The future has arrived for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in the form of defending XFINITY Series Champion Chase Elliott.
Elliott, who won his title last season as a rookie, will join Hendrick Motorsports as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, starting in 2016. Elliott will replace Jeff Gordon in the storied No. 24 Chevrolet and will be partnered with veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson.
The 19-year-old will spend one more season in the XFINITY Series this season, and
will also compete in five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports in 2015, including Martinsville on March 29, Richmond, April 25, Charlotte, May 24, Indianapolis July 26, and Darlington on Sept. 6.
He will have sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts in those select events with Kenny Francis serving as crew chief of the No. 25 Chevrolet.
Team owner Rick Hendrick broke the news at his season kickoff event for employees.
Chase brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver, Hendrick said. Not only is he a special talent inside the race car, but theres a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see. Chases personality and demeanor make him popular with fans, teammates and sponsors.
Hes a great fit for our organization on many levels, and we feel he and Alan will be a successful combination. Theres a lot to be excited about.
Elliott has been a Hendrick Motorsports development driver since 2011 and received support from the team in Super Late Models, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
In addition to the XFINITY Series championship, he is also the only driver to have victories in all four short track crown jewel events -- the Snowball Derby, Winchester 400, All-American 400 and World Crown 300.
So many people have been behind me, and the first thing I want to do is thank them, Elliott said. My parents especially have believed in me every step of the way, and I know this wouldnt be possible without all the sacrifices theyve made to focus on my racing career. This is such a big week for our family.
Im also extremely grateful to Mr. Hendrick and my teammates at both Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports for believing in me. NAPA has been a huge supporter, and Im honored to represent them on and off the track. Of course the fans have been
amazing to me, and Im so appreciative of that. I know how rare this opportunity is and will work as hard as I can to make everyone proud.
The team said it will announce sponsorship for Elliott and the No. 24 car at a later date.
Georgia Racing Hall of Fame President Gordon Pirkle has chronicled much of Elliotts early career and believes that Chase was a logical fit to follow in the championship lineage of Gordon, Terry Labonte and Jimmie Johnson.
I cant think of anyone better than Chase, Pirkle said. You just cant describe how much of a good boy he is and how humble he has become. We are so excited for him, and we havent given up on him driving the No. 9 yet either. Weve got a year to work on that.
Its worth noting that Richard Petty, the team owner that owns the rights to the No. 9 in the Sprint Cup Series, has expressed an interest in relinquishing the number if Elliott
and Hendrick want it next season.
We inherited that number [when Petty bought the remnants of the Ray Evernham/George Gillette racing team], Petty said. It doesnt mean anything to me, but it does to the sponsors wed already signed for this year. If the kid wants it next year, though, thats fine with us.