It’s already getting late for Chase Elliott to prove potential

Looks can be deceiving in NASCAR, too.

Consider Chase Elliott. Great name for a NASCAR driver. Heavy right foot, too.

The second-generation driver is supposed to be this season’s “Sliced Bread,” as in the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread — which is what journeyman driver Randy LaJoie used to call Joey Logano (albeit in a somewhat condescending manner) when Logano was breaking in.

And though young Elliott has shown great speed, and great promise, he’s only 28th in points heading into this weekend’s race in Phoenix. It’s still early, but already racing people are saying young Elliott needs to get a move on, or at least avoid wrecks in front of him, if he’s going to race his way into the Chase for the championship.

And consider, too, Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Wind Tunnel.

Before a windstorm of Biblical proportions, or Interstate 10 near the Arizona-New Mexico border proportions, blew in — and even after it blew out — many of the drivers said there was more side-by-side racing than usual at LVMS.

There was lots more passing, they said. No, it wasn’t as dramatic as at the abrasive Atlanta track the week before. But it generally was agreed this new low-downforce package the cars are running added to the quality of racing at LVMS, too.

Only the NASCAR statistics don’t back it up.

In the 2015 Kobalt 400, a race most thought was mundane, there were 1,982 green-flag passes. In the 2016 race, which, when the wind wasn’t blowing, most thought was interesting, if not exciting, there were only 1,170 passes.

There were four more cars in last year’s race, and eight fewer laps run under caution. But even taking those factors into consideration, there still was a lot more passing last year.

Which only goes to show again that looks can be deceiving, and that beauty — along with dust particles from the sandstorm in Turn 3 — is in the eye of the beholder.

Flagging support

Because this was the Internet and somebody had to be upset about something, Kobalt 400 winner Brad Keselowski thought it was necessary to explain what happened when a gust of wind blew the American flag out of his grasp during the postrace celebration. One irate person on Twitter wanted to know where the apology was for the driver having dropped the Stars and Stripes.

“The 30 mph wind ripped it from me,” Keselowski wrote on his Twitter account. “The apology is stopping right (away) and picking it up.”

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. told the irate person on Twitter to “use emojis or put a sock in it,” and that race winner Keselowski “was tryin’ to honor country and troops,” that sort of put an end to it.

Mint 400 returns

The latest installment of the Mint 400 off-road race will go on as scheduled Saturday. The start-finish line is just off Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas near Buffalo Bill’s resort. The unlimited class vehicles will leave the starting line at 12:30 p.m., followed by a giant cloud of dust.

For more information on the “Great American Off-Road Race,” visit www.themint400.com.

Indycar begins

A field of 22 cars — including three entered by Southern Nevadans — will take the green flag Sunday at the Verizon IndyCar season opener in the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. ABC will broadcast at 9:30 a.m.

Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin of Russia will be behind the wheel for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, a team co-owned by Lake Las Vegas resident Sam Schmidt. Jimmy Vasser, a former series champion and longtime Las Vegan, will be calling the shots for veteran driver Sebastian Bourdais of France.

Roger Penske’s team doesn’t have any local ties, as far as I know. But his drivers still will be the ones to beat. They almost always are.

Green-white-checkered

■ The season opener at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring is March 26.

■ Veterans Joey Saldana and Donny Schatz (Tony Stewart’s hired gun) won World of Outlaws winged sprint car races on NASCAR Weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dirt track.

■ Noted sports columnist Joe Posnanski, on college basketball: “A college basketball season is much like the Daytona 500 where restrictor plates limit the cars’ power and keeps everyone bunched up for the long part of the race. This unavoidably leads to some crashes, some interesting strategies, a few rivalries and, mostly, cars following each other around lap after lap. But it often leads to the wild final laps and crazy, incredible, heart-stopping finishes. Nobody cares who leads the most laps at Daytona. It’s all about the checkered flag. That’s college basketball, too. You will have some January and February clashes, some interesting strategies, a few rivalries, but mostly it feels like warm-up basketball. The real season is March Madness.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. His motor sports notebook runs on Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

Race Schedule

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

What: Good Sam 500

Where: Avondale, Arizona

When: Today, practice (Fox Sports 1, 9:30-11 a.m.), qualifying (Fox Sports 2, 3:30-5 p.m.); Saturday, practice (Fox Sports 1, 7:30-8:30 a.m., 10-11 a.m.); Sunday, race, 12:30 p.m. (Fox, 12-4 p.m.).

Track: Phoenix International Raceway (oval, 1.0 miles).

Race distance: 312 miles, 312 laps.

Last year: Kevin Harvick raced to his fourth straight Phoenix victory and fifth in six races. He has a series-record seven wins at the track.

Last week: Brad Keselowski won at Las Vegas for the second time in three years. He passed Kyle Busch for the lead with five laps to go and held off Team Penske teammate Joey Logano.

NASCAR XFINITY

What: AXALTA 200

Where: Avondale, Arizona.

When: Today, practice (Fox Sports 1, 8:30-9:30 a.m., noon-1:30 p.m.; Fox Sports 2, 2:30-3:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (Fox Sports 1, 8:30-10 a.m.), race, 11:30 a.m. (Fox, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.).

Track: Phoenix International Raceway (oval, 1.0 miles).

Race distance: 200 miles, 200 laps.

Last year: Joey Logano raced to the first of his four 2015 series victories.

Last week: Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas for his second straight victory and record 78th overall. He led 199 of 200 laps for his first series victory on his hometown track. Joe Gibbs Racing swept the podium, with Daniel Suarez finishing second and Erik Jones third.

VERIZON INDYCAR

What: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

When: St. Petersburg, Florida

When: Today, practice; Saturday, practice, qualifying; Sunday, race, 9:52 a.m. (ABC, 9:30 a.m.-noon).

Track: Streets of St. Petersburg (street course, 1.8 miles).

Race distance: 198 miles, 110 laps.

Last year: Juan Pablo Montoya won the season-opening race, holding off Team Penske teammate Will Power.

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