CONCORD, N.C. – Most drivers can probably recall their first Daytona 500 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the excitement and nervousness they felt as they rolled off the grid that first time.
Chase Elliott has all of that to look forward to as he prepares for his Daytona 500 debut in just two weeks.
“It’s hard to believe how fast this year has gone by,” the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet SS said. “I can remember over a year ago I was having a conversation with (Hendrick Motorsports owner) Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and him kind of filling me in on what is about to happen. That was big news and we also had an entire year before everything was even going to happen.”
During that year, Elliott competed in his last full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series season, placing second in points just one year after winning the championship as an NXS rookie. He also ran five Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports and has been spending the offseason preparing for the season opener with crew chief Alan Gustafson and the rest of the No. 24 team.
“I think that was a good thing to have some time to let it settle in and let myself know and the team to have more of an understanding of what is going to happen as we went into this past offseason and getting ready for Daytona 2016,” Elliott said. “This year has gone by fast, but I’m not complaining. I’m excited to get to Daytona.”
Although time has passed quickly for Elliott, he said the reality of the upcoming trip to Daytona still hasn’t completely set in.
“I don’t feel like things have hit me yet, it’s not 100 percent set in,” he said. “It’s definitely starting to more and more as we get ready and get seats and get things in these cars and get ready to go.”
His teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave the young driver a heads-up that Elliott said he agrees with.
“Until you roll off and you’re sitting on the grid looking around and you’re seeing all these heroes that you’ve grown up watching race,” Elliott recalled of the advice, “until you’re sitting there and they say the leaders are rolling and you roll off pit road, I think that’s really going to hit me then and it’s going to be a very cool feeling. I’m excited to experience that and hopefully we can just try to make the most of that day and try to give it our best effort.”
The rookie is focused on finding success as the green flag drops on his first full-time Cup season, and he said he feels lucky to have the chance to live his dream.
“I’m excited to get started,” he said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and for me, it’s something I have wanted to do for a long, long time and I’m very honored and humbled to have the chance. I just want to make these folks proud who have given me this opportunity and try to make the people proud who have gotten me to this point.”