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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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”