AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, stands on the grid during pre-race ceremonies prior to start the NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway on November 08, 2020 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Chase Elliott excited for ‘cool challenge’ of first Chili Bowl

Chase Elliott experienced a preliminary qualifying event unlike any other on Wednesday night at the Chili Bowl Nationals.

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion participated in Circle City Raceway Qualifying Night at the 1/4-mile dirt oval at the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma for his maiden stint in the prestigious dirt racing crown jewel. Elliott finished fourth in the fifth heat of the night and seventh in his respective qualifier race. Due to his finish and total passing points in both races, Elliott was forced to start in the second B-Main, finishing eighth after spinning while running in the fifth position. He failed to make the A-Main.

Elliott’s chances to make Saturday’s A-Main finale aren’t over, though. In what is coined as “alphabet soup,” he’ll need to make his way through a set of last-chance qualifying events. He’ll start his long journey in the F-Main for a final crack at claiming a starting position on Saturday.

While Elliott is battling more than 300 drivers for 24 coveted starting spots on Saturday, Elliott’s expectations are very low, serving more as a learning experience above all else. But he wasn’t far off from predicting where he wound up.

“I think making the E-Main would be a great day for most of us,” Elliott joked during an interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I’m super excited. I think a lot of my excitement for that event just comes from me not having any background in it and just knowing really nothing about it. Kind of stepping into something new and kind of stepping outside the comfort zone outside of asphalt racing. Really just trying to learn and learn the right way.”

While Elliott turned some initial practice laps during opening day on Monday, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is diving head-first into a motorsports realm with limited seat time. He participated in a dirt midget event at the 1/6-mile Millbridge Speedway near Salisbury, North Carolina in December, finishing third and fourth to Chase Briscoe and Kyle Larson in a pair of A-Main events.

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One of Elliott’s biggest takeaways from his experience so far is the fast pace of dirt racing.

“There is no waiting around,” Elliott told NASCAR.com. “I think that is the biggest difference for me is the intensity level is up from the get-go and not just the last 100 miles of one of our normal events, which is really cool. You have to get going and if you have an opportunity you have to take it and I think that’s what makes this type of racing entertaining.”

Regardless of Elliott’s outcome in the Chili Bowl, the event serves as quality practice for the NASCAR Cup Series’ first dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28. The 25-year-old will also compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 30-31. Elliott also finished third in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in December.

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The action-packed offseason for NASCAR’s newest title winner has been on his radar for a number of years.

“I’ve always paid a lot of attention to the races that go on throughout the offseason, being the Snowball Derby, the Chili Bowl, Rolex 24; races that I admire and really enjoy watching,” Elliott said. “I had some opportunities to go and be a part of them this year so I just felt like I enjoy them and have a lot of respect for each of these different types of cars and felt like it would be a really cool challenge for me to go do something different.”

When Elliott hits the dirt track on Wednesday night, he’ll be using lessons and advice offered up by highly talented dirt drivers, including his new Hendrick Motorsports teammate Larson.

“I’ve been trying to learn as quick as I can,” Elliott said. “Kyle (Larson) has been great, he’s been super open and honest talking about midget and dirt racing in general. As much as he’s willing to share, I’m certainly going to lean on him at least to help me get going. I’m excited to talk to him and learn some things that might be second nature to him, but that are completely foreign to me.”

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