Chase Elliott’s primary focus this season will be on defending his NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.
But with Jeff Gordon announcing that 2015 will be his last full year of Sprint Cup competition, Elliott may now be in position to succeed the four-time champion at NASCAR’s top level in 2016.
Team owner Rick Hendrick isn’t just Gordon’s boss, but also one of Elliott’s. JR Motorsports, Elliott’s team in the NXS, has Hendrick and another of his Cup drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as two of its co-owners (the other being Junior’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller).
Hendrick has not yet a finalized plan to bring Elliott to Sprint Cup. But he did say last summer in a SiriusXM NASCAR Radio interview that he expects to see the 19-year-old compete in select Cup events this year with a fifth HMS car.
More recently, team general manager Doug Duchardt said in November that Kenny Francis would likely be the crew chief for Elliott in those Cup events. Francis, formerly the crew chief for Kasey Kahne, is now HMS’ vehicle technical director.
“He understands the car and he just takes care of it,” Hendrick said of Elliott’s talents in his interview. “I think he’s gonna do a super job whenever the time comes and I think we’ll surely, probably – the second half of , we’ll probably see him in some races.”
At the time, Elliott was in a dogfight for the NXS title with teammate Regan Smith. But Elliott pulled away in the final stretch of races before clinching in the penultimate race at Phoenix to become the youngest NASCAR national series champion ever.
He may not need to win another crown before he’s announced as the man that will indeed replace Gordon.
Gordon hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility of running select events post-2015 in Sprint Cup in his initial announcement this morning. But in a teleconference this afternoon, he said chances were “pretty good” that the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be his last Cup event (although he added that he’d like to leave a door open to perhaps competing in other series one day).
“I know that I’m not coming back to do a part-time schedule [in Sprint Cup],” Gordon said. “I love being competitive. I love racing for wins. It’s not just the thrills or the speed or just being at the track that I enjoy.”
When asked today where Elliott fits in all of this, Hendrick chose not to elaborate on the subject.
“We’re just kind of looking at what’s down the road, a little bit later,” he said. “I want to kind of focus on Jeff and what he’s accomplished, and at a later time, we’ll focus on who’s gonna be in the car.”
Time will tell how it all plays out. But you have to think that one way or another, Elliott is going to be well taken care of and part of the Cup landscape in due course.