PENSACOLA, Fla. — Chase Elliott sent shockwaves through the late model world when it was announced he’d return to compete in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway only weeks after winning his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
At its core, though, the decision shouldn’t have shocked anyone.
After all, Elliott is a racer’s racer.
He recognizes the value of short-track racing, as it’s what launched his career into the national spotlight. He also understands the importance of a race like the Snowball Derby in the overall motorsports landscape.
It’s ultimately why he decided to return to the Super Bowl of Late Model Racing.
“Some of my biggest racing lessons were learned in the years that I spent right here and several of the opportunities that helped me get to where I am today came here as well,” Elliott said. “It’s something that I think is very important to have respect for, is to remember where you came from and where you started as time goes on.
“This race, the Snowball Derby, is a really important piece of racing that needs to survive. It needs to thrive and it needs to be here,” he added. “I feel like it’s the responsibility of those like myself who are fortunate enough to do what I do (at the top level) to give back to it and respect the event.
“This race is something that needs to last for a long, long time to come.”
Prior to Elliott’s decision to return for the Snowball Derby, he made a trip to Five Flags Speedway on July 31 to feel out the landscape — and to try and put the pieces together for another Derby endeavor.
Elliott’s longtime crew chief from his short track days, Ricky Turner, was willing to work with him while also honoring his existing commitment to Georgia teenager Jake Garcia.
Once former NASCAR team owner James Finch supplied a car, the plan was complete.
A new Senneker Race Cars chassis took residence in Turner’s shop after the Winchester 400 in October and the die was cast. Elliott was returning to the Snowball Derby.
Five years on from his second victory in the event, Elliott knows he has a learning curve ahead.
“It has been a while,” he noted. “I haven’t been (super late model racing). I’m going to have to figure out what I need throughout the weekend and what will work compared to what won’t. Those are things that you just figure out by going out there and making laps. I’ll give it my best effort and, hopefully, it works out.”
The good news for Elliott? He’s already had a test day and three practice sessions to get acclimated to the Phoenix Construction No. 9 he’ll attempt to qualify into the Snowball Derby on Friday night.
That’s more than Elliott had for all of the post-pandemic Cup Series races this season as races were run without practice and qualifying as a cost-saving and safety measure.
It’s something he views as a positive for his chances of contending.
“The Snowball will be more normal than the Cup races because we can go practice and it will be a kind of normal race weekend,” Elliott said. “I haven’t been in those cars in a long time, so the practice will be good for me.
“I haven’t worked on (a super late model) in years; I’m glad it will be more normal than the Cup stuff.”
However, Elliott isn’t anticipating his Snowball Derby return to be a walk in the park, despite his status as the newest champion of NASCAR’s premier series and a two-time winner of the Tom Dawson Trophy.
“I think it probably will be more of a kick back to reality,” Elliott said. “Any time you go and enter somebody else’s playground, it’s going to be hard. Having been out of that for so long, and as a team, the guys who help me on that deal, none of us have been doing it for a few years, so I think it’s going to be tough.
“It’s doable, but it won’t be easy. This race is always a challenge.”