NASCAR Champ Elliott Slips Out Of Comfort Zone While Learning Dirt In BC39

It didn’t take long Wednesday night for defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott to estimate the number of clay races he has had in his career.

“Maybe 10,” he said on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dirt track which, by those calculations, would make this week’s Driven2SaveLives BC39 Powered by NOS Energy Drink its 11th. “Four or five in the latest models maybe, a few of them (midget breeds).”

Elliott finished 10th in the Cup Series clay race on March 29 at Bristol Motor Speedway, and last month only made his fourth start in a midget owned by Paul May Motorsports. The first, in January, was held at the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he finished seventh in the F Main.

Elliott ran two more midget races in February at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla., And before competing in two midweek races at Red Dirt Raceway in Meeker, Oklahoma, and Solomon Valley Raceway in Beloit, Kansas.

For those who matter, that’s about 10 starts on earth.

This 11th USAC-sanctioned race had 71 cars on the track Wednesday night. Of course, Elliott’s inexperience was evident, and every time he got out of the car he asked about his midget teammate and fellow NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Briscoe. But Elliott got off to a good start, clocking the 12th fastest lap in testing. Briscoe finished 22nd.

The performance was remarkable given Elliott’s tight schedule:

  • Shortly before 4 p.m .: Arrival in Indianapolis by private plane
  • 4:16 p.m .: Driven to his team’s booth on a 4×4, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, carrying a transparent trash can with his uniform, helmet, gloves and an assortment of supplies
  • 4:24 p.m .: Fully dressed and ready to see the # 9 car prepared for him by Paul May Motorsports
  • 4.30 p.m .: Helmet in hand, he talks to Briscoe about the track conditions
  • 4:32 p.m .: Getting into the car for what amounts to a seat assembly
  • 5:03 p.m .: Car pushed onto the quarter-mile dirt track for its first practice laps

Elliott was asked what aspects of driving the car seemed foreign to him:

“Everything,” he said.

Slippage? Cut power ?

– Yes, yes, he said. “All.

“I haven’t done a whole lot (midget races), but the good thing is this track is a bit similar to another one I’ve raced on so it’s good. They are both rather small.

Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina is best known for its outlaw kart racing. It’s about half the size of The Dirt Track at IMS, but Elliott said the action flow was comparable.

Elliott used the rest of Wednesday night’s track time to acclimatize to the car, his team, the track and his competitors, but he has no illusions of fighting for a top spot in the Thursday night’s third BC39, the race that honors USAC champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 participant Bryan Clauson, the driver of Noblesville, Indiana, who died in a midget crash five years ago this month.

Elliott isn’t here to win or impress; he just wants to improve every time he gets in the car.

“Getting a decent lap isn’t the same as running, so we’ll see,” he said.

Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup Series champion who is now one of Elliott’s bosses at Hendrick Motorsports and was the honorary starter in the Stoops Pursuit race on Wednesday night on the track, expects Elliott to take advantage of the midget experience. Even if he doesn’t, his willingness to try another form of racing is good for the sport, NASCAR in particular.

“We love that Chase is showing interest in (other series),” said Gordon, who was a USAC Midget and Silver Crown champion before turning to stock cars in the early 1990s. “We think that It’s awesome. I think it’s a great way to connect NASCAR fans and dirt track fans.

“Kyle (Larson) does it in a big way on the other end. I think it also shows Chase’s talent. There are limits to that, but we love to see these guys in different types of cars.

Thursday’s action kicks off with hot laps at 5 p.m. ET.

Eight qualifying races will start at 6:00 p.m., with the first of five main races starting at 7:45 p.m. The 39-lap function will begin at 9:30 p.m.

Elliott will be ready to stand on the gas, but like he said, running against that deep field is a tall order for someone with around 10 career starts on earth.

“No promises,” he said. “I have a lot to learn.

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