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NASCAR young guns balance friendship, competition

From left, NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Chase Elliott,

From left, NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez hang out at Rockefeller Center on July 20, 2015. Credit: Josh Stewart

There's one wreck Chase Elliott and Darrell Wallace Jr. won't be arguing over anytime soon.

It happened last winter, when the NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors went to Colorado for a few days of skiing with fellow drivers Ryan Blaney, Dylan Kwasniewski and some friends.

"As you can imagine, a trip to Colorado with four or five guys, you know, it was fun, we did a lot of skiing, tried a lot of adventures on the mountain," Elliott said earlier this week.

"Rental car ... " Wallace chimed in with a mischievous smile.

"I wrecked a rental car, kinda," Elliott said, before deflecting blame to Wallace. "It was his fault. He caused it."

Wallace took responsibility before Elliott added, "It wasn't bad, we actually just put it in a ditch, it wasn't like we actually wrecked it."

Usually such bonding moments of youth aren't being made with people who you're fighting with for wins and sponsorship dollars. But Elliott, Wallace and fellow competitor Daniel Suarez, who were in Manhattan this week for media appearances to promote the Xfinity Series' first race on NBC, are used to the dichotomy. They posed like fraternity brothers for a photo at Rockefeller Center just days before racing against each other at today's Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (NBC is in its first year televising NASCAR since 2006, and Xfinity is in its first year as the title sponsor for NASCAR's No. 2 series, taking over from Nationwide.)

Allegiances can be fragile in a sport where even teammates can tangle. (Wallace did just that, fighting for a win with Roush Fenway teammate Chris Buescher earlier this year at Dover.)

"You choose your friends, wisely, I think," Elliott said.

Elliott, Wallace and Suarez are making these choices while navigating divergent but equally challenging paths to NASCAR stardom.

Elliott has two legends to live up to -- his father, Bill Elliott, and Jeff Gordon, who is retiring from the Sprint Cup and leaving his No. 24 Chevy in Elliott's hands next year.

Wallace won five times in the Camping World Truck Series the last two years (including four times in 2014), making him the first African-American to win in a NASCAR national series race in half a century, yet is still looking for full-time sponsorship.

Mexico native Suarez continues to acclimate to a new country, new tracks and a second language while serving as one of the faces for telecommunication giant Arris' entry into NASCAR sponsorship.

"It's good to have friends at the racetrack," Suarez said. "But sometimes it's hard to make that combination right. The last thing you want to do is have problems with your friends."

It gets even more competitive in NASCAR, where unlike other sports the fight for sponsorship dollars is just as important as the battles on the track.

"You're racing against some of your best friends, you're wanting to beat them the most at everything, finding sponsorship, on the racetrack, the whole aspect of it," Wallace said. "It's a different animal."

Making peace with that is one thing that has allowed Wallace to enjoy offseason jaunts and the like and deal with whatever happens.

That's the name of the game for me," said Wallace, who despite the wins didn't attract sponsorship at Kyle Busch Motorsports before his Roush Fenway move. "I never know what's going to happen until about the end of January, the beginning of [Daytona] Speedweeks ... It's good practice, not to worry about it."

For Elliott, next year's move to Sprint Cup can wait while he tries to win a second-straight championship in the No. 2 series -- and beat his friends in the process.

Said Elliott: "My goal for next year is to worry about next year when next year rolls around."


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