NASCAR has the longest season and shortest offseason of all major American sports. The season lasts from February to November and starts in February all over again. Even during that short break, the drivers are itchy to return to the track — even Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
Chase Elliott returns to the short tracks
Elliott clinched his first Cup Series championship with a victory in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November. This made the Elliotts the third father/son duo to win NASCAR’s highest series, after the Pettys, Jarretts, and Earnhardts. Chase’s father, Bill, won the then-Winston Cup in 1988.
It would have been the perfect excuse to kick back, celebrate, and spend the winter at home. But race car drivers can’t stay away from the track for long, and Chase Elliott is no exception.
A month after his championship victory, Elliott entered the Snowball Derby, an annual late-model sports car racing event at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. According to Short Track Scene, he had already made up his mind to do so as early as July, when he attended another late-model race at the same track.
This was strictly for old time’s sake. Elliott’s racing career began in late-model cars such as this. With the help of crew chief Ricky Turner, he won over 50 late model races, including the 2011 and 2015 Snowball Derby. At the main event on Dec. 6, Elliott finished third.
An All-Star dirt race in Oklahoma
This week, Elliott is in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the world’s most prestigious indoor dirt-track racing event, the Chili Bowl Nationals.
Dirt-track racing is a far different breed than late-model short track racing, which primarily takes place on asphalt. According to NASCAR.com, Elliott received training from fellow Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe, who will also compete at the Chili Bowl. The training seems to have paid off, as Elliott finished third at a race at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina — not far behind Briscoe.
Elliott is far from the only NASCAR regular participating in the Chili Bowl. Of the 300 drivers taking part in the event, 11 are current and former NASCAR drivers. Kyle Larson, Elliott’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports for 2021, won last year’s event and will also compete this year. The lineup also includes 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman and Xfinity Series regular Justin Allgaier.
Elliott’s dry run for Daytona
Incredibly, this will not be the end of Elliott’s offseason schedule. On Valentine’s Day, NASCAR kicks off its season with the Daytona 500. Two weeks before that, Jan. 30-31, Chase will compete at Daytona for a different kind of race: the Rolex 24, a 24-hour endurance sports car race held on Daytona’s road-course layout.
Elliott will drive the #31 Action Express Racing Cadillac. He will alternate time in the car with three other drivers: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, and Mike Conway. Though the team was reportedly impressed by his progress on their simulator, Elliott does not expect to be the star amongst this team of experienced endurance drivers.
“I think as you step into a situation like that, the biggest thing is just to not mess it up for them,” Elliott told IMSA.com. “That’s my mindset. I feel like they would have a great shot to win without me.”
While Elliott may not be familiar with the kind of cars used in the Rolex 24, road racing is one of his strengths. Five of his 11 victories in the NASCAR Cup Series have come on road courses. Chase will return to the Daytona road course for the second Cup Series race of the season, the Go Bowling 235.