Chase Elliott looks outside his comfort zone to race different cars

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Chase Elliott will try something new tonight when he makes his sprint car debut in California. It’s part of what has been a yearlong tour of competing in different race cars.

Nitro Rallycross announced Tuesday that Elliott will compete in its season finale Dec. 4-5 at The Firm in North Florida. The event airs on Peacock. This will be Elliott’s first time to compete in the series. He follows Kyle Busch, who competed in Nitro Rallycross in November.

Elliott started 2021 racing a midget car at the Chili Bowl in January and “had a blast” doing so. A couple of weeks later, he made his debut in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, driving for the Action Express Racing team that started on the pole.

After winning two Cup races — at Circuit of the Americas in May and Road America in July — Elliott competed in the SRX event at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville and won that race.

Although his NASCAR Cup season finished a couple of weeks ago, he’s still racing.

Elliott will drive a 360 sprint car and run a midget car tonight and Wednesday at Merced (California) Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson will be there as well and compete in both vehicles.

Elliott and Larson also will race with the USAC midget series Saturday at Ventura (California) Raceway.

Elliott said in January that he was looking to “broadening my horizons” in motorsports.

Rolex 24 at Daytona
Chase Elliott drove this Cadillac DPi with Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani and Mike Conway during the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)

“I think getting outside your comfort zone is huge,” Elliott said at last week’s Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I feel like that’s what I’ve really tried hard to challenge myself in doing the past year or so.

“Everything you get in is a little different. Everything you get in has a little different sweet spot of that perfect balance, kind of what you’re trying to achieve on asphalt or dirt, I feel like.”

The result is he’s improved as a driver. That could be a scary thought for the rest of the Cup field. Elliott has made it to the Cup championship race the past two years, winning the crown in 2020.

He seeks to become the fifth driver in the playoff era (since 2014) to make it to the championship race at least three consecutive years. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are the others to do so. Busch made the title race five consecutive years.

“At some point in the process of doing all those things, it really does come back to kind of some simplicity,” Elliott said of racing so many different vehicles. “Typically, wherever you are the most uncomfortable is where you are the most vulnerable. That typically transitions into all cars. Whatever part of the corner that you are most uncomfortable in is probably the area you need to work on the most.

“I feel the people who are most comfortable in areas on track that are typically uncomfortable are going to go fast. That’s where they are going to make time on you. That’s how they’re going to make passes and do all those things. So, I think just driving these different cars just helps you understand those uncomfortable positions and how you can drive through them, or how you can challenge yourself to get better and deal with them.”

Superstar Racing Experience - Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
Chase Elliott finished ahead of Tony Stewart and his father Bill to win the Camping World Superstar Racing Experience event at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. (Photo by Dylan Buell/SRX via Getty Images)

Elliott competed in a midget last week at Placerville (California) Speedway. He failed to advance to the feature the first night and finished 20th in the feature the second night.

“When you’re faced with new challenges, it’s good for you,” Elliott said. “It might not be fun in the moment. You might struggle and be frustrated, but it’s good for you to recognize those things and then be able to relate something back to that maybe later on down the road.

“This sport … anything you drive could potentially apply down the road, and I think that’s important to remember as time goes on.

“I’ve enjoyed the diversity of trying to do different things, and I do feel like it’s been helpful doing.”