Mixed Bag for Chase Elliott in Chili Bowl Prelim Debut
NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott received an education on Wednesday during his debut appearance in a Chili Bowl Midget Nationals preliminary effort.
He received an education, but he earned passing grades, too.
For those who do not typically watch Chili Bowl, there are five nights of preliminary races and each of the 300-plus entrants compete in only one of the five nights that lead up to the alphabet soup on Saturday.
There are heats and qualifiers that set the stage for the features, each night determining where drivers begin their pursuit of the Golden Driller.
Whether a driver begins in an A, B or C main is dependent on how many passing points s/he earns during the heats. It was here that Elliott shined. He finished 26th out of 40 drivers, including more points than veteran contender Robert Dalby.
Granted, some of that is based on luck of the draw, but he earned the praise of four-time Chili Bowl winner Kevin Swindell over the FloSport online broadcast.
Chase Elliot has speed. It’s impressive for his little dirt experience. I shouldn’t be shocked because you don’t become a Cup Champion at 24/25 without being naturally talented behind anything. Little more luck and he could’ve been in the show.
Elliott began his climb on Wednesday from fifth in B2, but it immediately went awry. On a lap 1 restart, the front of the field bottled up into Turn 1 and Elliott drove into the back of Colton Cottle. The contact resulted in the Cup Series champion being sent to the rear of the field.
The B only transferred the top four finishers, so it was a costly outcome.
Elliott made the most of the circumstances, driving from 15th to 8th after 30 laps, proving that he could pass in the process.
He will begin his debut Chili Bowl Saturday from a F-Main.
“I hate we were in the B to start with,” Elliott said. “I was really off. I wasn’t where I needed to be. I didn’t make the most of our heat race and qualifier so that put us in a bad spot.
“I actually felt closer to where I needed to be after a couple of restarts in the B, understanding what I needed to do, and just put some corners together. Until that point, I just felt like I wasn’t doing that. That was the best I had felt all day for sure, and I wish I had another 30 laps.”
It was still a relatively impressive performance as Elliott had only raced once in a Midget before the Chili Bowl and that was a dozen car field last month at Millbridge Speedway in North Carolina.
He tested one more time at Port City Raceway in Tulsa, but that’s the extent of his experience.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for this discipline, and that’s why I’m here,” Elliott said. “I’ve respected it for a long time and wanted to give it a shot and I felt like this was the right opportunity.”
He’s driving a No. 9 stylized in his Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR font, but owned by veteran racer Paul May and DiaEdge Racing.
Elliott will get the full Chili Bowl experience starting from the F.
That means, as unlikely as it would be as a rookie, Elliott would need to advance through the F to the E, D, C and B to make the main event.
That’s not his realistic expectation, as much as he would enjoy consuming a lot of soup as the locals say, on Saturday.
“If I can just transfer out of the F and into the E would be a major plus for me,” Elliott said. “I need to log laps to learn, so hopefully we can do that. If we can go further than that, great.
“But if not, try to run all the laps I can and keep the car in one piece.”
Elliott, who grew up racing pavement Late Models, is enjoying his first appearance in the biggest dirt midget race in the world.
It’s also the second stage of a planned winter motorsports world tour of sorts. He returned to those pavement Late Model roots and finished third in last month’s Snowball Derby. He will end this month with his debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
Regardless of how Saturday goes, he will be back in a Midget sooner rather than later.
“I would love to come back and do more of this kind of racing and not necessarily at the Chili Bowl,” Elliott said. “The guys who are really good at this don’t just show up at the Chili Bowl. They race all year long and they get in these cars as much as they can.
“That’s what you need to do to be competitive and put in the right amount of effort. If I’m going to do this like I have aspirations to, I’m going to put the right amount of effort and learn the right way, because that’s racing.”
How far do you think Chase Elliott will get on Saturday during his first alphabet soup experience? Tell us in the comments section below.
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