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The Chase Elliott Conundrum

The Chase Elliott Conundrum

by November 21, 2014 4 comments

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images

Chase Elliott’s NASCAR future became a bit clearer on Thursday after an appearance by Hendrick Motorsports’ General Manager, Doug Duchardt, on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR Channel revealed that the 2014 Nationwide Series champion will participate in a select number of Sprint Cup events in 2015.

Elliott, a Hendrick development driver since 2011, will be allowed to race in a fifth Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS in a handful of races yet won’t be allowed to run full-time in a fifth Hendrick car in 2016 if he’s to move up to the Sprint Cup level – a promotion that sounds more and more likely to be made.

With Kasey Kahne signing a contract extension with Hendrick that will keep him at the organization through 2018, it looks more and more likely that Elliott is to assume the No. 24 car from Jeff Gordon.

But, Gordon himself is coming off of his best season since 2009 with a campaign that resulted in four separate race victories. The four-time series champion appeared to be completely rejuvenated with his success from this year and may possibly be planning on sticking around the Cup Series for several more years in order to obtain that elusive fifth championship.

Both bring up the question of who Elliott will be driving for in 2016.

The decision to keep the second-generation NASCAR champion in the Nationwide Series for a second year is a sound one in my eyes. Though he was able to claim the championship in his first year in the series, a second year will do no harm for the 18-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia.

A third year, however, would be keeping Elliott at the party for too long.

Whether he repeats as the Nationwide Series champion or not, moving Elliott to the Sprint Cup level is a logical decision for 2016. The issue is figuring out where he’s going to end up for his first full year.

Sure, Gordon may be planning on stepping aside after the 2015 season, but, if he doesn’t, that leaves Elliott in an interesting position.

It’s safe to say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are going nowhere. While Earnhardt Jr. has stated in the past that he’d like to wrap up his NASCAR career by racing in the Nationwide Series full-time for his own racing outfit, JR Motorsports, I don’t believe there is any chance at all that that will happen within the next five years. Johnson is likely to stay at Hendrick at the Sprint Cup level for the rest of his career, which could very well last for more than a decade.

If the current Hendrick lineup is to remain the same in 2016, Rick Hendrick will have to look at Hendrick satellite teams for an open roster position.

Stewart-Haas Racing may have one position open at the end of 2015 with Danica Patrick entering a contract season for next year, however, it’s highly unlikely that Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart (who I believe will drive that No. 14 Chevrolet until I hit retirement age) will be going anywhere anytime soon.

Chip Ganassi Racing could possibly have a seat open. Only two of their four maximum cars allowed are occupied entering the 2015 season with Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson occupying those two cars. It is possible that Dylan Kwasniewski could find his way into a third CGR Chevrolet (or take over McMurray’s ride) following 2015 – which would still leave a seat open for Elliott.

Ultimately, where Elliott ends up in 2016 hinges on what Gordon decides to do following the 2015 season. If the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is to stick around for several more years, it creates quite the conundrum for one of the brightest NASCAR prospects in recent history.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

4 Comments so far

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  1. Jeff
    #1 Jeff 22 November, 2014, 13:18

    You can’t discount the possibility of NASCAR changing the rule (funny how it always seems to work in Hendrick’s favor) to a limit of 5 teams. After all, who can forget how the sainted “Mr. H” landed Elliott in the first place-out of nowhere they changed the rule for how young a driver could sign from 16 to 15, and within moments Elliott is under contract with HMS. Funny how these things seem to work out…

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  2. racefangurl
    #2 racefangurl 23 November, 2014, 21:03

    I don’t care as long as Chase has a Cup ride after 2 years total in the Nationwide/Xfinity series. That’s all he needs seems to be the concensus. I half-like him, but there’s 5 drivers ahead of him on my list. They’re long-time NASCAR drivers compared to Chase.

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  3. Christopher Neal
    #3 Christopher Neal 24 November, 2014, 09:57

    Keep in mind Chase may be a fantastic driver but does Hendricks really want a Rookie getting in one of their cars? They may be looking for Chase to do a couple of years with another team before joining what many consider the A-Team of NASCAR.

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    • racefangurl
      racefangurl 27 December, 2014, 10:47

      Gordon was 21 when he first Cup raced and it seems to me he started at Hendrick. His number’s always been 24. I checked on this one. My dad’s a Gordon fan, btw.

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