Chase Elliott once tried to bamboozle his high school teacher based on stuff going on at the Daytona 500 in 2014. When his friend Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a rain-delayed race that went deep into the night past 11 p.m., Elliott figured everyone would be in a celebratory mode.
He was late to class at King's Ridge Christian School outside Atlanta and came up with what he thought was a solid excuse on his tardy slip: "Watching the race, thought for sure we would have the day off. . . . #Junior."
It didn't fly. But Elliott doesn't need to worry about making excuses for missing stuff anymore. He's got his own thing going on.
Elliott — 20 years 2 months 17 days old — became the youngest pole winner in Daytona 500 history Sunday afternoon, setting off his own celebratory moments.
"I don't think I completely wrapped my head around it or let it completely sink in that we were even going to be competing at the Daytona 500 today, much less have a shot and go out and sit on the pole," Elliott said.
"This is a big day, but at the same time this is a long week. This is a step in the right direction, but that's one lap versus 500 miles next Sunday. Very big difference."
Elliott qualified with a single-lap run of 196.314 mph around the Daytona International Speedway tri-oval. Matt Kenseth's Toyota ran a lap of 196.036 to earn the second spot on the front row. The 40-car field's remaining slots will be set during the duel qualifying races Thursday night.
Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, never acts like the coolest kid on the track, even though he is. Who else becomes a pole winner on his first try in one of NASCAR's signature races? Who else gets to replace a racing icon, Jeff Gordon, in the iconic No. 24 Chevy? Who else, besides a handful of other great NASCAR families, can say they are among the fathers and sons who both have won poles?
Add this quick fun fact: No. 24 is on the pole for Daytona 500. It's the 24th Daytona pole for Chevy, a Cup Series best. Karma?
Another quick fun fact: Elliott posed for the Coors Light Pole recognition with the "21 Means 21" flag because he's not old enough to drink yet.
Gordon watched it all from the Fox Sports booth, trying to keep his emotions in check. What the heck. It was pointless. Who else was he going to cheer for?
"The biggest challenge that I am going to have moving to the booth is not showing too much bias for that 24 team," Gordon said during the recent NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C. "I love those guys; they're like family to me."
Family is big here. Young Elliott is the son of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, another NASCAR great just like Gordon.
The kid always seems unfazed by the moment — from the time he raced late-model cars to winning the Xfinity Series title in 2014 to his rise to the Cup ranks.
"From when he was a little kid, it was, 'Hey, I want to drive a race car,'" said Bill Elliott, the 1988 Winston Cup champion and a two-time Daytona 500 winner. "He always had these little Matchbox cars and he'd run them around on these little tracks. He was like totally focused."
Now Chase has moved on to bigger machines. No worries.
"The biggest thing for a young driver — any driver — is confidence," Gordon said, "believing in what they are doing out there on the track and for him to focus only on what he needs to do because he knows he's coming into a championship-caliber program."
Neither Dad nor Mom (Cindy) had to do any nudging along the way for young Elliott. There were no family dinners plotting his racing career.
"That conversation never happened," Chase said a while back. "For me it was more of a go-have-fun deal."
Consider it done.