Jeff Gordon: Chase Elliott is ‘right guy’ to keep driving No. 24

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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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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”