Chase Elliott Just Wishes Time Would Stop for Championship Reflection12/10/2020
Not long after crossing the finish line at Phoenix Raceway and clinching the NASCAR Cup Series championship, Chase Elliott was asked what the accomplishment would mean for his career and legacy.
The words weren’t there yet, and 25-year-old wasn’t quite sure when the sentiment would come.
“I’m not really sure that I realize what has happened today,” Elliott told the media after the race. “Ask me when we get to Daytona if it changed anything for me or not because I don’t know right now.”
In the weeks since, Elliott hasn’t had much time to reflect, either.
His first matter of business after winning the Season Finale 500 was a ticker tape parade upon landing in his hometown, or at least the closest Dawsonville, Georgia could come to producing one.
Guess who rolled back into Dawsonville tonight? @chaseelliott | @TeamHendrick pic.twitter.com/3alXhl3h6l
After a week of media obligations, Elliott took the next week off, and then spent the next week preparing for and competing in the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race. It was the first time in five years that he spent back in the car where he developed the skills that got him noticed by Rick Hendrick in the first place.
Despite a challenging learning curve towards the high-powered lightweight stock car, Elliott ultimately finished third behind Ty Majeski and Derek Thorn, in an event that also included fellow Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and NASCAR notables Noah Gragson, Grant Enfinger and Chandler Smith.
The week-long event allowed him to reconnect with his first crew chief, 2002 Snowball Derby winner Ricky Turner, the racer turned mechanic that powered Elliott to over 50 Late Model victories across the East Coast.
The No. 9 Super Late Model looked familiar but was owned by veteran Cup Series team owner James Finch, who actually made the phone call to Hendrick that encouraged him to sign the second-generation racer to a development contract at just 14-years-old.
The night Elliott won the championship, Hendrick says there were people in his company that thought he was ‘nuts’ for offering the contract.
“James Finch asked me if I had seen Chase Elliott drive, and I said ‘no,’ and he told me I needed to because he’s whipping all these guys on pavement.”
And that was the truth.
By time Elliott agreed to a deal, he had already won the Snowball Derby in addition to other major events like the Winchester 400, All-American 400 and World Crown 300.
The son of a NASCAR legend, the younger Elliott was a blue-chip prospect that had surprisingly gone unsigned by that point, mostly because he was so young.
And yet, he had consistently defeated established Cup drivers like Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Landon Cassill at the short track level. That doesn’t even include toppling the established stars of the discipline like Bubba Pollard, Augie Grill and Mike Garvey.
“So, I started getting some videos,” Hendrick recalled, “and then I called Bill, and they came down and we talked.
“I just watched him in those Super Late Models and then actually saw one of the races where he raced Kyle Busch and just thought so much of how Bill raised him and what a polished young guy was. You could see the talent and thought, ‘he may be 14-years-old, but we need to take a chance if we could.”
After 11 Cup wins in 185 starts leading to a championship, the investment has paid off, but that journey began with James Finch.
Since selling his Cup Series team after the 2013 season, Finch has returned to those same short track roots, offering countless sponsorships to deserving drivers and bolstering purses across the discipline.
For the Snowball Derby last week, Finch wanted the opportunity to own a car driven by Elliott, and the Cup Series champion came awfully close to delivering him a Tom Dawson Trophy — the historic prize given to the race winning team each December.
“He does an awful lot for short track racing that I don’t think gets enough credit,” Elliott said. “He does a lot behind the scenes as well. I know the people who he supports, with sponsorships and advice, and they’re all appreciative.
“But I feel like everyone here who loves short track racing should be too, because he’s a guy who has done a lot for short track racing and we need the James Finches of the world here, and I’m excited to drive for him.”
The Snowball Derby was also an extended homecoming for Elliott.
Even after spending five years on the NASCAR circuit, Elliott still has more starts at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola than any other throughout his career. He and Turner spent six years racing up to 10 times at the Florida half-mile.
The community immediately embraced him, and he’s responded with accessibility and grace.
Elliott was visible throughout race week at Pensacola, signing countless diecasts and hero cards, speaking highly of a race city that molded him into the racer and person he is today.
“I feel like I learned some of my biggest lessons in my years here, and certainly my biggest opportunities came from my years of racing here as well,” Elliott said. “So, I think it’s really important to respect that, you know, as time goes on and remembering where you came from, in a sense.
“But most importantly, this is a really important piece of racing that needs to survive and thrive. It needs to be here. And it’s the responsibility of the people who are fortunate enough to do what I do to give back to it and respect it. It needs to last for a long, long, time.”
With the Derby in his rear-view mirror, Elliott still doesn’t have a lot of time to really think about his legacy or what the championship means moving forward.
He plans to enter the Chili Bowl Nationals the second week of January but has never driven a Dirt Midget before. To prepare, he will compete in a two-day event at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina this weekend.
I’m going to try my best to play in the dirt at the @cbnationals!! Should be fun… 😝 #di9 #ChiliBowl #Nationals pic.twitter.com/aGKsQIquNb
So, what in the world is Elliott doing in a Dirt Midget?
“I really just wanted to try something different because I respect that kind of racing,” Elliott said. “I think those guys that do it are really good at what they do.
“I also believe there are elements of that driving that car that I believe can teach me some things to make me better on Sundays. That’s not where I come from, and I have very realistic expectations, but I’m really interested in trying to learn.”
As it turns out, trying to learn is a theme of Elliott’s entire off-season, as he’s also expected to make his Rolex 24 debut with a yet to be announced team.
“More than anything else, I’m looking forward to the challenges,” Elliott said. “This is going to be really hard and that’s what I’m most excited about — doing something that’s different.
“I’m by no means saying I’ve figured everything out that I’m doing now because there’s always something to learn, but I do want to try something new and this is a great opportunity.”
In short, Elliott is keeping busy these days, and there’s no slowing down after a taxing playoff run that required him to win back-to-back races to take the championship. The Snowball Derby didn’t even come easy, Elliott failing to make the main event in time trials and needing to race his way into the show via a last chance race.
He came back from 31st to finish third in 300 laps.
So, no, Elliott still doesn’t know what the championship means to his career and legacy.
“I honestly don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet,” Elliott said with a smile. “I’ve been so busy with Chili Bowl and getting this car ready for the Derby. When we won the championship, that kept me really busy, and I’m super, super happy to have my schedule busy for this, but I’m not sure that it’s sunk in yet.
Elliott isn’t trying to be shifty by not answering the question, but he isn’t sure he can articulate it right now.
“I’ve been thinking hard about it, and I don’t know why I can’t put it into words,” Elliott said. “I think part of it is that it’s just a moment that I’ve wanted my whole life.
“You want time to stop so bad in that moment and that’s just not how time works. You can’t just pause. Like anything else in life, when you’re having fun, time flies.
“So, I had that moment, one that I couldn’t ask for anything more and time just cruises on. And it’s hard to sit down right now and think too much about it, because if you do, time flies and we’ll be right back in Daytona. So, I’m getting there. I don’t know that I’m there yet, but I’m getting there.”
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