One might call it a qualified success, but Chase Elliott simply called his debut in the final round of Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Rallycross “fun”, in an event that saw him cross the finish line first in a head-to-head battle with Tanner Foust only to be penalized for avoidable contact in the final turn.
After winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup championship, Elliott has been trying to get out of his comfort zone and learn new skills in new racing disciplines. With ASHOC as a sponsor and mentorship from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson, Elliott has tried his hand at racing dirt midgets and sprint cars in 2021.
As the year drags to a close, Elliott made a foray into rally racing – and almost pulled off a dramatic win early in Round 5 of the Nitro Rallycross season.
In the three-lap battle, Elliott chased Foust for most of the event. He stayed in contact with the experienced Nitro regular throughout the three-lap race and closed enough to tap his back bumper on the penultimate lap. That gave Elliott the confidence to send his car even harder into the final turn on the white flag lap. Contact with Foust gave Elliott the momentum needed to race to the checkers first.
Race officials saw it a little differently.
Elliott was assessed a penalty for what they deemed avoidable contact. Elliott was denied the win, but his quick maturation in rally racing was remarkable as he learned how to drift, jump and steer his car with a handbrake in the span of those three laps plus practice.
“I appreciate Travis (Pastrana) and everybody for having me,” Chase Elliott said during the broadcast on Peacock. “ASHOC is kind to let me expand my horizons on getting outside of my comfort zone. It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate their partnership. The learning curve’s been steep. I’ve never driven a car like this before, so that’s a little different. This track does have a lot of asphalt though which is good, I think, for me.
“I’ve never jumped anything that far before, so I was a little nervous about that yesterday. I got to the point where I was like you just got to do it. The longer I sit around here and think about it worse it’s going to get. The learning curve’s been steep, but it’s been fun.”
On his first jump, Elliott sent the car too far down the ramp and buried the nose. On Lap 2, he landed safely in a more optimum zone.
Elliott’s transition from paved racing to short dirt ovals has been interesting, but hardly successful. And while rally racing is certainly not in his comfort zone, it is adjacent with the Firm Raceway in Northern Florida being made up of large swaths of pavement with dirt added on top.
“I’m trying to simplify it,” Elliott said. “With these kind of cars, and having front wheel drive and then having a handbrake – that handbrake is a nice tool to have. Everything you do in this thing when you drive it … drives tight or understeer into the car, so pointing where you need to go is really weird. Anytime I get out of shape, or the car gets at an angle (in a paved racecar). You’re always back steering, whereas in this car a lot of times you might be sideways, but you’re actually still turning towards the turn, or turning the correct way, where normally (I’d) be turned the opposite way.
“It’s very different but a lot of fun, some of the most fun times ever had in a race car.”
In the finale on the second day of racing, Chase Elliott finished last in the eight-car field that was won by Timmy Hansen.
Elliott’s guest appearance in Nitro Rallycross comes two rounds after fellow NASCAR star Kyle Busch narrowly missed the podium in his debut at Wild Horse Pass.