Chase Elliott should still be gathering accolades for his spectacular run to the 2020 NASCAR Cup Collection championship in November, however fact be informed, the 25-year-old had lengthy been planning to make his Rolex 24 At Daytona sports activities automobile racing debut – planting the seeds and speaking to IMSA groups earlier than his title-winning inventory automobile season even began.
Elliott, 25, will make his first Rolex 24 begin within the Jan. 30-31 twice-around-the-clock occasion with the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi crew within the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship opener – becoming a member of seven-time NASCAR Cup Collection champion Jimmie Johnson and 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, who’re additionally on the grid.
“Undoubtedly one thing I’ve had an curiosity in for a very long time and had hopes a chance would come up sooner or later to do it,” Elliott mentioned this week. “I didn’t actually anticipate it will be this fast. We began speaking about it a few 12 months in the past – round this time final 12 months – we began discussing it and I expressed curiosity. There was some mutual curiosity and alternative type of got here up and I used to be all about it.”
Almost half of Elliott’s 11 profession wins – 5 – on the NASCAR Cup Collection stage have come on street programs, together with on the Daytona Worldwide Speedway street course final season. No NASCAR driver has collected extra trophies than Elliott on street programs within the final three years.
Apparently, Elliott insists that achievement is as a lot to do along with his NASCAR crew, Hendrick Motorsports, as with him. He attributes a lot of his success on street programs to former Hendrick teammate, NASCAR Corridor of Famer Jeff Gordon, who drove his automobile beforehand and holds the all-time NASCAR win report (9) on street programs.
Gordon gained the Rolex 24 in 2017 with Wayne Taylor Racing, and Elliott is optimistic about being aggressive in his first Rolex 24 on the three.56-mile Daytona street course as effectively. However he doesn’t think about himself a “pure” street racer.
“I didn’t, actually,’’ Elliott says. “Lots of people ask that. I simply actually type of got here into state of affairs. Jeff (Gordon) was a extremely good street course racer and he and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) had a very nice basis and centered on a variety of issues that I feel are actually necessary on the street racing entrance.
“Whenever you step into state of affairs like that, that already has a pleasant basis already constructed, it definitely helps you study. Not solely study faster, but additionally study the proper means and study the proper issues. I feel greater than something, simply type of got here into state of affairs and was capable of begin specializing in the massive hitters that makes street racing profitable.”
Gary Nelson, crew supervisor at Motion Categorical Racing that fields the No. 31 Whelen Cadillac and a former NASCAR Cup Collection championship crew chief, was instantly impressed with Elliott, who has executed work on the simulator, had his seat fitted for the Cadillac DPi and can flip his first laps in automobile through the Jan. 22-24 Roar Earlier than the Rolex 24 – the normal testing weekend earlier than the race.
“We have been amazed at how fast Chase received up to the mark (on the simulator), his suggestions and the way straightforward he was to work with,” mentioned Nelson, who famous he has nothing however excessive expectations for Elliott within the 24-hour race.
Elliott will crew with a trio of Rolex 24 veterans, Brazilians Felipe Nasr and Pipo Derani and Brit Mike Conway. Nasr is a two-time Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Introduced by Advance Auto Elements winner, and together with Conway, was runner-up with the Whelen crew within the 2018 Rolex 24. Derani gained the 2016 Rolex 24 and has three Sebring wins, together with 2019 with this crew. Including the reigning NASCAR champion solely fortifies a straightforward favourite for this month’s race.
“I’m actually lucky as a result of it’s crew, a extremely good group – the those who work on the vehicles, but additionally group of drivers, too,” Elliott mentioned. “So, I’m excited to leap in there and attempt to study.
“I feel as you step right into a state of affairs like that, the most important factor is simply to not mess it up for them. That’s my mindset. I really feel like they might have an important shot to win with out me. It’s doable with three drivers, it makes it tough, although, so having 4, I feel provides the drivers slightly bit extra of an opportunity to relaxation and to additionally, if somebody isn’t feeling effectively, it makes the method higher to have 4.
“So my mindset is simply to attempt to study as a lot as I can from these different guys and never mess something up for them.’’
Elliott is raring to get his first true seat time within the automobile and totally anticipates a studying curve. That newness can also be one thing that makes the Rolex 24 such an necessary race for the NASCAR champion.
“I feel that’s the cool factor concerning the Rolex on the whole. I really feel prefer it brings collectively a variety of totally different disciplines into one race,” Elliott mentioned. “I anticipate it’s going to be a problem; I don’t assume it’s going to be straightforward. These guys that do this stuff on a regular basis are superb at it, they usually spend all 12 months lengthy growing and dealing on the abilities to go quick in these particular vehicles.
“A variety of us that don’t drive these vehicles all 12 months lengthy, leaping in there of their largest occasion of the 12 months is a tricky factor. I’m simply going to attempt to study and to study quick and hope we will make it to the top.’’
The Roar Earlier than the Rolex 24 weekend concludes with the Motul Pole Award 100, the qualifying race to set the Rolex 24 beginning grid. It should stream dwell at 2:05 p.m. ET Sunday, Jan. 24 on TrackPass on NBC Sports activities Gold with a same-day telecast at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN.
WeatherTech Championship motion on Rolex 24 race week begins with observe on Thursday, Jan. 28. Stay protection of the long-lasting race begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30 on NBC, with protection shuttling between NBCSN, TrackPass on NBC Sports activities Gold and the NBC Sports activities App earlier than returning to NBC for the concluding hours at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31.