FORT WORTH, Texas -- When qualifying ended at Texas Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott hopped a fence and went on his way without a single fan bothering to stop him for an autograph or picture.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. watched the 18-year-old go by largely ignored and figured those days were numbered.

"I thought to myself, `I know he's going to win one day or another, and then just start railing off run after run after run and become the next best thing," Earnhardt said hours later. "It ain't going to be long until he's going to be swarmed with attention."

Boy, Earnhardt had that pegged.

Elliott used a strong move on the outside to pass Kevin Harvick for the lead Friday night and then sailed away for his first career Nationwide Series victory.

The 18-year-old won in his sixth career start and is the second youngest winner in series history. He's roughly four months older than Joey Logano, who was 18 years and 21 days when he won his first career Nationwide race in 2008.

Elliott won in a Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, driving the No. 9 as a tribute to his father, 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott.

"I can't believe it, just to have the opportunity to race with these guys at JR Motorsports, just to have this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any racer who wants to make it to the top," Elliott said. "It just means the word for me to be here."

Elliott became the fourth driver in Nationwide history to earn his first series victory at Texas, joining Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Trevor Bayne.

The victory continues the youth initiative in NASCAR as first-time winners have now won consecutive races for the first time since 2008. Two weeks ago, 21-year-old Kyle Larson scored his first career win at California.

For his efforts? Elliott gets to return home and go to school on Monday as he continues to finish his senior year of high school.

The win wowed Elliott's father, and back home in Dawsonville, Ga., the siren outside the local pool room was blaring throughout the town to signify another local boy's big victory.

"To come here, to never have been to some of these places, like Las Vegas, California and now here at Texas, and come out and beat the kind of guys you've beat -- I'll tell you what, you've done a heck of a job."

As a sign of how much respect Elliott already has among his peers, he was met following the win on pit road by Harvick, Larson and Kyle Busch. Then six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson came to Victory Lane to congratulate him.

Kyle Busch, a 65-time race winner in the Nationwide Series, finished second.

Elliott, who led four times for 38 laps, was strong Friday night and passed car owner Earnhardt Jr. for the lead at one point. But he was second behind Harvick on the final restart with 23 laps to go, and flirted several times with making a pass for the win before finally completing the move with a strong outside pass.

 

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

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