LOUDON, New Hampshire – After winning the Superstar Racing Experience finale Saturday night at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, Chase Elliott made an impassioned case for bringing NASCAR’s premier Cup Series to the short track.
“Just the atmosphere of the Fairgrounds, the energy last night was absolutely unbelievable,” the defending Cup Series champion told reporters Sunday before racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I wish all of you all had been there to see it. It was nuts. It just further made double sure that’s where we belong in my eyes.
“I’ve always felt that way, but that other track is not the answer. The energy is right there in town, and we don’t need to search any further. That’s it for that city. No doubt.”
NASCAR held its inaugural Cup race last month at Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.33-mile oval 35 miles from downtown in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was the first time the premier circuit had raced in the region for 37 years.
Speedway Motorsports has been working on a project to renovate the Fairgrounds track with an aim of bringing the Cup Series back to the 0.596-mile track for the first time since 1984. The initiative has been met by local resistance in public meetings.
NASCAR executives have suggested the Nashville market can play host to two annual Cup events, one at the Fairgrounds and the other at the superspeedway (which drew a sellout crowd of 40,000 for its first Cup race, which was won by Kyle Larson).
Saturday’s SRX race drew a capacity crowd that reportedly topped 15,000. Asked if the track could hold a Cup race once equipped with mandatory SAFER barriers, Elliott said, “Go for it. Why not?
“Whatever they need to do to make it happen is what they need,” he said. “As little or as much as it takes to do that is the answer. I don’t know how much it would take or whatever, but that is the location. There is no question about it.”
Nashville! I’m not sure I’ve ever been so proud to be a race fan than right now, the support and energy y’all showed up with last night was unreal and I sincerely thank you for coming out to show what that place is capable of. I made memories I’ll cherish forever… pic.twitter.com/2zplUdszk5
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) July 18, 2021
Beyond the opportunity to race with his NASCAR Hall of Fame father, Bill, Chase Elliott said he “had a duty” to race the SRX event at Nashville Fairgounds as a longtime supporter of the track, where he previously raced in its signature All-American 400 event for Super Late Models.
But personal affection isn’t the only reason why NASCAR’s three-time Most Popular Driver (a low-key and reserved star who usually isn’t so outspoken about big-picture topics) feels passionately about Nashville’s urban short track being a proper spot for stock-car racing’s premier showcase.
“It’s tied to my upbringing or path to NASCAR, so I think in that sense it makes it special,” said Elliott, who was a featured guest at the track two years ago in a media event attended by NBC Sports. “Also, too, as society has changed over the years, we’re never going to build a racetrack that close to a city, which I think is a disconnect for the sport in general compared to other sports. You go to a football game or a baseball game, and you’re right in the city. Where racing we can’t do that (with) noise. You’re just not going to build a racetrack in a downtown area.
“Well we have one in a downtown area that’s there and has been there for years and years and years. So it easily would become the most easily accessible racetrack to a downtown popular location where people can go to a race and go downtown via Uber, taxi or whatever. And we don’t have that anywhere else. So I think for that reason it would be very special.”
Saturday night’s victory was special for Elliott, who battled for the victory with his father, Bill, and series co-founder Tony Stewart (who finished second and clinched the championship of the six-race SRX’s inaugural season).
“We were literally racing for the win of the race last night, and that was no fluke or joke or setup thing,” Chase Elliott said. “We were legitimately racing 1-2, which is incredible. Tony has been a hero of mine forever. To share the podium with both of them, I couldn’t have asked for anything to be any more special than that.”
After flying himself back to Charlotte after the race, Elliott caught a plane flight to New Hampshire with Hendrick Motorsports executive Jeff Gordon, who supported Elliott racing SRX, as did team owner Rick Hendrick (who sent a congratulatory text).
Elliott, who raced in some sprint car events last week, also had to clear SRX with NASCAR and said, “everybody I talked to was supportive, at least to my face, and open.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, I have an opportunity to go race for my dad in a live, televised event, and us go enjoy a moment that we might not ever have a chance to do again,’ ” said Elliott, who mentioned heading to New Hampshire for Sunday’s race during his nationally televised winner’s interview on CBS. “And there was no one that said, ‘That’s a bad idea, that’s dumb or we’re going to be mad about it.’ It was nothing but just support, and that’s super cool, and you should go do it.
“From the top at NASCAR to top at HMS. I feel like it was a win-win for everybody. I thought it was an entertaining event. The crowd was fantastic. Talking about the Fairgrounds, short-track racing, Saturday night and now we get to come to do the NASCAR race today, which is obviously the main goal, and where my priority is, so yeah, I feel like it’s just good all around.
Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson also won Saturday night in the prestigious Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway. NASCAR’s revamped 2021 schedules that eschewed practice and qualifying in condensed race weekends have afforded Cup drivers more chances to moonlight.
“We’re bringing the motorsports community together, and it’s a good thing,” Elliott said. “We’re just being more practical right now. And in doing that, we’re able to use our platform here and grow motorsports elsewhere, which is a win for everybody across the board, and I hope everyone sees it that way.”
Stewart said last week that a second season of SRX has yet to be confirmed, but Elliott is hoping to return along with other Cup stars in 2022.
“I think they need to continue to change the drivers up,” he said. “I think that’s what makes that thing special, so whether I go back or not, I do think other Cup guys should go do it every now and again. Absolutely, I think they should keep switching it up and keep fresh faces rolling through that deal.”