Posted: 10:24 pm Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
By Doug "Fireball" Turnbull
Shouldn’t running out of fuel with three laps to go, while leading the Daytona 500 leave some kind of bruise? Shouldn’t such heartbreak leave someone sick? Just four days after losing the Great American Race, Chase Elliott was putting smiles on the faces of five children at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston off of Clifton Rd. Being in that setting can provide perspective on what the average person – or a NASCAR star – calls hardship.
Elliott established the Chase Elliott Foundation Thursday and the five patients, with whom he spent a long time hanging out with in the Ryan Seacrest Studio on the C.H.O.A. campus, got to design the driving shoes that Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates will wear this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Throughout the next 10 days, you can go to ChaseElliott.com and bid on the shoes and hopefully raise money all for a great cause,” Elliott tells reporters, just after unveiling his new foundation. Elliott and his mom, Cindy, who along with his champion father, Bill, has guided his entire career on and off the track, also presented C.H.O.A. with a $24,000 check – money they raised by auctioning off Chase Elliott items for 24 days around Christmas.
Elliott’s apparel sponsor, Under Armour, paid the kids’ shoe-designing skills forward, designing a pair of Under Armour shoes for each patient with the design that they had made for the drivers. The kids sported the shoes, while holding the driving shoes they designed and posing for pictures with Elliott. Elliott signed autographs for them – as many as they wanted – and then answered the inevitable questions from reporters about his home track and his Daytona 500 win that never was.
Just as many drivers do, Elliott likes the racing action at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “It’s a fun place to come to. It offers a lot of different options when it comes to various driving styles,” he says, referring to how tires wear and drivers search four or five different lines in the turns, looking for grip. That element will diminish after this weekend’s racing, as AMS will finally have to repave the 20-year-old surface.
Elliott will run Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200, the second race of a doubleheader. He will drive the No. 23 Chevy for GMS Racing in his first-ever NCWTS race on a 1.5-mile track. Then, of course, he suits up Sunday for the 2:30 p.m. Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the No. 24 NAPA Chevy. This is a home race for both the driver and the sponsor. Elliott finished an impressive 8th a year ago, as a rookie.
The 2016 MENCS Rookie of the Year won the Daytona 500 pole for the second-straight year and led 39 laps. With the last caution happening right at the edge of their fuel window, the leaders knew they would be close on gas in the closing laps. Elliott led 23 laps, but fell off the pace to the inside of the track with three laps to go – out of fuel. His feelings about the finish are very matter-of-fact.
“I think [crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] put it best. We were talking and – we played the cards we were dealt. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do with how the race unfolded. I don’t think you can give up the lead with five or 10 laps left and try to save gas, because as soon as you do that, the caution comes out and everyone makes it.”
Elliott also said that his dad pointed out on the way home – the finish was a lot better than a year ago, when he wrecked early.
But being in a place like C.H.O.A. and seeing kids and parents dealing with huge health hurdles can easily put losing a race into perspective. And Elliott, who volunteered with summer camps there in the past, is doing what he can to help them and others have some joy, while they battle through it.