Two weeks after testing his mettle against the world’s best dirt-track drivers on an indoor quarter-mile bullring in Tulsa, Oklahoma, NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott turned his attention to another form of racing alien to him—driving a Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
As with his appearance in the Chili Bowl a fortnight ago, Elliott was racing to learn in his first appearance in IMSA’s marquee event. And after his stints in the car at the Daytona Road Course, Elliott’s reaction mirrored his take on his debut in Tulsa—he wants to do it again.
Despite a promising practice session on Friday, reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott never got comfortable during his first stint in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac DPi-V.R. on Saturday evening. Elliott exited the car knowing his performance didn’t live up to the standard set by his more experienced teammates, Mike Conway, Felipe Nasr, and Pipo Derani.
“Terrible, terrible—way off the pace,” Elliott said after turning the car over to Conway. “I just never could get in a good rhythm or find a good place to run. I felt way better in the final practice. I just couldn’t find that. I need to go to work and try to be better prepared and go faster this next stint.
I put these guys way, way, way too far behind. Hopefully, Mike can get after it here, and Pipo gets in after him and keeps pushing. Obviously, still, a long way to go, but I hate to put them in a box like that.
With the Whelen Engineering entry still hoping for the overall win, Elliott thought his time in the car was over on Sunday morning. That was before the transmission stuck in third gear, forcing Nasr to bring the car to the garage for repairs to the gearbox and a new header.
The car returned to the track 20 laps down and out of contention, a circumstance that allowed the team to put Elliott back in the car to gain experience. The NASCAR champion improved significantly during his later stints, and he closed out the race for the Whelen Engineering team, which was credited with sixth place in a seven-car division.
Elliott said of his Sunday afternoon stints:
I think my pace got a little better. I feel like I was a little more consistent than I was (earlier). I feel like I found some of that last night when I got in at 3 (o’clock) this morning, and I found a little bit more of it this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed it, and hopefully, I’ll get to come back sometime and put what I’ve learned to use again. It’s a great event. Obviously, I’m a competitive person and I want to win. If I have the chance, I’d love to come back.
Elliott will be back on the Daytona Road Course in three weeks, this time in a Cup car. Given his experience in the Rolex 24, not to mention his string of four straight road course victories in the Cup Series, Elliott will have to be considered the favorite on Feb. 21.
In the waning minutes of the Rolex 24 Hours, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson watched from the pit road as teammate Kamui Kobayashi chased Filipe Albuquerque to the finish line.
Kobayashi couldn’t catch the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Daytona Prototype, but the car he shared with Johnson, Simon Pagenaud, and Mike Rockenfeller came home second overall, 4.704 seconds behind the winners. Though Johnson was on the sidelines for the checkered flag, he had already gotten his thrill 24 hours earlier after being selected to start the race for the team.
“It’s just so much fun to be back in this race and to have an opportunity to drive for Action Express and to have my former sponsor with Ally on board and former Cup crew chief) Chad Knaus is here and (former teammate) Jeff Gordon,’’ said Johnson, who retired from full-time Cup racing after the 2020 season.
The prerace, although I did miss the fans not being there, there was just a great energy to be standing there knowing I was getting ready to start this amazing event. I’ve never had the honor to start in this race before, so a lot of really cool emotions, memories, and thoughts I’ll never forget.
Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]More info on Reid Spencer
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