The Rolex Sports Car Series doesn’t run at Talladega, but apparently Whitney Motorsports thought so Sunday during the Aaron’s 499.
Lost in the furious finish of Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing Jimmie Johnson to victory was the fact that J.J. Yeley replaced Bill Elliott in the No. 46 in the middle of the race. I called a team spokesperson Monday to make sure Elliott was feeling OK.
He confirmed that Elliott was fine, but simply didn’t want to run the whole race. So he made a deal with Yeley, the team’s regular driver, to finish up for him before the race even started. If you’re Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett in Daytona Prototypes, that’s how business is done. In NASCAR, not so much.
Now, I wasn’t one of the folks who felt Elliott was tarnishing his legacy by bouncing around uncompetitive rides in his 50s — until now. The past few years made sense largely because his son, 15-year-old Chase, was developing his racing career as a rapid pace. Putting youngsters in cars is expensive for anybody, and Bill’s past champions provisional is about the only pension a NASCAR driver will ever see.
It was a good deal for everybody involved. An owner could put Elliott in his car and know it would be in the race. Elliott could make quick money while continuing to rub shoulders in NASCAR garages while seeking the best long-term opportunity for his son. (He was successful, as Chase Elliott signed a developmental deal with Hendrick Motorsports in February.)
Most importantly, Elliott could stay just sharp enough behind the wheel that if Chase progressed a la Joey Logano, maybe Bill could get a taste of the thrill Dale Earnhardt Sr. had driving against his boy.
This “second career” couldn’t take away from his 1988 Cup title, his two Daytona 500 triumphs, his 1985 Winston Million win, his improbable win at the Brickyard 400 in 2002 or his 16 Most Popular Driver awards. Why? Because 1) it was based on selflessness, trying to help his son; and 2) there was no reason to believe that if Elliott found his way back in a competitive ride, he wouldn’t immediately get the fire back in his belly and try to do something with that opportunity.
So why would he agree to sell his provisional and then willingly step out of the car at one of the few places where something crazy could happen and he could actually win? (See Dave Blaney.)
There’s a good chance that Elliott will be an immediate nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame once he retires, but sticking around so far past his prime isn’t helping.
If he makes a habit out of of the deal he made Sunday, Chase may be a few years into his Hall of Fame career before his dad finally gets tapped.
The only kind of ride Bill Elliott should accept now is one into the sunset.