Elliott to run full-time for Hendrick Motorsports in 2016

Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday morning that Chase Elliott will run full-time for the organization in 2016.

On the matter, team owner Rick Hendrick said, “[Elliott] brings the kind of intangibles that make him the total package as a driver. Not only is he a special talent inside the car, but there’s a natural combination of competitiveness, work ethic and smarts that you rarely see.”

The 19-year-old joins HMS this season, competing in five races in the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Kenny Francis, former crew chief of fellow HMS driver Kasey Kahne, will crew chief Elliott during his limited schedule.

Elliott plans to race at Martinsville Speedway in March and the spring race at Richmond International Raceway. His roster also includes historic events such as Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Coca Cola 600, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

NAPA Auto Parts is also the primary sponsor for Elliott in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The reigning champion, he will also run full-time for JR Motorsports in 2015. He is the youngest champion in any NASCAR touring series. His father, former NASCAR champion and fan favorite Bill Elliott, will join the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday evening.

“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 weekend for our family,” Elliott stated after the announcement was made.

The news comes one week after HMS driver and four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon confirmed that he was retiring after this season. With many commenting that Elliott was his replacement, the young driver took to Twitter and voiced his thoughts.

In a picture posted on his verified @chaseelliott account, the driver wrote: “Jeff Gordon will never be replaced. And it will be a true honor to drive the 24 next year. This is one of the biggest days of my life, and a childhood dream come true. I simply hope to do my job for my team.”

Legendary: Gordon announces 2015 will be his final full-time season

GORDON
“Letting team know this will be my final year competing for a championship.” (Via @JeffGordonWeb, Gordon’s official Twitter account)

It was a day that loomed on the horizon, yet no one truly believed it until official word came down.

Thursday morning, Hendrick Motorsports and driver Jeff Gordon announced that 2015 will be Gordon’s final full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

With four championships in the sport’s top-level, the California native is a legend; over 22 seasons, he and HMS owner Rick Hendrick have built a remarkable dynasty and partnership. The current generation of NASCAR fans relate Gordon with the words ‘respect,’ ‘drive,’ and ‘genuine,’ which are all accurate descriptions.

However, now that he won’t be on track every weekend, things feel a bit out-of-place.

“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing,” Gordon said in the organization’s release. “I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success.”

Away from the track, the driver is known for his approachability and philanthropy. “The work we’re doing with the Jeff Gordon’s Children’s Foundation will continue to be extremely important to me. Outside the race car, my passion is pediatric cancer research, and my efforts will remain focused there when I’m no longer driving.”

A shoe-in for a spot in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, Gordon has acquired 92 victories, ranking him third all-time. In 2014, he won his fifth Brickyard 400, the most in NASCAR competition. He is also a three-time winner of the Daytona 500.

It is unknown what he’ll do after 2015, yet that’s how it should remain. In the meantime, all eyes will be focused on a legend’s final ride.

Kahne signs contract extension as No. 5 team gets new crew chief, sponsor

Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)
Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)

A lot of bustling is going on over in the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

NASCAR isn’t a full week into the offseason, but the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne is making changes. Earlier this week, it was announced that Keith Rodden would return to HMS to crew chief Kahne. Rodden left his position as Kahne’s lead engineer to crew chief Jamie McMurray.

The switch severs the driver’s long-running partnership with Kenny Francis, who has been his crew chief since Homestead in 2005. It was the second-longest driver/crew chief relationship, behind the championship-winning duo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Rodden joined them in 2006, a crucial part of Kahne’s team until he moved in 2013. Matt McCall will take his place on top of the No. 1’s pit box.

As if that weren’t enough, Thursday brought news that Kahne signed an extension with HMS, tying him to the No. 5 car until 2018. A new sponsor is also joining the mix; Lift Master, who appeared on McMurray’s car since 2012, will become a primary sponsor for Kahne from 2015 to 2017. It will be featured three times next season.

The contract extension puts to rest the rumors that 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott will replace Kahne. After a difficult year for the team, the questions kept rising, and nobody had real answers. The result was a slight overhaul for the team, securing their driver, a new crew chief, and a sponsor in the matter of a few days.

One for the Ages: Harvick escapes old shadows, wins first Sprint Cup championship

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The new Chase format was a shot in the dark.

January brought news of changes. Drastic, NFL-like changes, ones that seemed severe and intriguing. Pitting four drivers against each other for one deciding race was a difficult idea to accept. Being open-minded, fans sat and watched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season unfold with anticipation.

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman used victories, consistency, and strategy to slide into the Final Four. Ironically enough, those same factors played a significant role in determining who won the championship (and race) at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The race was full of drama. Cautions, risky pit calls, balls-to-the-wall racing emerged as day shifted into night. Cautions dotted the field, and the anticipation kept rising and rising and rising.

A restart occurred with three to go. No one knew which driver would prevail. Harvick was leading, Newman was on his bumper, and Hamlin still had a shot. The only driver not in contention at the end of the event was Logano, whose pit crew let him down. His car fell of the jack during a crucial stop, and it was all over for the No. 22 team.

The No. 11 slid back on old tires. Rocketman gave it his all. Despite all of this, Happy Harvick prevailed, scoring the victory and the title.

Harvick’s first season with Stewart-Haas Racing turned out to be more than ideal, earning five wins with genius Rodney Childers. The combination was labeled “deadly” from the start, and they two backed it up in the best way possible: with a championship. This also speaks volumes on the time spent at Richard Childress Racing, where he couldn’t grab top honors no matter how hard he raced. He switch was not only a breath of fresh air but also a huge step out of an ominous shadow.

Harvick was known as Dale Earnhardt’s replacement for the longest time. Now, he’s earned his stripes.

Another facet of this event walked on stage and hugged his friend, his driver.

The year that Tony Stewart has endured is heartbreaking. It’s also been difficult for those around him, those who love him. He and Harvick are close. That was apparent when the driver of the No. 4 played defense against cringe-worthy allegations. After going into isolation, Stewart dipped into a dark cavern, one that seemed bottomless.

A championship may not heal his wounds, but it made him smile. That’s a shift in the right direction.

The Chase worked. By God, it worked.

The end of the 2014 season marks many goodbyes. Marcos Ambrose leaves NASCAR to race back home in Australia. Carl Edwards jumps off Roush-Fenway Racing’s ship and joins Joe Gibbs Racing. Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., prepares to join NBC as part of their new NASCAR coverage. Related, ESPN ceases all NASCAR broadcasting rights. We say farewell to some and wish others best of luck in their new endeavors.

Congratulations to all Chase contenders and those who made every race a thrill ride. From the sport’s most popular driver winning the most prestigious race to tempers overflowing and coming to blows, it was one for the ages.

May 2015 be even more invigorating.

As Elliott’s future shines bright, Nationwide’s presence in series fades

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Chase Elliott comes from a famous pedigree, yet he made his own spotlight in 2014.

The son of Bill Elliott wrapped up the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway, yet it didn’t lessen the glory. After finishing 17th, the youngster grabbed the official championship flag and performed a burnout of his own. The combination of JR Motorsports equipment, leadership from boss Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and passion burning inside his being proved to be a winning one. Elliott becomes the first rookie and the youngest driver to claim the NNS title.

The beginning of a driver’s legacy coincides with the end of a sponsorship era. After Nationwide downsizes to sponsoring JRM, it will become NASCAR Xfinity Series. Nationwide will definitely be missed; their dedication to the sport is admirable, and things just won’t be the same.

Matt Kenseth won the race, holding off Kyle Larson in two green-white-checkered finishes. Larson’s performance mirrored the one he gave Friday night, dominant for a majority of the event. Unfortunately, late-race incidents deterred him from winning in both instances. If he keeps it up, he may secure his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win Sunday evening.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series is now a thing of the past, yet its reputation will live on. Constantly criticized, always under review, the second-tier series was something else. Being tainted by Cup drivers didn’t help it out much. However, as a new chapter begins, a clean slate appears. It’s now the time to shape fans’ perception of the series.

Two-thirds of the sport’s final weekend is officially over, setting up expectations for the NSCS race. Despite this, they won’t crown an eighteen-year-old champion. And it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Thrilling night in Florida turns fruitful for Wallace, Crafton

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(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty images)

There’s no doubt that NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series is its most exciting level. With powerful names backing rogue talent, it’s an adventure-seeker’s dream. No race is dull, and no driver is dominant. It thrives on the unpredictable.

Coming to Homestead Miami Speedway is always bittersweet; it’s too soon for this series to end, especially after having a handful of races. It gave us many beautiful memories, one that was reenacted Friday evening.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. overthrew a strong Kyle Larson for the win in Florida, a replay of the race at Eldora Speedway. After being eliminated from championship contention after issues in Texas, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver proved himself with the hard-earned win. Larson started from the pole and was fast all night, yet Wallace challenged when it mattered most. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie raced his tail off, yet it wasn’t enough for the win.

Wallace’s victory also tied up KBM’s owner’s championship. Busch, who raced Friday night, congratulated Wallace and celebrated himself with a nose-to-nose burnout with his driver. It’s no surprise that KBM’s constant speed and talented youngsters earned them a championship on that side.

Finishing fifth was Ryan Blaney, who could barely muster a smile afterward; he wound up second in points despite his top five effort. The young gun has impressed the entire year, bringing wins and respect to the Brad Keselowski Racing name. He’s bound to do great things in the future. Keep your head up, kid.

So, who won the championship? Matt Crafton became the first driver to win back-to-back titles in NCWTS. All he had to do was finish 21st or higher, but he went for gold and secured a top-ten slot.

It’s uncertain what 2015 will bring for the series, from driver changes to the heart-racing final laps we’ve grown to love. In the end, all that matters is the sight of beat-up trucks and passionate wheelmen.

February can’t come fast enough.

Survival earns victorious Harvick and others slots in Final Four

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The level of intensity kept rising until the very end, a needed win coming for a hopeful Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 and three other drivers earned their tickets to Homestead-Miami Speedway in a thrilling bout at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday afternoon. Eight teams entered the event with their fingers crossed, praying that things would go their way.

For half of them, it unfortunately didn’t.

Harvick’s performance was nearly flawless, proving something that everyone already knew: Phoenix is his track. Out of the last four races at the venue, he’s won three of them. His first season with Stewart-Haas Racing has been full of ups and downs, so a championship would definitely taste sweet. He’s finally found what Richard Childress Racing couldn’t give him, and he’s riding it all the way to Homestead.

No one could foresee the chaos that would ensue; on the final lap, Ryan Newman smacked Kyle Larson, sending the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie out of his way and up into the wall. That spot gave Newman the one point he needed to kick Jeff Gordon out of The Chase. This marks the second weekend where an end-of-the-race scuffle worked out negatively for Gordon.

Also in his first season with a new team, the fire that lit under Newman’s hind end is quite impressive. Who would’ve thought that No. 31 team could squeak into the final four?

Those also eliminated are Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards. With the final four as Harvick, Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano, a brand-new champion will be crowned next Saturday

Hamlin and Logano’s day were equally confusing; both went laps down early on and somehow managed to find consistency at the end.

That was the story of the race: survival. Points still mattered in the end, and they will always matter in racing.

However, the story will be completely different in Homestead. Whoever finishes the highest gets the title of 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Which position is the highest? Oh, yeah. First.

That’s what they mean by “win and you’re in.”

The Final Four

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Joey Logano
3. Ryan Newman
4. Kevin Harvick

A 360-degree view of NASCAR

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