Chase Elliott’s first competitive stint in a midget car last weekend delivered not only some valuable prep time for the NASCAR Cup Series champ’s Chili Bowl Nationals debut next month, but it also generated some rave reviews from two Cup Series peers with rich dirt-track pedigrees.
SPEED SPORT: Chase Elliott gets set at Millbridge
Elliott finished third and fourth in Saturday’s twin A-Mains at the 1/6-mile Millbridge Speedway oval near Salisbury, North Carolina, placing not far behind feature winners Chase Briscoe and Kyle Larson, who will both compete alongside him in the Cup Series in 2021. Briscoe helped make the connection for Elliott with his midget-car effort, and the dividends were a podium result in the 30-lap opener and a positive first impression.
“For me, I feel like the transition from dirt to pavement … I’ve never went the other direction, but I feel like it’d be a lot easier. The pavement-to-dirt thing, I think would be extremely tough,” said Briscoe, who will be a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate in Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Ford next year.
Though there were only 12 cars entered, Briscoe said “there was still seven or eight good, good guys, and for him to run as good as he did, I was amazed to be honest. There were USAC champions in the field, there were guys that win USAC races, won Chili Bowl prelim nights. He drove by ’em, working on the bottom. He drove by me, pounding the fence, so I was highly, highly impressed at what he was able to do.
“Obviously if you win a Cup championship, I mean, you’re a heck of a race car driver, and that just proved it to me.”
It’s been a busy offseason of extracurricular events for Elliott, who finished third in the Snowball Derby on Dec. 6. Elliott told Speed Sport post-race that he still had “a lot to learn” after his Millbridge debut and that he had been leaning on Briscoe and Larson for pointers. He also shied away from compliments about his modest early success.
Tyler Reddick, who just finished his rookie season with Richard Childress Racing, also noted the challenges to making the move from asphalt racing to dirt, chalking up Elliott’s ability to adjust to his determination.
“With Chase Elliott, I mean, we’ve seen it. Definitely seems like when he puts his mind to something and he wants to go out and do it, he puts every ounce of effort toward it,” Reddick said. “And to see him run that good isn’t a surprise from that aspect because you see the drive, you see the work he’s going to put into now be a Cup champion. So seeing him get in, it’s not a surprise, it’s just a nod to the effort that he puts into go out there and do as good as he does.”