Tag: Chase Elliott

Question Marks Heading Into Atlanta Over Replacement Drivers

The season opening Daytona 500 is over, but there will be many questions to answer in the coming days for the next event on the schedule. Ironically it involves both of the Busch brothers and polar opposite reasons.

The elder, Kurt, has been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR because of the findings of a local Delaware court to issue a restraining order to keep himself away from his ex-girlfriend. Busch appealed the initial suspension by NASCAR, but the appeals panel upheld the decision and for now Kurt will be in limbo waiting to see when NASCAR might let him back into the sport.

To cover on Sunday, the Stewart-Haas Racing team tabbed Regan Smith. Smith did good job finishing 16th. For Atlanta and beyond, the team has been mum on who might take the reins. This isn’t their first rodeo in dealing with a driver being out, they had to make arraignments prior for Tony Stewart the last two years. My guess is since the Xfinity Series schedule matches up with the Sprint Cup Series schedule, they will have Smith continue to drive for them until Busch is brought back. A wildcard here might be Jeff Burton, who filled in for Stewart last season, and is available until the second half of the season when his new television contract kicks in when NBC takes over.

I like the idea of the team, with its strong Hendrick Motorsports ties, putting in Chase Elliott to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Atlanta next weekend. It would the perfect setting for Elliott, who grew up down the road in Dawsonville, Georgia, to get his first race under his belt.

For the younger brother Kyle, he is out indefinitely after suffering a compound fracture of his right leg and a broken left ankle. No time table has been announced, but taking in both those injuries, I suspect he will be out of commission for about two months minimum. Thinking back to when Tony Stewart broke his leg in August of 2013, he was out the final three months of the season. He was not even back in a racecar until February of 2014, so that time table for Busch might be even longer.

Who might replace Busch is an interesting question. The team had Matt Crafton fill in on Sunday, with Crafton finishing 18th in his series debut. With gaps in the Truck schedule, he could be a worthy fill in. Looking at the drivers in house for Joe Gibbs Racing you have Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez who could fit the bill. The only question I have with both is being rookies to even the Xfinity Series, would Gibbs rely on them to carry the 18 team with Busch on the sidelines.

A wildcard in this might be Michael McDowell, who’s running for Leavine Family Racing, but they are not expected to attempt all the races. He could possibly pop in when LFR is not planning on running. Anyone who is picked would need Toyota ties, in my opinion, which is why Crafton lined up very well for the team on such short notice.

I would expect both teams to try and line up one driver to take on the schedule instead of picking drivers each week. Who exactly they go with, we’ll have to wait and see what is announced for Atlanta and beyond.

Commentary: Hiring Ives Will Keep Earnhardt On Track

When news broke in January that Steve Letarte was leaving Hendrick Motorsports for the television booth it was anarchy. Fans and media questioned why would they announce this before the season began? Who would replace him? Then they both assumed that Earnhardt would not perform during this lame duck season.

The reality is not only was it a good move to start with, but the sense of urgency to win with Letarte has led to Earnhardt scoring two wins, locking himself into the Chase, and being a contender week in and week out.

Through 20 races, Earnhardt has those two wins, the first time since 2004 he has won more than once. Going a step further, he had two wins between 2008 and 2013 altogether. This season he has nine top-10 finishes, which has him one behind what he did last year, with 16 races to go. If he can get 11 or more top-5s, that will be the first time he did that since 2004.

Going behind the now, announcing Letarte leaving in January allowed Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Steve Letarte to be able to select the replacement crew chief. Sure they could have waited until the end of the year, but they’ve been able to take their time, and find who they believe is the best candidate.

That candidate is Greg Ives, who at 34 years old is just getting started as a crew chief in NASCAR. He worked wonders with Regan Smith last season (winning twice) and Chase Elliott (winning three times) this season in the Nationwide Series as crew chief. Prior to that he was the race engineer for Jimmie Johnson during his five in a row championship run.

While some could argue he should have been left with Elliott to form a Jeff Gordon/Ray Evernham or Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus like bond, it’s not hard to argue going with Earnhardt now. At age 39. Earnhardt has only down to go from here, so he and Hendrick had better make the most of him while they can.

Elliott, on the flipside, is young enough and talented enough that they can find another crew chief to step up and go through the growing pains. I just hope that person isn’t Lance McGrew, who has some talent as a crew chief, but hasn’t really done much with the talent he’s been given in the driver seat. Because he’s worked the past two years on and off with Elliott, I wouldn’t be surprised that’s where they go.

Ives will be a great resource for Earnhardt and will be able to slip into the role right away without many growing pains. He also knows what it takes to win a championship and the Hendrick way, which will prove fruitful for Earnhardt and his team.

All Signs Point To 2015 As Do Or Die For Kahne

Today it was announced that Farmers Insurance would continue to sponsor the #5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017. In the release it also says fans can help design the 2015 car Kasey Kahne will drive. What it lacks is language that indicate Kahne will be the driver for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Kahne’s deal with Hendrick Motorsports expires after the 2015 season and the team has Chase Elliott waiting in the wings for the next opening on the team. Many have thought that Jeff Gordon would be the first to leave because of his age and back problems. With Gordon leading the points and battling through the pains, it’s possible he might race for up to five more years.

For Kahne, he has struggled this season since losing engineer Keith Rodden to Chip Ganassi Racing. He and crew chief Kenny Francis have not been on the same page, pointing to a possible shake up in the pairing. If his struggles continue through this year and into next and Gordon keeps excelling, it might be time for Hendrick Motorsports to move on from Kahne.

It would be surprising to see them give up on a driver that they signed a full year before they could have him, but it might make better business sense. This, of course, can all go away if he can get some wins and get into the Chase this season and next.

A Few Crazy Scenarios For 2015 Free Agency In NASCAR

It’s only May, roughly three months into the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the jockeying for 2015 free agents might begin soon. Hendrick Motorsports announced that Nationwide Insurance would sponsor Dale Earnhardt, Jr. starting in 2015 on Friday and it’s a move that impacts two teams at minimum.

Nationwide Insurance will move from Roush Fenway Racing, where it has sponsored Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. the past two years. Stenhouse already has glaring holes in his sponsorship for 2014, this will just add to that issue for 2015 and beyond. Looking at RFR as a whole, both Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle are unsigned beyond the 2014 season.

At Hendrick Motorsports, bringing in Nationwide brings up questions about what happens to Kasey Kahne. Currently he has Farmers Insurance as his sponsor, their contract expires at the close of 2014, and not many could picture two rival insurance companies sponsoring cars coming out of the same shop.

Having rivals sponsors has happened in the past, a good example is found at Richard Childress Racing where they are sponsored, as a team, by Lucas Oil. At the same time driver Paul Menard has Quaker State on his car and is featured from time to time because of the connections between his sponsor, Menards, and Quaker State. This was also the case when Kevin Harvick drove a Shell/Pennzoil sponsored car with Menard as a teammate.

If Farmers does not return and a replacement is not found, does Hendrick look elsewhere? It’s no secret that Kahne has not lived up to expectations so far this season and honestly, has come up short on what many thought to be a dream pairing with him and Hendrick Motorsports. His contract runs through 2015, but could he be bought out a year early to make room for another driver with sponsorship?

Could that other driver be Hendrick developmental driver Chase Elliott? He has backing from NAPA and has been shocking the Nationwide Series with two wins and a second place finish in the last three races. The plan seems to have Elliott replace Jeff Gordon when he retires, but there is no timeline to when that could be. I think it would be a mistake to bring Elliott up too fast, as in next season or even the year after, but if the sponsor requests it, it could happen. That’s what got Joey Logano into the Sprint Cup Series before he was ready. The Home Depot wanted him in the car and Joe Gibbs Racing obliged.

An off the wall scenario could find Carl Edwards in play for the Hendrick ride if they decide to go in another direction. Edwards made it known he wants to be top dog at Roush Fenway Racing, which played into Matt Kenseth’s departure, but the team hasn’t performed how many expected. They have improved this season, but sponsorship questions continue to linger year after year and Edwards might want to jump ship.

It might be too early to get a good feel on how this might all shake out, but it will keep things entertaining for the rest of the season. I can’t see Hendrick bailing on Kahne just yet, but if he continues to be so far behind his teammates it will lead to some serious discussions. For Edwards, I can’t believe Ford or Roush would let him walk to another team, especially a Chevrolet back team, so look for them to throw a lot of money at him to keep him locked up. All this excitement and we still have Talladega to look forward to this Sunday.

Elliott’s Win Is Good And Bad For Hendrick Motorsports

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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.

Column: Marty Reid, Truck Schedule, Chase Elliott, & More

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Trying something new before the end of the season by debuting a couple things this week. First up is a weekly column I want to start so I can hit on some topics quickly and give my two cents. This week I touch on ESPN’s dismissal of Marty Reid, the rumored Camping World Truck Series schedule, Chase Elliott reaching out to Ty Dillon, and lots more.

Over the weekend it was leaked that ESPN had chosen to “go another direction” with announcer Marty Reid. Reid had been with the network for 31 years calling everything motorsports. It was becoming painfully obvious that Reid has lost his way as of late. A good indicator of that is that not one, not two, but three compilations of Reid’s errors have been created on YouTube. I saw a lot of objections on Twitter to get rid of him because of how well he did in the wake of the Dan Wheldon tragedy a few years back. He handled that with class and dignity that was needed, I’ll give him that. But to keep someone around because they did one thing once, well that just doesn’t make sense to me.

Ray Dunlap answered a question about the Camping World Truck Series schedule from a fan on Twitter about the makeup he’s seen. According to Dunlap, we’re stuck at 22 races for the third straight year, but they’ll add a second road course race and return to Gateway Motorsports Park. Nothing official has been released and it’s expected for another couple of weeks. If true, I’m glad they’ve added another road course to make it worth the teams to build road course trucks and kudos to them returning to a former track. I was hoping Myrtle Beach would make the cut like rumored and have at least 25 races, but I guess you can’t always get what you want. At least they didn’t add another dirt race to kill that like the NHL has done to its outdoors game.

Popular Speed’s Matt Weaver caught up with Chase Elliott in victory lane after a late model race in Florida over the weekend. He was asked if he’s talked to Ty Dillon in regards to their dust up in the only road course race for the Truck Series this year. Not surprisingly Dillon was not receptive to Elliott’s phone call. They’ll both be in Martinsville in a few weeks, so it should be interesting to see if Dillon takes him out. And I don’t mean to lunch. As for his 2014 schedule and current sponsor Aaron’s, Elliott said they would be leaving, which is leaving his schedule up in the air as of right now.

Mike Mulhern caught up with Speedway Motorsports, Inc.’s Bruton Smith. Among the topics they talked about was NBC starting their NASCAR coverage a year earlier. Smith was emphatic that they would be. As of yet the only official word has been from NASCAR who said nothing is changing, but I’m sure if ESPN and TNT can dump NASCAR, they will in a heartbeat.

Over the weekend Rob Kauffman, the co-owner and brains behind Michael Waltrip Racing, was finally back in America to deal with Spingate. The good news was 5-Hour Energy announced they would return to the #15 of Clint Bowyer. The bad news is Kauffman said he would not personally fund Martin Truex, Jr.’s car next season, which means Truex is most likely moving on. Being vague on the three car effort, I believe they’ll scale back to two cars with knucklehead, er, Michael Waltrip running the restrictor plate races in a third car. Kauffman also vowed to rebuild the team’s credibility, which should be easy without those goofy NAPA commercials.

I try to stay positive on all drivers in my Chase Watch, but here’s a list of drivers who won’t win the title in 2013: Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman. Edwards pains me because he was my pick, Newman pains me because I’m a fan of his, and Earnhardt pains me because he might be hitting his second wind too late. Newman sits 48 points behind, which is a full race behind, with how the other drivers are running, he and the others, aren’t making up that ground in this season.

In the Nationwide Series it’s a two driver race in my opinion between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish, Jr. Either one winning the title will be interesting story. Dillon captures it before moving to Cup to give him the confidence and quiet the critics. Hornish gets it when he’s looking for a job and quiets everyone who questioned his move to NASCAR. For once I’m not swayed in either direction on who to root for.