Chase Elliott captured his first career Nationwide Series win Friday night in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. The win came in only Elliott’s sixth career start and gives him two NASCAR wins in 15 starts (Nationwide and Trucks).
Rick Hendrick has been working with various teams, including JR Motorsports whom Elliott races this year in the Nationwide Series, to develop Elliott. The goal will be one day fielding him in the Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports.
The problem with this plan is with NASCAR’s restrictions on how many teams one owner can have, maximum is four, which leaves Hendrick Motorsports without an open team. With talk of Jeff Gordon retiring intensifying this past year, all signs point to Elliott being the heir apparent to the #24 team. But how long can Elliott wait before moving up?
Gordon has been mum on his exact plans, hinting that if he won a fifth championship he would walk away that day, but that is no concrete end. Could Elliott continue in the Nationwide Series for the next few years or five years? Would Hendrick have him drive for another team that has an alliance with Hendrick for a few years and then move him over?
If Elliott continues his progression through NASCAR this is one bridge Hendrick and he will have to cross before both are ready. A similar situation happened with Brad Keselowski and Hendrick a few years back. The plan was for Keselowski to share the #5 Chevrolet with Mark Martin for a few years then take it over fulltime. A wrench was thrown into the situation as Martin had a career year in 2009, and at that point Keselowski was let go.
I’m sure there’s a master plan in the works and Gordon won’t be hanging on forever. It’s just a matter of everyone sticking to the plan and other teams or Elliott getting impatient. For now they can soak up the idea that this 18-year old kid has his first Nationwide Series win and justifies the hype about him.