TALLADEGA, ALA. – It was renowned driver Ricky Bobby who 10 years ago declared: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
While the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” was not exactly a documentary – OK, it was a glorious spoof – there is some truth in what the fictional fellow with two first names said. Especially this weekend, when NASCAR’s Sprint Cup chase narrows to the top eight drivers at Talladega.
That certainly holds for the young squire of the Elliott Georgia racing legacy, Chase Elliott.
He really needs to be first at the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Sunday, or he’ll spend the end of the season just driving around in circles.
Elliott Friday summed up his deal here as “a pretty simplistic situation for this weekend – having to have a really good run, if not have to win. It’s a simple position that we are in and we are up for the challenge.”
With Elliott’s rookie season five races from the finish, he finds himself 12th in the Chase points standings. Finishes of 33rd and 31st in his last two races have left the 20-year-old as the 12th man among the 12 still eligible to move on next week to the round of eight (two of those spots are already taken). The climb to the top eight cut-off will be a steep one. Elliott – who has had nine top five finishes in 31 races – really needs his first Sprint Cup victory.
Trying to apply the art of analytics to racin’, NBC determined that Elliott has a seven percent chance of advancing to the round of eight, a two percent chance of making the sport’s final four and a .3 percent chance of winning the Sprint Cup title.
Don’t quote Elliott the odds.
“I 100 percent think if we can advance through this weekend I without a doubt feel like we can be a contender,” he said Friday. Was that definitive enough for you?
“I think we have been running well enough the past couple of weeks to be a contender. Obviously, we haven’t had the finishes to show it, but I feel like the way we’ve been clicking – pit road, practice, the race – I feel like all that stuff has been going in the right direction,” he said.
On the 10th anniversary of a movie that did for racing what “Caddyshack” did for golf, can there really be too many “Talladega Nights” references?
So, again, another gem on winning from the esteemed Mr. Bobby: “You gotta win to get love. I mean, that's just life. Look at...look at Don Shula. Legendary coach. Look at that Asian guy who holds the world record for eatin’ all those hot dogs in a row. Look at Rue McClanahan. From The Golden Girls. Three people. All great champions. All loved.”
Winning does not come easily. Elliott has the genetics, the team and the ride (inheriting Jeff Gordon’s No. 24), but that has not guaranteed him a trip to victory lane just yet.
Although he is well-equipped for the restrictor plate challenge, having the speed to twice claim poles at plate tracks (the Daytona 500 and the May race here, translating to finishes of 37th and 5th).
Here we close with something wonderfully unrelated to anything but the anniversary of the movie. Something that the buttoned down Chase Elliott would never say. But the eminent Ricky Bobby did:
“Let me just quote the late, great Colonel Sanders. He said, ‘I am too drunk to taste this chicken.’”