Nineteen year-old Chase Elliot, who became NASCAR’s youngest national series champion after winning the 2014 Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series championship, has been tabbed to replace Jeff Gordon in 2016.
The decision came a week after Gordon announced 2015 would be his final year in the No. 24 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports.
It is a task that would be daunting for any driver with the number of accomplishments Gordon has achieved during his term driving for Hendrick. The term “the next Jeff Gordon” has been used throughout the years with young talented drivers as a way of trying to distinguish who could fill Gordon’s shoes when he retired. Elliot may have officially won the title, but understands the responsibility that comes along with it.
“You’re never going to replace Jeff Gordon, at all,” Elliot said. “Jeff Gordon is a hero and legend of the sport and that is something you’re just never going to do. You obviously have goals and I want to try to be successful here at Hendrick Motorsports and the sport in general, but you gotta know Jeff is Jeff and that is something you’re never going to be able to compare yourself to.”
Gordon’s current crew chief, Alan Gustafson, will hold that position with Elliot. It will be a great benefit for Elliot to have someone capable of coaching him through the steep learning curves, which there will be many. There is no doubt he has the talent to overcome them quickly; a quality noticed by Hendrick Motorsports team owner, Rick Hendrick.
“Chase brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver,” Hendrick told the press. “Not only is he a special talent inside the race car, but there’s a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see.”
To help prepare Elliot for his first full-time Cup Series season, Hendrick will field a fifth car in five races for Elliot this season. As NASCAR holds teams to a four car limit, they do allow a fifth car for part-time rookie drivers, allowing Elliot to run Hendrick’s No. 25 car. NAPA Auto Parts, Elliot’s XFINITY Series sponsor, will also sponsor Elliot during his Cup Series appearances. Since the car he will be driving did not compete during the 2014 season, he will not have any points to fall back on and must qualify on time to make each race.
“Those five races are going to go by quick and being able to have those five is big,” Elliot said. “It is going to be a big learning curve for me and I need to make the most of them. Things are not going to get any easier and I just have to try and realize that and use them to get ready to go.”
Elliot’s will compete in the No. 25 NAPA Chevrolet SS at Martinsville Speedway on March 29, Richmond International Speedway on April 25, Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26 and Darlington Raceway on Sept. 6.