ELKHART LAKE, Wis. >> Out of retirement and preparing to get behind a steering wheel again, Bill Elliott was in a rush.
The NASCAR Hall of Famer couldn’t avoid this next appointment before his first race at Road America.
“Hey, I’ve got to go to a rookie meeting ,” the 62-year-old Elliott said with a smile after meeting with reporters. “Oh, well.”
Nearly four decades in racing and Elliott is still experiencing a first for his distinguished career.
Elliott has come out of retirement to drive the No. 23 Chevrolet for GMS Racing in the Xfinity series stop at the rural Wisconsin road course Saturday. It will be his first race in any of NASCAR’s national series since the Cup event at Daytona in July 2012. He hasn’t started a race in the second-tier series since 2005.
“I haven’t been in an Xfinity car in …” Elliott said before pausing for a few seconds, “1,000 years, I think.”
Don’t be fooled by the modesty. Elliott most definitely knows what he’s doing.
He has 44 Cup wins in 828 starts , along with 175 top-five finishes. His first Cup start came in 1976 at Rockingham; the first victory came at the Riverside road course in his 124th career start in 1983.
Elliott has no real expectations for Road America weekend, other than just to “try to keep (the car) looking like it is right now,” he said. “That’s my first goal and then see how things go from there.”
Elliott took 15 practice laps Friday. He was 26th out of 40 drivers with a top lap speed of 105.791 mph.
GMS announced Elliott’s return on Aug. 4. Apparently, his son, Cup driver Chase Elliott, along with GMS president Mike Beam, gave him a little push. The younger Elliott also drives in the Xfinity series for GMS.
The idea came up around the time that the elder Elliott said he had been “playing around with some other stuff in vintage racing, and they said they’d like to put me in a car.”
As it turned out, this was more than just a friendly inquiry.
“They kind of said, ‘You need to do this. … Well, your name is out there, so here it is,’” he recounted. “That’s kind of how I ended up here.”
The return of one of racing’s elder statesmen overshadowed two other fresh faces at Road America in the Xfinity series.
Former IndyCar driver Katherine Legge will be running in the second of two planned races this year for JD Motorsports. She made her debut in NASCAR two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, running in the top 15 before blowing an engine on Lap 65.
IndyCar driver Conor Daly is making his NASCAR debut this weekend, driving a Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing.
Daly said he got advice from Elliott when they spoke after he drove Elliott’s Cup car during a recent vintage weekend at Indianapolis.
“So, little did I know he would be racing, and he was coaching me initially. Pretty funny to see that,” Daly said. “You’ve got to be a sponge of information, right? You’ve got to soak it up and see what happens.”
Funny thing is, Elliott is taking a similar approach.
Yes, he’s still around the sport, especially with his son racing on the top circuit. Bill Elliott was spotting for Chase earlier this month when the younger Elliott won his first career Cup race at Watkins Glen.
It’s different feel behind the wheel.
“I’d like to see how things stack up, how things have changed. I’ve been fortunate enough to drive through a lot of different eras in racing,” Elliott said.
Not that Elliott feels he needs a lot of time on the track, even if his red Chevy will have yellow stripes on the bumper to signify a driver who is new to the course.
Elliott is more old-school when it comes to acclimating to a new track. This time, Chase will be spotting for Dad.
“This main thing is I’m looking more forward to the race,” Elliott said. “That’s always been my strong suit, once you get in the race, you kind of judge with everybody where you’re at, where you’re good, where you’re not, what you need to do.”
Justin Marks posted the top practice lap speed of 109.603 mph. Qualifying is at midday on Saturday, with the race later that afternoon.