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-fives 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 said. “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 three-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 said. “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-five 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.”
AP Sports Writers Luke Meredith in Newton, Iowa and Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.
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