Chase Elliott to replace Jeff Gordon in ’16

Chase Elliott
Getty Images for NASCAR

Chase Elliott will move up the Sprint Cup Series in 2016 to replace Jeff Gordon as driver of the no. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports announced today.

Elliott, the 2014 XFINITY Series champion and the son of 1988 Sprint Cup Champion Bill Elliott, will slide into the seat vacated by the four-time series champion, joined by Gordon's current crew chief, Alan Gustafson.

Elliott will also drive in five Sprint Cup races this season in a fifth car prepared by Hendrick Motorsports, making his debut at the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29.

Hendrick Motorsport will also enter Elliott at Richmond, the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will drive the No. 25
Pete McCole/AR1.com

Thursday's announcement on the final day of the four-day 2014 media tour had been anticipated for weeks since Gordon's announcement that he would be retiring from full-time competition in the Sprint Cup Series following the 2014 season.

The only one who actually seems surprised was Elliott himself.

"I found out around the time of (Gordon's) announcement last week. Mr. Hendrick told me I was going to be that guy, and that was a phone call I was not expecting," said Elliott. "I didn't know anything about Jeff's announcement until that morning. To have Mr. Hendrick tell me that he wanted me to go in and drive that car whenever Jeff got done was just an unbelievable phone call."

Team owner Rick Hendrick spoke of admiration for Elliott's talent and maturity during Thursday's media gathering, where the 19-year-old driver was brought out on stage with Hendrick's other four drivers for his first media appearance with the team.

"A few years ago when I saw Chase race, I never dreamed that we would have the success he's had," said Hendrick. "He's just such a fine young man, and I've been so impressed with what he did last year in the Nationwide car and winning the championship in his rookie year. Everyone recognized his talent, and knew that one day that he was going to be ready. I couldn't be happier to have someone of his kind of quality young man to come into our organization."

Elliott signed a three-year development contract with Hendrick in 2011 and competed in the K&N Pro Series East before moving up to the ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2013.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Last season, Elliott began competing in the XFINITY Series driving for JR Motorsports, winning rookie of the year honors as well as the series title, becoming the youngest champion in series history.

Even though he was signed as a Hendrick development driver, Elliott said there was never set plan for Elliott to move up to Cup

"There really wasn't any plan involved," said Elliott. "Mr. Hendrick just wanted to help me in my career, and no one really knew where that was going to go. He was the first one who came to me and said he wanted to help me in my racing career, and I don't know why that was, I didn't think that I deserved it, but there was never a set plan of 'you're going to be running Cup in 'X' year', that was never the case. I was never really concerned with it; it was never a question of mine.

"I don't think I ever expect this to happen this soon, I never really laid out a timeline in my head of when I wanted to be here, that's not my decision so there was really no pint in me thinking about it a whole lot. Today wasn't something I had planned out in my mind, so it was definitely it was a surprise."

Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion and the active Sprint Cup wins leader, announced last Thursday that he would retire from full-time competition following the 2015 season after a 23-career that began in 1992.

As the youngest champion in the history of the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon says he "can't think of a better driver out there to get behind the wheel of the 24 car and make those 24 (car) fans proud"

"I've been very impressed with not only his talent and the way he handles himself but the steps that Bill and Cindy (Elliott) took to have started him in racing and the things that were important that they get him experienced in that has led him to where he's at at such a young age."

Gordon said he had been contemplating retiring for a number of years, but things weren't "lined up and in place."

With Elliott waiting the wings, they both felt the timing was right.

"We had conversations back in 2012, and Rick (Hendrick) said I need you for one more year. I didn't want to leave Rick hanging with sponsors and drivers. It was really about getting everything lined up and in place and Chase was a big factor in that."

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Elliott's father, Bill Elliott, is set to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday as part of the Class of 2015 which includes Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White.

Bill Elliott was not on hand for Thursday's announcement, but Chase said his father is "excited about it".

"I think he was kinda shocked that this was going to be announced today," said Elliott. "I think we both kind of feel that it's a good thing to go ahead and get it out of the way so everyone knows what the plan is after this season."

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