Why 2023 Was Right for Chase Elliott Late Model Comeback

Crew chief Ricky Turner has open dates with Jake Garcia graduating to Trucks.

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Chase Elliott isn’t entirely sure his story plays out the way it has without Ricky Turner.

So, whenever the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion returns to the Super Late Model environment that shaped him as a teenager, Elliott wants to do it alongside the crew chief that played a significant role in his development both as a racer and man.

To that end, Elliott will make his first start in two years on Saturday in Speedfest at Watermelon Capital Speedway in South Georgia and it will come alongside Jake Garcia with Turner overseeing both of their efforts.

Elliott has been asked on numerous occasions to make Super Late Model starts over the years, and while there is always some degree of interest, it has historically taken Turner being part of the equation.

"We're friends, first and foremost," Elliott said after an open test on Thursday. "Running the roads with him, that was such a vital piece of my career.

"Frankly, I've learned a lot from him and I'm grateful to his work and efforts to get me to where I am today. I'm not entirely sure I would be here today if it wasn't for him so anytime I can race in this arena, doing it with him would be my first choice. It makes sense for me and all the ways I like to do it."

Turner, the 2002 Snowball Derby winning driver, operates his program out of Dawsonville where Elliott still lives. It’s where he keeps his car and short track equipment. It allows Elliott to be hands-on and interactive with Turner just as the racing veteran taught him to be.

Elliott also credits the support from FR8Auctions and HendrickCars.com for making this race happen.

With Garcia making the full-time move to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, Turner now has more openings on his schedule and that could lead to Elliott making more appearances throughout the summer.

Elliott expressed gratitude that Jake and Stevie (Garcia, father) were open to letting Turner split time on two cars this weekend as well. Garcia will still race with Turner as his schedule allows, but the schedule is open for Elliott to pick up some races should he choose.

“It’s totally up to him, you know, what he can do with his schedule,” Turner said. “It’s a lot of fun to get to do this stuff for him as long as he enjoys it. So, it’s up to us to bring him a good car to the track so he can have fun and compete and it’s up to him what he wants to do this season.”

When asked about his busy schedule as the most popular driver in the sport who drives for an iconic team, Elliott says he can find time.

“Not having done a lot of it as much doesn’t have a lot to do with the schedule,” Elliott said. “You can make time to go race if you want, especially with the weekday shows these days, and it really is just me having the kind of situation I want to have when I do this.

“For me, it’s about racing with guys I’m comfortable with and guys I can have fun with too.”

To that point, it would be easy for Elliot to join a multi-car program or an elite driver development program to maximize the potential to win, but that’s not everything to Elliott.

“Nothing against any of the other programs,” Elliott said. “They have some incredible cars in a time where a lot is changing in this world, but Ricky is local, and I know we’re going to have a good time and compete. I hope so anyway, because we’re both really competitive, and I want to contribute to what he’s building. I’m not sure that I can, but I want to, and if I can help, that’s something I’ll take a lot of pride in too.”

Turner knows Elliott has no shortage of suitors anytime he wants to go Super Late Model racing and he’s appreciative that they get to keep the band together.

“I have told him multiple times that there are a lot of people that would love to have him in their car and he wouldn’t have to worry about this or that, or the financial aspect of it, but he wants to do it the way he wants to do it,” Turner said. “I certainly appreciate that, and he certainly doesn’t have to do it for me, but he’s been good to us.”

Elliott said his test day was ‘okay’ and mostly just a chance to shake down a car he hadn’t been in since December 2020.

“A couple of our helping hands for the weekend aren’t going to arrive until tonight,” Elliott said. “They’ll be here tomorrow. I just wanted to come down and make some laps and get a feel.

“I certainly don’t condone being here on a Thursday for a Saturday night short track race but it’s close for us, just a few hours up the road. It’s a good chance to come down here and make sure we didn’t have any major issues and come back tomorrow and really get to work, more fine-tuning things.”

And for Turner, he says working with Elliott still fills natural and familiar as it did a decade ago when they first started racing together.

“It does but I’m trying to catch up with him at this point,” Turner said. “He’s obviously learned a lot over the past couple of years and now I’m learning from him.

“It’s a big help to me to have someone like him driving alongside Jake and having both of those guys work off each other. But I’m definitely learning from him today.”

Talk about a full-circle moment.

“But beyond that, he’s still the same old kid he’s always been.”

Live coverage of Speedfest 2023 on Friday and Saturday will be provided to subscribers of RacingAmerica.TV. Elliott joins a stacked roster that includes William Byron, Bubba Pollard, Corey Heim, Johnny Sauter, Carson Hocevar, Matt Craig and more.

In all, Speedfest features 340 laps of action between the Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Outlaw Late Models, Legends and Bandoleros.

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SpeedFest 2024 at Crisp Motorsports Park - January 19-20