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Elliott seals back-to-back Nationwide wins

18-year-old Nationwide rookie Chase Elliott won his first Nationwide race just seven days ago. He liked it so much, he promptly did it again at Darlington.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings

One week ago, Chase Elliott was a normal high school senior who just happened to have the dream chance of driving a NASCAR Nationwide Series race car at weekends. But seven days and two back-to-back race victories have now dramatically transformed him into one of the series hottest and most successful names, as well as being the leader of the championship points standings.

“This is unbelievable,” said Elliott after the race as he celebrated in victory lane. “I couldn't believe last week, much less here at Darlington. This truly is a dream come true.

"This is a place I always loved watching races. It was probably my favourite place to watch a race as a fan for a long, long time," he added. "Just to come and be a part of this race is unbelievable, but to come and win this thing that's a deal I'll never forget."

Elliott had been narrowly pipped to pole position for the race by just 0.038s by a last-gasp qualifying effort from Kyle Busch, giving Busch his 37th pole in 277 Nationwide race starts and his third in ten outings at Darlington Raceway. Busch led for almost all of the first 33 laps save for a couple of laps for pit stops and a restart following Ryan Sieg spinning out on the backstretch on lap 19. Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Matt Kenseth initially moved Elliott aside to take up second place in the opening phase, but after the caution the momentum swung back to Elliott who passed first Kenseth and then Bush himself on lap 34 to take the lead for the first time of the evening.

He kept that until a debris caution on lap 59 prompted a new opportunity for pit stops, which was well-timed for Elliott who had just made a rare mistake and drifted slightly wide to scrape the wall very lightly - just enough to give him one of the 'Darlington stripes' down the side of the #9 that is a rite of passage and badge of honour for all drivers at the 1.366-mile circuit. Elliott's JR Motorsports team mate Kevin Harvick - who has earlier won pole for Saturday's Sprint Cup race - took point for the restart but his turn at the top only lasted a couple of minutes before the irrepressible Elliott was back in front again on lap 65.

Elliott stayed on top through the third caution of the night on lap 69 (after multiple contact between Dylan Kwasniewski, David Starr and Chris Buescher in turn 2) and the fourth on lap 75 (for James Buescher losing his right front tyre in turn 3). However, pit stops on lap 89 following a spin for Regan Smith saw Elliott drop four places for the restart, putting him behind Busch, Kenseth and Kyle Larson at the green flag.

A rapid return to yellow for Cale Conley sliding out and hitting the inside wall on lap 95 forced another quick restart, and while Busch sprang away into the distance at the front it was the two young guns Elliott and Larson who were battling fiercely over second place, the two cars leaning on each to such an extent that disaster appeared imminent. Somehow both of them kept their cars pointing in the right direction and eventually Elliott won the protracted battle to lead the chasing pack, but Busch had meantime used the opportunity to pull out a 2.6 second lead on his rivals.

Busch's advantage over the rest was now so big that the #54 effectively went into cruise control mode, and the win appeared a certainty - right up to the moment that Tanner Berryhill spun in Turn 4 on lap 141, just six laps shy of the chequered flag. That wiped out Busch's lead, and the ensuing round of pit stops rubbed salt in the wound as Busch lost the front row to Elliott Sadler and Kyle Larson who had both opted for two fresh tyres only while Busch took four and fell to third place as a consequence. The #54 was then shuffled further back at the green flag with just two laps to go before the finish, leaving Busch with too much ground to make up; after leading for a race-high 84 of the 147 race laps, Busch was now out of contention for the victory.

Larson's tyre gambit failed as the #42 was also unable to hold on at the restart, and so it was Elliott Sadler who took the white flag and seemed locked-in for the win. Until that is Chase Elliott caught up with him despite having taken the restart down in sixth place: he closed up on Sadler encouraging the #11 into a slide that just did enough to check Sadler's momentum. It allowed Elliott to pull off the pass in turn 3 for the lead - and the win, by 0.283s over a disappointed Sadler.

"I knew the guys on two tyres were going to be a little slower than the guys on four," Elliott said. "Our lane went and Elliott got a little loose off 2 and let me get to the outside, and that was where I wanted to be anyway."

"Second is a good finish of course, but it's not what we wanted," sighed Sadler, who finished just ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Kenseth and Busch. "I really want to win at this place. Just felt like I let one get away from us tonight."

With his victory, Elliott - son of former NASCAR Cup veteran Bill Elliott - becomes the youngest driver to have won two NASCAR Nationwide races at the age of just 18 years, 4 months and 14 days, beating the previous record held by Joey Logano by six months. He's also the youngest driver to win a Nationwide Series race at Darlington (and only the fourth driver to win on his début at the notoriously tricky 'pinched' paperclip circuit - the last being back in 1952), and the youngest points leader in the Nationwide Series history as he goes 13 points ahead of Regan Smith in the standings.

He's certainly managed to impress his team boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr: “The thing I like about Chase is obviously he's successful and winning," he said. "But his personality - man, I like to call him the new Elvis. He's the full package, man, he just has it all. The sky's the limit with that kid."

Seven days ago people might have responded to Chase Elliott's name with a 'Who?' - but now it's much more likely to be a 'Whoa!'

Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings



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