Charlotte, NC – There was lots of news during Hendrick Motorsports’ presentation at the 2015 Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour on Thursday. The biggest news of the day was what we all knew was going to happen. Chase Elliott will be driving the No. 24 Chevrolet in 2016. It’s a year off yet, but that was the buzz around the Charlotte Civic Center.
Before Thursday afternoon’s presentation from Hendrick Motorsports, five director’s chairs stood empty on the stage, one earmarked for team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest for his four drivers. One chair rested to the side, awaiting its moment to join the group.
In the same way, Chase Elliott has waited for his seat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And now his time is just around the corner.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Elliott, the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, will join the sport’s premier circuit full-time in 2016 after running a partial schedule of five races this season in the No. 25 Chevrolet. In making the step forward, Elliott, 19, will take over the Hendrick-owned No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by four-time champion Jeff Gordon, who announced last week that this will be his last full-time season in NASCAR’s top division.
Elliott said he was informed of his impending promotion to Sprint Cup by a phone call from Hendrick, shortly after Gordon made his intentions known to his team. As big a shock as news of Gordon’s decision was, Elliott said the piece of the story involving him was an even bigger surprise.
“That’s a phone call I was not expecting that day. That is for sure,” Elliott said. “I didn’t know anything about Jeff’s announcement until that morning and to have Mr. Hendrick tell me that he wanted me to be that person to go in and drive that car whenever Jeff got done was just an unbelievable phone call — one that I was not expecting and something that I couldn’t have dreamt happening.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sporting his new primary sponsor’s logo on his firesuit, but wanted to talk about his new crew chief, Greg Ives. It appears Earnhardt and Ives hit it off quickly.
“We’ve run things over in our mind about things to try and all that,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to be fine and I think Greg will be beneficial to both Jimmie (Johnson) and I.”
It will be the first season in a long time that anyone other than Kenny Francis has been Kasey Kahne’s crew chief. In 2015, Francis moves on to other duties at Hendrick Motorsports and Keith Rodden takes over the reins. Kahne was confident that the turnaround in the No. 5 Chevrolet will be dramatic.
Gordon revealed that he had made up his mind to retire last summer, and only timed his announcement when he thought it was best. Car owner Rick Hendrick said he tried to get his star driver and had been trying for some time.
“You know I’m a pretty good car salesman, and I was very persuasive for awhile, but I ran out of good lines, I guess.”
Gordon apparently had been pondering this for several years, but came to his decision this year. When that decision was made and the announcement became public, Hendrick wasted no time in calling young Chase Elliott to place him in the No. 24 for 2016, a phone call that Elliott didn’t expect. It happened on the same day that Gordon made his announcement.
After the blockbuster news, the typical excitement for Jimmie Johnson was kind of lost in the dust. Johnson and Hendrick did pledge that the No. 48 would be back in the thick of things next year, but Hendrick did say what he thought would be a fitting end to an awesome career for Jeff Gordon.
Without blinking, Hendrick said, “Fourteen wins and a championship.” Now, THAT would be the way to go out.