Elliott: From graduation to his full-time job
May 17, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com
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NEWTON, Iowa -- He awoke at home and put on dark khakis, a purple tie and a black graduation cap. His day ended in a blue NAPA fire suit nearly 900 miles away at a race track surrounded by corn.
Chase Elliott has spent his entire life on the NASCAR circuit, whether it was tagging along with his famous father Bill Elliott or competing on the track himself. Saturday might have been the most unique day yet.
The 18-year-old NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie is no longer a high school senior. He's a high school graduate following a 9:30 a.m. ceremony at Kings Ridge Christian School in Dawsonville, Georgia, the town he grew up in and the town made famous by the elder Elliott. After a few hours of celebration, Elliott hopped on a plane and flew back to Iowa Speedway.
"It was an early morning, and it's been a long day," Elliott said at the track. "But it was cool to be able to go home, and I'm glad the weather was good enough for us to get back. I think it was worth going home and being a part of that and making the effort. That's the type of thing you only get to do once. It's definitely memories I won't forget."
Neither will those closest to him. Elliott's mom, Cindy, posted pictures throughout the day -- of Chase receiving his diploma, of her son raising his cap high into the air while surrounded by cheering classmates. It made Elliott suspiciously look a lot like an average 18-year-old.
There's absolutely nothing average about Elliott's efforts this year, though. Or his back-to-back wins in which he outdueled the likes of Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Texas, then courageously outgunned similar competition over the final two laps at Darlington. Perhaps a Twitter message from his high school said it most clearly: "KRCS graduate Chase Elliott starts (his) full-time job today."
Elliott was very much in business mode upon his return to Iowa. And while he was happy to discuss his graduation morning, he was more focused on qualifying his No. 9 Chevrolet in the following hour -- which he steered to a sixth-place starting spot despite not practicing in the morning session.
"You go about your business the same way you always do," Elliott said. "Just because I wasn't here this morning doesn't mean I'm going to go about it any differently. It was definitely weird to be here Friday (for practice) and then gone, and then be back for qualifying. It's a little odd. But our team will still try to do our best job, as always."
With Elliott out for Saturday's 90-minute practice session, the No. 9 team opted not to use a backup driver. Elliott had six hours of seat time in the car on Friday, and crew chief Greg Ives and his crew kept tweaking at the setup while everyone else was circling the track.
Practice for Sunday's Get to Know Newton 250 presented by Sherwin-Williams (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) began early Friday, and the temperature was in the high 30s. On Saturday, it rose to more than 60 degrees -- it's expected to be warmer on Sunday for the race, so Ives and his crew know the track will handle differently.
"Anytime you're away, you kind of take a chance of somebody getting better," Elliott said. "We knew we needed to get the car better. But a lot of times, putting the thing on jack stands in practice is a good thing. I know Greg made some adjustments, so hopefully we made the right ones."
Talking shop -- about his car, the track, anything racing -- puts the teenager at ease. It's not that he minds talking about graduation. He'll gladly discuss his morning, his friends, his life away from NASCAR. It's just that he'd much rather be racing, or talking about racing, or discussing anything that has four wheels and a motor.
The race track is where his greatest triumphs lie. So, yes, Chase Elliott is happy he left for half-a-day to attend his high school graduation. It's one of the defining moments of his life up to this point. Just don't ask him to compare graduating with, say, winning at Darlington.
"Oh not even close. Darlington trumps graduation," Elliott said with a grin. "It's not even a contest. Yeah, definitely Darlington for sure."