Even though it would be a fitting testament to his illustrious legacy as a NASCAR driver, Jeff Gordon told team owner Rick Hendrick that he did not want the No. 24 retired after his upcoming final season.
“Rick wanted to retire that number for maybe one year or a certain period of time — you never know what NASCAR allows,” Gordon said during this week’s NASCAR Media Tour “He definitely threw that idea out to me, and I said, ‘No.’
“I love the No. 24. I want to see the 24 go on to do great things. I did say if Chase was really adamant or (his dad) Bill and Chase and (his mom) Cindy all felt like that another number was more suited, that I was open to it. But I think our fans want to see the 24 continue on with the right person and be successful with the right guy, and he’s the right guy. So I think it makes sense to keep it going.”
When it was confirmed earlier this week that Chase Elliott would replace Gordon in 2016, numerous reports surfaced wondering what car number Elliott would drive.
Some believed Elliott would drive No. 9, which is identified most with his father Bill, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday. It is also the number on the car Chase drove to last season’s Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series championship.
To do so, however, Hendrick Motorsports would have to ask the current holder of the No. 9, Richard Petty Motorsports, to give up that number.
There’s recent precedent: When Dale Earnhardt Jr. left Dale Earnhardt Inc. and moved to Hendrick Motorsports, the latter had to petition Robert Yates Racing to acquire the No. 88 for Earnhardt.
Other speculation centered on No. 25, which is not currently in use but still assigned by NASCAR to Hendrick Motorsports, or perhaps No. 94, which Elliott drove in the Camping World Truck Series, and which his father drove in his short time as a Sprint Cup team owner.
But when Gordon told Chase Elliott that he wanted him to continue the legacy of the No. 24, the 19-year-old Elliott jumped at the chance.
“Having the honor to drive the 24 is something that a racer can only dream of,” Elliott said. “That is such an iconic number, it’s a legendary number and for Jeff to tell me that he wants me to drive the 24, that right there is plenty enough for me to be on-board with it.
“He asked me if I was OK with that. If we were shaking hands, I’d have ripped his arm off. That is an opportunity that nobody would turn down. For him to tell me that he wanted me to do that and asked if it was OK with me? Absolutely.”
NASCAR has never retired a car number in any of its three major series: Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck series.
“The 24 has been such a part of our DNA at Hendrick Motorsports, we needed to carry it on for the fans, for Jeff’s fans and our fans,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “That was the decision, and I left it up to Jeff.”
Gordon understands that some diehard fans may not like the idea of another driver driving a car with “his” number, but he urged them to give Elliott time.
“They say that until they see how well Chase Elliott does in that car and then they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we knew it!’ Gordon said.
“I cannot think of a better driver out there to get behind the wheel of that 24 car and make all those 24 fans proud of who’s taking over the reins.
“I spoke with Chase the other day on the phone and I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m looking forward to seeing him in there and working with him from the Hendrick Motorsports side.”
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