JEFFERSON, Ga. – With the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule spread across 10 different states and competitors coming from multiple countries in the Western Hemisphere, it’s not often that a driver gets a chance to perform at his home track.
Series points leader Chase Elliott will have the privilege this weekend.
Elliott hails from Dawsonville, Ga., just under 50 miles from Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., site of this week’s Slack Auto Parts 150. And while the two previous races at the fast half mile have been referred to as Max Gresham’s home turf, Elliott grew up twice as close to the track as Gresham did in Griffin, Ga.
To be fair, Max Gresham – now a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year candidate – had family ties to the track. His grandfather, Jim, is the facility’s owner while his father, Tony, is also part of the management.
Elliott has family ties to Gresham Motorsports Park as well. His uncle, Dan, is the general manager of the facility. Dan’s wife and daughter are also involved in track operations.
So like Max Gresham before him, Chase Elliott now has the focus on him as the K&N Pro Series East returns to Jefferson.
Gresham finished 12th in the first East race at his family’s track, but delivered a dominating performance last year when he won from the pole.
Like Gresham, Elliott’s first East race in front of the home base didn’t go as planned. After he qualified sixth, Elliott had fuel problems on Lap 149 of what turned out to be a 154-lap race and was credited with a 22nd place finish. All eyes will now be squarely on him this Saturday as he attempts to deliver at home.
“I don’t know if it’s any more pressure,” Elliott said. “Obviously I’ll have friends and family there to watch, but realistically this will be just like any other race and we’re going to go out and do the best that we can.
“We do have family ties there with Uncle Dan at the race track, but at the same time we’re just another racer there and we’re going to give it our best shot.”
Elliott certainly has the capability to succeed in the spotlight. Not only did he prove he can win at the K&N Pro Series level when he bested the field at Iowa Speedway in the East-West combination race, but he’s had extensive success at Gresham in various series since the track re-opened in 2010.
In 11 combined starts, Elliott has four wins and three additional podium finishes. Already this year he won the Beau Slocumb Memorial 208 from the pole on April 7 and the Racing Radios 100 on May 2.
Elliott says the advantage in experience at the track over his fellow K&N Pro Series East competitors won’t necessarily give him a greater comfort level entering this race – since he’s only run an East car there once before – but the familiarity with the track will allow him to focus more on dialing in the car in practice rather than trying to learn the track.
“With the K&N Pro Series we’ve only been there once in that car, so I don’t know if it’s comfort as much as it’s just a little bit of knowledge of how the race track has changed from last year to this year,” Elliott said. “Being able to race on it twice already this year might help me a little bit.”
Last time out on the quarter-mile bullring at Bowman Gray Stadium, Elliott was involved in multiple incidents that kept him from contending for the win, but he was able to salvage a sixth-place finish and maintain a 16-point lead in the standings. As the season nears its halfway mark, however, Elliott and the No. 9 Aarons/HendrickCars.com Chevrolet team isn’t concerned about points.
“We’re just chasing solid runs and obviously we’re there to win the race, or we wouldn’t come,” Elliott said. “I think it’s way too early to worry about points. If we go out and give it our best shot, I think the points are going to figure themselves out all the way to Race No. 14.”
The cream of the crop has risen to the top in the first two K&N Pro Series East events at Gresham. Eventual 2010 champion Ryan Truex was contending for the race win late in the inaugural event until an incident with Kevin Swindell allowed Ty Dillon to pass them both by for the checkered flag and Max Gresham rode his win at the facility that bears his family’s name to the 2011 series title.
So, Mr. Elliott, the stage is set.