The changing of the guard

Chase Elliott meets with the media Thursday in Chicago. (Getty Images)

Chase Elliott meets with the media Thursday in Chicago. (Getty Images)

CHICAGO, Ill. – Chase Elliott has been a long-time fan of Tony Stewart—even though it took him a long time to say so.

And Elliott is gratified Stewart waited until 2016 to embark on his retirement tour.

“Tony is a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time,” said Elliott, who, along with Chris Buescher, is representing the Sunoco rookie class in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. “As many of you guys know, Tony was the first guy, other than my dad (Bill Elliott), I was ever okay with pulling for. I’ve always had a lot of respect for him.

“It’s kind of funny watching him and how he is with Kevin (Harvick’s) son Keelan. I kind of remember that being kind of how he was with me, which is kind of cool. I could assume Keelan will have some of those memories as he grows up and looks back at going to the racetrack with his dad.”

Stewart’s presence on the track has added a special quality to Elliott’s rookie season.

“I’ve enjoyed racing with him,” Elliott said. “I’m glad that he decided to wait one more year (to retire from Sprint Cup racing), because that’s a pretty special moment for me to be able to race against one of my heroes like that.

“So, you know, I don’t necessarily look at him any different than I do anybody else when it comes to a competitor or how you treat anyone. But, you know, I think he’s obviously done a good job. I have a lot of respect for him. I expect him to be strong in these next few weeks.”

Stewart remembers the four-year-old Elliott hanging around his car.

“I didn’t even know he could talk, because for the first three years I knew him, he never said one word to me,” Stewart said. “But he would be at the car every week. Bill would bring him to the car every week because he wanted to come down and see us.

“I got him to smile maybe four or five times in the three years. You knew he was engaged. You knew he wanted to be there. You could see it in his eyes. But he never spoke. He never said one word for the first three years. When he got a little older, he started talking finally.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be mute or what. I didn’t know if he could talk.”

As Stewart will attest, talking isn’t the only thing the 20-year-old Elliott can do now. He can also drive a race car—fast enough to qualify for the Chase as a rookie.

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