Hendrick Motorsports has confirmed that Chase Elliott will succeed Jeff Gordon in the #24 car when the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion steps down from full time competition at the end of the upcoming 2015 season.
Elliott made history when he became NASCAR's youngest-ever national series champion at the end of last season at the age of 18 years, 11 months and 18 days, having earned three wins, two pole positions and 26 top-ten finishes in his rookie season in the second-tier championship with JR Motorsports.
Elliott will defend his title this year with a second season in what will now be called the Xfinity Series, but will additionally make his Cup début later this year as part of a limited five-race schedule with primary sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts and with the help of veteran crew chief Kenny Francis.
However when Elliott takes over the wheel of the #24 full time in 2016 he will inherit Gordon's highly regarded crew chief Alan Gustafson in the role. Gustafson himself has earned 19 wins, 18 pole positions, 98 top-five finishes and 165 top-tens as a crew chief at NASCAR's top level.
"Chase brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver,” said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick on Thursday. “Not only is he a special talent inside the race car, but there's a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see.
"Chase's personality and demeanour make him popular with fans, team mates and sponsors," Hendrick added. "He's a great fit for our organization on many levels, and we feel he and Alan will be a successful combination. There's a lot to be excited about."
"So many people have been behind me, and the first thing I want to do is thank them,” said Elliott. "My parents especially have believed in me every step of the way, and I know this wouldn't be possible without all the sacrifices they've made to focus on my racing career. This is such a big week for our family.
“I'm also extremely grateful to Mr Hendrick and my team mates at both Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports for believing in me,:" he added. "NAPA has been a huge supporter, and I'm honoured to represent them on and off the track. Of course the fans have been amazing to me, and I'm so appreciative of that. I know how rare this opportunity is and will work as hard as I can to make everyone proud."
NASCAR icon Gordon announced last week that he had decided to call it a day after 2015, and revealed that he has come close to hanging up his crash helmet in previous years but always been talked out of it by Hendrick.
"This is certainly something that I've been thinking about for years," said Gordon. "Rick and I have talked about for a number of years. You're always trying to, when you get to this point in your career and you've done as much as we've done as a team, trying to figure out when that right time to step away is. I always said I wanted to step away on my own terms if possible, and I want to be competitive out there, and I hoped that I could do that all the way through my final year.
"This is the right time," he insisted. "I think it really became clear about halfway through last season that it was definitely going to be. Rick kept talking me into going longer and longer and longer. And I kept saying no, I think this is the year. I think this is the year. Finally about halfway through last year I said, no. This is it, Boss, and we agreed and the timing was good for me, good for Hendrick and other opportunities that are out in front of us."
Moffitt to stand in for Vickers in Atlanta
Michel Waltrip Racing has announced that nine-time winner K&N Pro Series East winner Brett Moffitt will drive the #55 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1.
The #55 is usually driven by Brian Vickers, but heart surgery last month means that the recovering Vickers will miss the first two races of the 2015 Cup season before returning to full time competition the following week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Team co-owner Michael Waltrip will deputise in the car for the season-opener, February's Daytona 500, with Moffitt handed a one-off chance standing in for the following race.
“What a great honour and opportunity,” said Moffitt, who raced in eight Cup races last year driving the #66 for Jay Robinson Racing/MWR. “I hate that Brian has to miss the first two races of the season, but everyone is glad he is coming back at Las Vegas. My goal is to work closely with [crew chief] Billy Scott and the guys and get the most out of the Aaron's Dream Machine that I can.
“This is the best car I will have ever driven and I know my role is to leave Atlanta with a result that will make MWR, Aaron's and the #55 team happy they showed faith in me.”
“Brett was the first guy we thought of when we knew we needed a driver for Atlanta.," said Scott. "He's been part of MWR for several years. We've worked with him at tests and in the shop. The only thing missing from Brett's career is an opportunity and I think Atlanta will be a track where he shows everyone how much talent he has."
HScott Motorsports expands to two Cup teams
Michael Annett will join Justin Allgaier at HScott Motorsports in 2015 as the team expands to a two-car line-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
With Allgaier returning to the #51 BRANDT Chevrolet entry, Annett will join him in a second entry with primary sponsorship from Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel retail centres in the US, and other partners to include Cypress Associates, Inc., Allstate Peterbilt Group and Northland Oil.
"The addition of a second team increases HScott's overall ability to better utilize its resources at track and at the shop to be even more competitive," said team owner Harry Scott Jr. "I'm proud to have seen Justin truly mature as a [Cup] driver last year, and I can't wait to see what he does this year.
"Like Justin, Michael is coming off his rookie year following six years of competition in the NASCAR Xfinity Series," Scott added. "Michael is a quality driver with a great future at HScott Motorsports. These drivers compliment one another and will make great team mates."
"This is as excited as I've been for a new season, I can't wait to get to Daytona and fire the engines," said Allgaier. "I'm looking forward to carrying the momentum from the end of last season over to this year. Michael is a great addition to our organization and I'm glad to have a team mate to compete with each week."
"I'm excited for the opportunity to drive for HScott Motorsports," added Annett. "I am impressed with the way Harry is building his NASCAR teams. Harry and competition director Steve Addington have a long-term vision and I'm honoured to be part of it. I'm also looking forward to having Justin as a team mate."
Wood Brothers up number of 2015 Cup races for Blaney
The Wood Brothers team have revealed that they will be fielding their #21 entry in 18 races in 2015, up from the originally scheduled 12 outings.
Team Penske development driver Ryan Blaney will be behind the wheel of the car this year, taking over from Trevor Bayne who is now a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver with Roush Fenway Racing.