For years, we saw a rabid fan base that screamed and yelled for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who whether he was right or wrong never faulted him. If he wrecked someone for the lead then it was a tough move and if he got wrecked he was raced too hard. It’s the type of bias that exists in any fan base for any sport. It’s nothing new, but now NASCAR has a new face for this with Chase Elliott.
Elliott fans have taken over this type of bias in massive droves. This time the driver not only has a championship but is capable of winning more. With this, it almost feels like the fan base is stronger in a sense, especially since social media is much more of a fixture than in Dale Jr.’s time.
If another driver beats, bumps, or God forbid wrecks Chase Elliott, then that driver knows they’re going to have hell to pay by that fan base. This can be by simple boos and jeers, or a flood of toxic social media activity. This is the type of privilege that no other driver has.
While other drivers will say and act like they don’t care, this has to be in the back of their mind when they get around that 9-car. Competitors know that if they start getting too rough with him they’ll have to deal with all the backlash.
The key difference between Chase Elliott and Dale Jr. is that Elliott takes advantage of it. I’m not going to call Elliott a dirty driver, but he’s not afraid to rub fenders and piss off other drivers. While I’m sure that his fan base is not on his mind while he’s driving, he is not ignorant of the issues other drivers face when they race him aggressively. Jr. never raced with this same type of aggression, so it was never really an issue, usually, if a driver bumped or wrecked Jr. it was uncalled for.
What can be done about this? At the end of the day, Chase Elliott can’t drive nicer because other guys might be nervous around him. The only thing he could do is ask for his fans to relax and not spread too much hate to other drivers, but honestly, it would be pointless. Human nature is always going to force people to act and react with passion, and honestly, Elliott is also human, and if a driver pisses him off, he won’t mind if they get a few F-bombs thrown at them.
This, just like with any privilege just needs to be addressed and acknowledged. Fans should be self-aware to realize their own biases and know where to draw the line. At Martinsville, I don’t blame fans for getting mad in the moment at Keselowski, but the fact of the matter is he had no reason to intentionally wreck Chase. Why treat him like he did? Get mad, complain about it, but know when it’s too far. A driver should never receive death threats or be booed for their whole career over a single incident.