DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — For many veteran NASCAR drivers, balancing a career while raising kids is a huge challenge.
Chase Elliott? He has risen to the top of NASCAR's Nationwide Series while dealing with the responsibilities that come with being a teenager. Imagine how good the 18-year-old Elliott might become now that he won't have to worry about high school anymore.
On Saturday morning, Elliot will graduate from King's Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Georgia. And then he will have to "turn and burn" according to his father, 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, with qualifying at Iowa Speedway scheduled less than 10 hours after Elliott receives his diploma.
It'll be the last time Elliott will have to juggle school and work.
"What's going to be weird is not going back to high school this fall. That's going to be the deal that makes you sit back and think. I'm kind of waiting for that moment," Elliott said.
Unlike many high school graduates, Elliott has known his calling for years.
Elliott notched six top-10s in the K&N Pro Series East in 2011 at just 15 years old. His first NASCAR win came during a K&N event in Iowa in May 2012, and last season he won an ARCA race at Pocono.
Elliott also dabbled in the Camping World Trucks series in 2013, posting five top-10s while becoming the youngest winner in a NASCAR national series event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
All of this helped him land a deal with the star-laden JR Motorsports in the offseason, even though the first nine Nationwide races fell during the end of his senior year at King's Ridge.
"He's a pretty focused individual," Bill Elliott said. "As he continues on and learns more, it'll make him better. But how much better, I don't know. The biggest key is, once he understands more of what he needs. He knows how to race, and I think the key of the whole thing is making sure he does what he can do and go from there."
Earlier in his career, Elliott tried to lessen his academic pressure by taking his books with him on the road.
He quickly realized he couldn't focus on both at the same time. So Elliott typically crammed a week's worth of studying into just three days so he could spend Thursdays, Fridays and weekends focused on racing.
It never hurt his performance in the No. 9 Chevrolet.
Elliott won back-to-back Nationwide races at Texas and Darlington last month — taking over the points lead in the process — and finished second at Richmond before settling for 19th at Talladega two weeks ago.
Even though Elliott is excited about the opportunity to focus mainly on racing, he's also wary of being so focused on the track that he "gets his head screwed up."
For Elliott, finding something other than school to help even out his life is his next hurdle to clear.
"I think it is important to have a balance of what you do racing-wise and what you do during the week," Elliott said. "It seems like all the Cup guys are having kids right now, and they're all having them at about the same time. They all talk about that balance away from the race track, and I can understand where they're coming from."