DOVER, Del. -- Rookie Chase Elliott is not only holding down the points lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he's slowly starting to pull away from his more experienced competition.
Elliott, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, has stretched his advantage over JR Motorsports teammate (and preseason championship favorite) Regan Smith to 20 points. Along the way, he's looked a lot more like a seasoned veteran than a raw rookie both on and off the track.
Which probably explains why he's not really surprised by his instant success.
"The opportunity came along late for us and it's been a lot of fun to be here and compete at this level," said Elliott, who drives the No. 9 Chevrolet with sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts. "That was a surprise in itself, and certainly to get a couple wins has been great.
"I said at the start of the season that I didn't have to worry about our team and our guys and the cars they bring," he continued. "I really felt like that stuff was fine; I knew they were going to bring cars capable of winning and I just had to do my part. I still feel today that if I can do my job on my end, we'll have as good a shot as anybody each week.
"It was definitely a little bit of a surprise to get a couple of wins so early, but we'd like to have some now and moving forward."
One major NASCAR personality who is not surprised by Elliott's early prowess is JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. But Earnhardt pointed out that it's not all down to the driver.
"Well, we knew he was pretty good," Earnhardt said. "I think it's the best car in the garage; it's giving him every opportunity to learn on a quicker scale and he is just doing a good job with it. They are the best-prepared group and they cover the details. They have a great crew chief with Greg Ives.
"Both of those -- the car and the driver -- I think complement each other really well. He's been given a great opportunity and cars that he can excel in, and excel in quicker, because the car really is an easy tool for him. He is able to hone his skills and understand what he is looking for."
With three wins (at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland), Elliott has definitely exceeded the expectations of others. But what is his own assessment of his dynamic rookie Nationwide campaign?
"It has certainly been a good year at times and obviously some weekends have been better than others," he offered. "We'd like to fix some of those weekends that haven't been so good and try to make them a little better. I can think back to a lot of races that didn't go very well for us, but we have been fortunate enough to get to Victory Lane a couple times and hopefully we can try to get back there before the season is over with.
"I've been trying to enjoy it, but you have to be ready, stay focused throughout and realize that anything can happen," he continued. "It's certainly not over 'til it's over and you don't want to get ahead of yourself. That's the biggest thing."
Elliott admitted that he sometimes seeks out Earnhardt, Ives and his other teammates for advice. But for the most part, he tries to work things out on his own whenever possible.
"I try to lean back on those guys and talk to them, but I think everybody is different, especially when you get into situations when you're trying to battle for something," Elliott said. "It's good to ask questions, but in a lot of ways, you've got to figure out your own way to cope with things, to cope with the stress that's on the team and everything throughout that.
"I just try to keep it as simple as possible and as stress-free as you can," he added. "I put a lot of emphasis on taking it one week at a time and hopefully we're still in the hunt when it counts and can battle to the end."