a “fierce competitive spirit and a devilish attitude. Jason was a small man with a huge right foot.”
From Long Beach, Calif., Leffler made 423 starts in NASCAR’s three national series, winning the two Nationwide races and one Truck Series event in a career that began in 1999. He also made three IndyCar Series starts, finishing 17th in the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Leffler won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997-99 before following mentor Stewart’s path into NASCAR.
Leffler’s last full NASCAR season was 2011, when he ran the entire Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports. He finished sixth in the standings that season and hadn’t had a steady NASCAR ride since.
The driver had been racing dirt car events most of this year. On Sunday, he finished last at Pocono in his lone NASCAR Sprint Cup start of the year, running only eight laps in a start-and-park ride.
Many drivers included the hashtag “LEFturn” in tweets mourning Leffler. That was his nickname and was written above the driver’s side window on his race cars.