With Jeff Gordon planning to stop racing full-time after the 2015 season, someone had to take over the No. 24 car in his absence. Chase Elliott will be the one filling those very big shoes next year.
According to Jenna Fryer of The Associated Press, Elliott was tapped for the No. 24 car because of his success in the Xfinity Series:
Elliott is the reigning Xfinity Series champion, and Hendrick Motorsports had to find a Sprint Cup seat for him or risk losing the 19-year-old to another organization.
Elliott will drive a second season in NASCAR's second-tier series this year with JR Motorsports. He will also make five Sprint Cup starts, debuting in March at Martinsville, in the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick.
Elliott spoke about the announcement to Zack Albert of NASCAR.com:
So many people have been behind me, and the first thing I want to do is thank them," Elliott said in a team release. "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 teammates at both Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports for believing in me. NAPA has been a huge supporter, and I'm honored 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.
Hendrick Motorsports also shared a video of Elliott speaking about the opportunity:
According to Marty Smith of ESPN, Elliott's five Sprint Cup races in 2015 will include tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville:
That's going to be good prep work for the 19-year-old Elliott as he prepares to make the full-time jump to the Sprint Cup next year.
Gordon announced his retirement on January 22 during a meeting with his Hendrick Motorsports team and offered a note about his future on Twitter:
Replacing Gordon, who has won four points championships in his career thus far, certainly puts a lot of pressure on Elliott. He's also going to be under the microscope because of his age, but few young drivers would seem to have the confidence and ability to pull off this task.
As long as Elliott goes into the 2016 season trying to be himself and not the next Jeff Gordon, he should be fine. His history on the track suggests he won't be overwhelmed by the spotlight. That's often the biggest change for a young athlete, so keeping a proper perspective will help him succeed.