Many NASCAR drivers have kept busy behind the wheel this offseason by competing in a variety of racing events.
Since the checkered flag flew to end the 2020 NASCAR season at Phoenix Raceway last November, a number of competitors have found their way around the country to race. Whether it be in a Late Model stock car, open wheel midget or an IMSA sports car, scratching the itch to race has been an offseason goal for many.
Reigning Cup Series champ Chase Elliott has been a prime example of the idea. Elliott competed in the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race at Five Flags Speedway – an event he won in 2011 and 2015 – in December, took part in last week’s Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla. and is preparing to compete for the first time in the Rolex 24 at Daytona at the end of the month.
"As I’ve got into Cup, I feel like I’ve kind of let that get away a little bit and I haven’t really put the effort into going and racing," Elliott said during an interview on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. "I’ve always enjoyed it. When people ask, I’ve always said, ‘Yes, I’d like to do more of it,’ and I did. I’ve always wanted to do more and get back involved. I just didn’t put the effort into doing it.
"As you get older, I think it becomes harder to learn new disciplines. Fortunately, I’m still in my 20s and I think it’s an achievable skill set to still go out there and try to learn now.
"Would that be the case if I was 35, instead of 25? I think it would be much harder to go and do."
Elliott is part of the Action Express Racing team for this year’s Rolex 24 joining Mike Conway, Pipo Derani and Felipe Nasr. Elliott will be one of two Cup Series champions in the field with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who retired from full-time competition in Cup at the end of 2020, teaming with Simon Pagenaud, Kamui Kobayashi, and Mike Rockenfeller at Action Express. It will kick off Johnson’s racing season that will see him compete in the IndyCar Series road and street course races for Chip Ganassi. Austin Dillon, who won the 2018 Daytona 500, along with Cody Ware will co-drive the No. 51 RWR-Eurasia Ligier LMP2 with Salih Yoluç in the Rolex 24.
While Elliott wasn’t able to advance to the feature event in his first-ever Chili Bowl appearance, he proved to be more than competitive in the unique indoor event held annually at the Tulsa Expo Raceway. Kyle Larson outdueled Justin Grant and Christopher Bell to win his second straight Golden Driller trophy, capping a week that included other NASCAR drivers like Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Brett Moffitt, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe competing.
"I think if you even looked at five years ago, for sure 10 years ago, it was kind of forbidden to go run sprint-car stuff because obviously it’s dangerous and our day job is to run the NASCAR stuff," Briscoe told NASCAR.com. "That’s our No. 1 priority. The last two or three years, a lot of these team owners have noticed how much better it honestly makes us on Sundays. Anytime when you can go from racing 36 races a year to running 60 races a year and not only running the Cup car, but sprint cars, winged, non-winged, midgets, dirt late model, it makes you a better race car driver."
It’s also good for the sport overall. NASCAR drivers competing in different disciplines of racing helps broaden the overall appeal of motorsports. Rather than the territorialism that has defined racing for years, it’s refreshing to see the sport find ways to bring down those barriers. Whether it’s NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheaders or drivers trying their hand at different kinds of competition, when one form of motorsports flourishes the entire sport benefits.