Chase Elliott’s offseason odyssey leads to the Rolex 24

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was a natural concern for an amateur, and it’s how the very first Rolex 24 hr at Daytona media session started with ruling NASCAR champ Chase Elliott.

When was the last time you were called a novice, Chase?

Elliott stopped briefly for a minute prior to a spirited shrug.

“Last week at the Chili Bowl,” the Hendrick Motorsports chauffeur stated with a smile.

Going straight from the dirt to Daytona (and an entirely unknown take on the World of Center of Racing) has actually been that sort of dizzyingly busy offseason of brand-new race vehicles, courses and cultures for Elliott.

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Considering that winning the last 2 races of the 2020 Cup season to clinch his very first title in NASCAR’s premier series (stressed by a psychological triumph Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway), Elliott has actually ended up third in the Snowball Derby Super Late Design race and after that changed to dirt occasions in North Carolina (a podium surface at Millbridge Speedway) and Tulsa, Oklahoma (the distinguished Chili Bowl).

<em>Chase Elliott celebrates winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship after his victory at Phoenix Raceway (Patrick Breen/USA TODAY Sports Images).</em>
Chase Elliott commemorates winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion after his triumph at Phoenix Raceway (Patrick Breen/USA TODAY Sports Images).

And now he will make his launching in the Rolex 24 at Daytona launching, signing up with the No. 31 Action Express Racing Cadillac that will begin on the lead in among the world’s greatest cars endurance races.

“It’s been a lot of fun enjoying the racing,” Elliott informed NBC Sports. “I haven’t really spent a winter racing like this since I got to Cup honestly, so it’s been really good to get back in the swing of that. I missed it.”

<em>Chase Elliott in his No. 31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing firesuit (IMSA).</em>
Chase Elliott in his No. 31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Racing firesuit (IMSA).

He had actually been yearning a lot that his moonlighting experiences remained in the works long prior to he won the Cup title. Working for months to put together the schedule, Elliott, 25, stated he simply required to “take a lot of initiative to go out and make it happen.

“I’m really enjoying broadening my horizons and finding new challenges,” he stated. “Don’t take it out of context, it’s not that I have NASCAR figured out, because I don’t. It’s more to do something different and find something new. I’m still fairly young and at an age I can learn new things. You get older, it’s harder to learn new stuff.”

There’s a lot to discover with his state-of-the-art DPi cockpit that Elliott has actually hesitated to tamper with the software application settings on his space-age wheel, though he is getting more comfy with the chauffeur help that enhance handling. “Until I’m confident I’m getting 100% out of the car, I’m not sure what me turning knobs and pulling on levers is going to do,” he stated. “Until then, I’ll keep trying to push the car and lean on these guys to see where I can get better. Try to simplify things, man. That’s the best way I can go about it. I’m not smart enough to do it any other way.”

The child actions are OKAY with Elliott.

Simply the opportunity to obtain details and select the brains of Nasr (a previous Solution One veteran and IMSA DPi champ), Derani (a Rolex 24 and Twelve Hours of Sebring winner) and Conway (a winner and IndyCar and the World Stamina Champion) will enhance his road-racing abilities in Cup due to the fact that “just one or two little things you can pick up doing something different, it adds up. When you’re in an environment as competitive as it is, finding those little small details are the things that make a difference nowadays.

“Fortunately the right opportunities came up with the right people and right cars and good cars and great people to work with,” he stated. “You find new challenges, and it’s only going to make you better. Go somewhere and get humbled. You don’t want to get your feelings hurt, but you have to be open-minded enough to learn. Until you’re willing to take that step into an area you’re uncomfortable in, you’re not maximizing your potential.

“I’m fine being humbled as long as I’m making progress. I feel I’ve done that over the past week.”

<em>The No. 31 Cadillac of Chase Elliott, Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Mike Conway will start from the pole position Saturday in the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona (IMSA).</em>
The No. 31 Cadillac of Chase Elliott, Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Mike Conway will begin with the lead Saturday in the 59th Rolex 24 at Daytona (IMSA).

Elliott, who got his pilot’s license throughout 2016 novice season in Cup, stated he found out the value of diversifying abilities from his Hall of Popularity dad, who wanted diving into planes and bulldozers on the side. Costs Elliott likewise had a cars background, having actually won the GT class in the 1987 Rolex 24 (co-driving a Ford Mustang with Scott Pruett, Lyn St. James and Tom Gloy; he likewise ended up fifth in the Twelve Hours of Sebring a year previously with Ricky Rudd).

Elliott and his dad because have actually gone over that triumph (“He always seemed joyful about his experience,” Chase stated) and when Chase viewed Jeff Gordon win the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona, his interest ended up being ignited in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Champion season opener.

“It’s one of those races I’ve always respected and admired, and you always hear everybody talking about it,” Chase Elliott stated. “It’s an event that I feel a lot of NASCAR guys have done over the years whenever they have the opportunity. So kind of growing up around NASCAR, you admire that, you see that. So those things made me realize that, ‘Hey, if I ever have a chance one day to go do this, I want to go do that, too.’

“I really started paying closer attention and heard a lot of Jeff’s comments going through the process. That intrigued me for sure. I just got more into it each year, and I watched the whole thing last year and got really into it.”

It was quickly after the 2020 Rolex 24 (when 2019 Cup champ Kyle Busch made his launching) that Elliott started asking if there’d be a 2021 chance.

Working with NASCAR chairman Jim France (who has an interest in the Action Express Racing group and has actually managed the instructions of IMSA), NASCAR group owner Rick Hendrick had actually started brokering an offer over the summer season to put Jimmie Johnson, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports colleague, in the No. 31 Cadillac.

<em>Chase Elliott practices driver changes Friday with his Rolex 24 teammates at Daytona International Speedway (Nigel Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images).</em>
Chase Elliott practices chauffeur modifications Friday with his Rolex 24 colleagues at Daytona International Speedway (Nigel Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images).

However when sponsor Ally upped its dedication to field a 2nd all-star cars and truck for Johnson (paired with Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champ Simon Pagenaud, two-time safeguarding Rolex 24 winner Kamui Kobayashi and 24 hr of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller), a seat in the No. 31 unexpectedly remained in play for Elliott.

Action Express group supervisor Gary Nelson informed NBC Sports that the offer came together “maybe a month before Chase won the NASCAR championship. It was, ‘Maybe a fourth driver would be good in the 31, and Chase Elliott looks like he’s a good road racer.’ We started conversations going, and the next thing I know, he becomes a NASCAR champion, and instead of having a nice, easy offseason, Chase has been so busy.”

Nelson, a previous champion Cup team chief who was a long time director of NASCAR’s competitors department, stated Elliott’s packed winter season calendar made him a a lot more enticing choice.

“I like drivers that race,” Nelson stated. “Dirt, midgets or a Late model at the Snowball Derby, drivers that race to me are going to be sharper and on top of their game, so guys that drive on a regular basis and compete to win, that’s all they know. They want to win. I’m so excited that Chase did so much racing in the offseason.

“I believe Chase thinks that being diversified and dealing with situations on dirt tracks and midgets and road racing is going to make him a better driver stepping out of the 24 Hours going into his NASCAR car in Daytona. Being on dirt, you learn certain techniques of getting past your competition, and you learn that in road racing.

“I think all of that knowledge base makes him partially why he’s been so good in NASCAR road racing. He gains experience every time he’s running a lap on any kind of car on any kind of track. You still have a gas pedal, a steering wheel and brake pedal, and you’re supposed to go faster than the guy next to you who has all those same things. So it really becomes the driver’s talent and skill to pull out fractions of a second, and it’s typically with grip. You have to feel your tires through the seat of your pants.”

Though he has actually minimized his qualifications (“I’m definitely the low man just trying to learn and do my part”), Elliott goes into Action Express with the authentic of having actually won 4 successive road-course races in the Cup Series.

Johnson, who has just one road-course triumph (Sonoma in 2010) throughout his remarkable profession of 7 champions, has actually been amazed viewing Elliott in the Daytona garage the previous week.

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“He’s been able to make stuff happen that I can’t make happen,” stated Johnson, who is utilizing his 8th Rolex 24 begin to assist get ready for his shift to a part-time schedule in the NTT IndyCar Series. “Seeing him get out of the car, it’s very familiar the big, wide-eyed expression he has.

“I’m a few months ahead of him trying to get used to high-downforce cars, but our conversation is very much the same with the more experienced drivers, and been trying to help him with the small victories I’ve had so far and how to use the brakes and how to exploit lap time and downforce. He’s adapting quickly.”

The Dawsonville, Georgia, native likewise has actually gotten along swimmingly with his 3 colleagues from various corners of the world. Brazilians Derani and Nasr have actually hailed Elliott’s “phenomenal” enhancement acclimation to the group, even if Elliott chuckles that he has yet to get any Portuguese.

Though he got a unique direct exposure Thursday while doing a track ridearound with Nasr to promote a brand-new Cadillac design.

“Felipe said, ‘Hey man, why don’t you do my Instagram Live for me,’ ” Elliott stated with a smile. “I pulled up his Instagram Live and recorded him driving around the track and out the window. And I see all these comments coming through, and I said, ‘Man, I don’t know what anybody is saying. I don’t speak your language.’ So it definitely has been a different experience but super cool.

“I love traveling and seeing different parts of the world, and I’ve enjoyed talking about the different areas of the world these guys come from and what’s home to them and how things are different and learned about their culture. Definitely been a mix of not just racing this weekend but learning different parts of the world, too.”

So where on the planet will his newly found racing journeys take Elliott next?

Supercars in Australia? Off-roading through the desert of the Dakar Rally? Not rather yet, it appears.

Elliott wishes to offer the Rolex 24 and the Chili Bowl another shot, however he isn’t prepared to devote beyond that.

“I got my hands so full now, I better cool it,” he stated with a laugh. “I’m having a lot of fun. I hope this isn’t my last shot (at the Rolex). This isn’t something you show up once and are at the best of your game. I’d love to continue winters like this if opportunities present themselves.”

<em>Chase Elliott (left), celebrates with Action Express Racing teammates Pipo Derani, Mike Conway and Felipe Nasr (from left to right) after the No. 31 Cadillac won the Motul Pole Award 100 race at the Roar Before the 24 at Daytona (Nigel Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images).</em>
Chase Elliott (left), commemorates with Action Express Racing colleagues Pipo Derani, Mike Conway and Felipe Nasr (from delegated right) after the No. 31 Cadillac won the Motul Pole Award 100 race at the Holler Prior to the 24 at Daytona (Nigel Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images).

Very first dirt and now Daytona: Chase Elliott’s offseason odyssey causes the Rolex 24 initially appeared on NBCSports.com

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.