TULSA, Okla. — Chase Elliott got to experience a little bit of everything during his debut preliminary night appearance Wednesday at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals presented by General Tire.
The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion was put to the test in his first major-league outing on dirt, slotted into a loaded heat race that included 2018 NASCAR Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt, veteran midget stars Tyler Thomas and Landon Simon, and Indy car racer Santino Ferrucci.
But while he was tested mightily at times during Circle City Raceway Qualifying Night, for the most part, Elliott passed the exam with flying colors.
No, he didn’t quite make the A Main on his preliminary night, as he tipped was his goal going into the event. However, it wasn’t for a lack of effort, or a lack of learning.
Elliott ranked 26th out of the top-40 drivers in passing points following heat race action, which lined him up seventh for one of four A Qualifiers to help determine the top starters for the night’s 30-lap feature.
He didn’t lose position in his 10-lap qualifier, but he didn’t gain any spots either, ultimately relegating him to a B Main once the combined passing points were tabulated.
Once in the B, where only the top four advanced into the feature, Elliott “finally began building a notebook.” He was spun around out of fifth on an early restart but rallied from the tail of the field to finish eighth.
Elliott’s effort was sporty enough that it caught the eye of four-time Chili Bowl winner Kevin Swindell, who now serves as a car owner and broadcaster at the Chili Bowl, as well as longtime sprint car crew member Brayden McMahan — son of World of Outlaws and All Star sprint car veteran Paul McMahan.
“Chase Elliott has speed. It’s impressive for how little dirt experience he really has,” said Brayden McMahan Wednesday night. “I don’t think we should be shocked because you don’t become a Cup champion at 24 or 25 without being naturally talented behind (the wheel of) anything.
“With a little more luck, he could’ve been in the show.”
How did Elliott feel about his performance? In typical Chase Elliott fashion, he was humble, took the team on his back and immediately focused on things he felt he could have done better.
“Frankly, I hate we were in the B to start with,” Elliott said after his B Main wrapped up. “I was really off. I wasn’t where I needed to be. I didn’t make the most of our heat race and qualifier, so that put us in a bad spot.
“I actually felt closer to where I needed to be after a couple of restarts in the B, understanding what I needed to do, and just put some corners together. Until that point, I just felt like I wasn’t doing that,” he added. “That was the best I had felt all day, for sure, and I wish I had another 30 laps to build on it.”
Considering the extent of Elliott’s dirt experience prior to Wednesday night was a pair of 12-car features at North Carolina’s Millbridge Speedway in December and one test session at Oklahoma’s Port City Raceway, what he did inside the River Spirit Expo Center was still commendable.
He didn’t embarrass himself, as Elliott was concerned about leading up to the event and he gained knowledge lap after lap in an effort to make himself better.