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Chase Elliott Has Some Unfinished Business Outside of NASCAR
Timing prevented the most popular driver in the Cup Series from ever competing in the iconic race, but that ends tonight.
Nearly a decade ago, the high banks at Slinger Super Speedway in Wisconsin called to Chase Elliott like a mythological siren yet, due to unworkable timing amid his rapid ascension in the top flight of stock car racing, he never got around to answering it. Now, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion will fulfill his dream of competing in the 44th Slinger Nationals as one of the 30 super late model racers, all vying for the coveted quarter-mile event’s $20,000 prize.
Ahead of taking his first laps on Slinger Speedway, Elliott bubbled with enthusiasm.
“The schedule worked, and everything came together,” Elliott mentioned Monday morning, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This is a race I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and we just never did it. It never worked out.
“Obviously, it’s a long ways to come here,” he added. “When I was racing these cars a lot, we just never ventured up this far. [I] always admired the track and thought it was really cool, and it seems like a really neat event.”
“Hopefully we can go do all right. That’s the big thing now.”
While it’s no surprise that Elliott’s the biggest name competing in this year's race, the event will also feature several of the top local racers from the area like Steve Apel, a multi-time Slinger track champion, still hunting for his first Nationals victory. Though he’s going up against arguably one of the best wheelman in stock car racing, Apel’s ecstatic about the chance to trade paint with the 2020 Cup Series winner and is embracing the challenge wholeheartedly.
"I always tell myself, to be the best, you've got to beat the best," stated Apel to CBS 58. "We're excited for it. It's always a challenge to compete against guys you don't race against on a weekly basis/ … We get one chance every year. Our goal is to be there at the front at the end."
Elliott’s name brand power has had massive impact on expected fan attendance for tonight’s race. Slinger Super Speedway co-owner Elizabeth Thelen told CBS 58 the track could be looking at a potential sell-out crowd as thousands descend on what’s dubbed the “world’s fastest quarter-mile oval.”
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"Being on a Tuesday, we've always scheduled it that way so NASCAR drivers could come in," revealed Thelen. "This is one of the top five events in the United States. It's historical, and it's quite amazing to see and be a part of. Legends are made here."
Legends indeed. In the past, some of racing’s biggest names graced the quarter-mile oval, including such high-profile figures as Davey and Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
In addition to facing an army of determined local drivers like Apel, cruising to victory tonight in Wisconsin won’t be any old cakewalk for Elliott as he’ll face some very familiar, yet formidable competition. The 27-year-old native from Dawsonville, Georgia will go toe-to-toe with his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, William Byron, who recently jumped to first in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after he earned his series-leading fourth victory with his win at Atlanta.
“We haven’t talked a ton about it,” noted Elliott of Byron, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But that’s why we’re here today. We’ve got plenty of practice today, so we’ll see what it is. You’ve got, like, six hours of practice today. I don’t think there’s any excuses for not being ready.”
Legacy Motor Club’s Erik Jones, as well as former NASCAR Cup Series champion and Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth, will join Elliott as well. Kenseth, a native of Cambridge, Wisconsin, has enjoyed enormous success on the Wisconsin-based speedway, winning the Slingers Nationals race a whopping eight times in the past (1994, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2016, 2019).
For Elliott, who’s been waiting seven, long years to make his debut at Slinger Super Speedway, just getting to this point was a battle in itself, so squandering the opportunity in tonight’s race is not an option.
“The Cup teams are more open in general to us doing this stuff more a little nowadays than they were probably 10 years ago,” Elliott explained. “But I do think it comes to the driver and how much they want to go run.”