HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- The two Most Popular Drivers were absolutely suited for NASCAR's big awards. Second-generation NASCAR mega-talents, both Chase Elliott ( XFINITY Series) and John Hunter Nemechek ( Camping World Truck Series) absolutely earned the distinction and the nod in Monday awards presentation. Elliott , who will drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevy next year in the Sprint Cup Series -- replacing the retiring Jeff Gordon -- was typically low-key and humble about the whole NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series awards evening. But he was eager to get going in his Cup career after a championship and second place finish (2015) in the XFINITY Series. Earning the Most Popular Driver Award for the recent season must have felt very appropriate for the son of Bill Elliott , who took the Cup Series vote a record 16 times. Dale Earnhardt Jr . has won it the past 12 years. "I think we have definitely a lot of work to do to catch Dale in that sense," a smiling Elliott said. "But I'm very appreciative of the support I've had, especially the past two years and I've noticed it. I don't think people realize how much that means to a driver when they see you wearing their T-shirt. It goes a long way for me. Seeing them do that means a lot." Elliott conceded he and his father, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, haven't discussed this honor's impact even though he is touched to receive it. "We really haven't talked about that," Elliott said. "Fortunately he (his dad) had a big following and some of those people are following me. Can't look past that. Dale has an obviously great following and I'm a Dale fan too." Nemechek, 18, was equally as excited to be recognized on the Camping World Truck Series side. A second-generation racer who won his first major race this season, Nemechek was obviously moved by the honor. "It definitely can't hurt to win the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, " Nemechek said. "It's definitely an honor for me and my family, but more importantly, hopefully it'll help us gain some reputation on selling some sponsorship for the seasons tocome. Can't thank all of the supporters enough that voted, and all the friends and family as well." Nemechek is the second family member to be honored with the award. His father, Joe Nemecheck -- a former XFINITY Series champion and four-time Cup winner. "Yeah, he won I think in 1992 and '93, so it's awesome to be able to win an award that he's won," Nemechek said. "I beat him to something. "I wish he wouldn't have won most popular so I could've beat him to that. We're very competitive, but to get my first truck win when he didn't was very special as well. He wants one bad." With Elliott moving into the Cup series and Nemechek hoping to continue his rise in the NASCAR ranks in 2016. "It definitely is special to hear how good you're doing with the equipment that you have," Nemechek said. "We utilize our resources to the absolute max that we possibly can. We try and get our trucks as good as we can. There's a lot of late nights and hard work put in with just a few people. Finding the funding to get a few more people and not have to work as late and getting some free time to work on some other projects could even make us better, but it was definitely a good year. Getting our first win and finishing in the top five so many times, all the hard work did pay off. "We're still working on trying to find funding. Nothing is set in stone yet. It's all kind of up in the air right now, so still trying to find those possible partners to sit down, sign a deal with, hopefully for years to come."
Humble beginnings couldn't slow eventual rise from 'Awesome Bill' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be inducted Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. on NBC Sports Network. CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Elliott arrived on the scene after the careers of his fellow 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmates had already come to an end. But the man who would become known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" for his exploits on the track has much in common with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. The five will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight. A familiar thread connects those who reside in the Hall, one that often includes humble beginnings, hardships and eventually success. RELATED: Every class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Elliott , 59, and his family are an integral part of that thread. George, the patriarch, ran a small building supply business in Dawsonville, Georgia. "A hole-in-the-wall deal," Bill says today. The elder Elliott also built race cars, helped other local racers and fielded entries in NASCAR as early as the 1960s. "Daddy carried cars to Daytona in the early '60s, he would carry two cars down there and run a Sportsman or a Modified or some kind of race," Elliott said. Box vans used in the family business served as transporters for the race cars. "He'd back the trailer down there to the loading dock and he'd load them up in the van trailers and carry them down there, then try to find a place to unload them,” Elliott said. "It was like the Clampetts went to Daytona." It wasn't much but as Elliott noted, it was a common sight among those who chose the stock car racing path at that time. "Back then, such a different way of doing things. Anybody could come show up at Daytona with some kind of race car," he said. "I think those are the things that I look back on and were so much fun early on. You go to our little garage down there, you could just throw something together. I remember going to one of the shops of one of the guys Daddy was helping. They were putting a '63 Ford together. They had taken a car out of the junkyard, were taking the interior out and welding the roll bar in it, getting it ready to go. But I mean it was just a stock '63 Ford. Whatever it came with, that's what it had. And those days are gone." Elliott made his first start in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 1976, driving for his family-run team that included brothers Ernie and Dan Elliott . But it wasn't until ’82, when the team was purchased by businessman Harry Melling, that Elliott became an "overnight success." By the time his career had ended (he made his last official start in 2012), Elliott had won 44 races, one series championship and was voted the series' most popular driver 16 times. His wins came on stages big and small -- few bigger than the Daytona 500 , which he won twice, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at rugged, old Darlington Raceway . RELATED: Read Bill Elliott's Hall of Fame capsule It was at Darlington that Elliott officially picked up another moniker, "Million Dollar Bill " when a Southern 500 win in 1985 earned him the Winston Million bonus. Elliott's move into stardom coincided with a rise in speed on the race track. Before the advent of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, speed grabbed headlines. And no one went faster than Elliott , who ended his career with 55 pole positions. His qualifying mark of 212.809 mph at Talladega remains the fastest qualifying lap ever for a NASCAR event. But that feat wasn't the record that stands out in his mind, he said. "If I was outside looking in at my career, the biggest thing that impresses me was running 210 (mph) at Daytona in 1987," Elliott said. "I sat there and I watched Cale (Yarborough) try to run just 200 (in 1983) and turn over off Turn 4. We came back, ran 205 in '85 and we came back in '87 and stepped it up five more mph average. That was with no technology. That was just the luck of the draw and the things we did at that point in time; that's what really impressed me. "When I first went there I think I ran 171 or something and I thought, 'Man I'm out of control. How can you run any faster?' " Elliott's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame comes just as his son, 19-year-old Chase, prepares to begin his own Sprint Cup career. It was announced earlier this week that Chase would run five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, then take over the organization's No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time champion Jeff Gordon steps down at year's end. RELATED: Gordon: Chase is the 'total package' The younger Elliott didn't witness a lot of his father’s exploits as they took place. But he's relived them through video replays. "There were a lot of races where he took it to 'em, man," Chase Elliott said. "He wore them out. That's cool to look back on and see. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done and for what they did. To do it with what they had (at the time) was very, very impressive. I think a lot of people let that slip by. "They were kind of on their own there in Georgia and a lot of people don’t realize that. They didn’t have a lot of help; they didn’t have a big team. It was just them. It’s very, very impressive to see what they were able to do."
1988 champion gets inducted, says Chase's Cup news was the bigger deal Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: Five inducted into NASCAR Hall of Fame " Chase scores Cup ride CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bill Elliott often outran the competition, but recently the former NASCAR premier series champion has been trying to outrun his emotions. It's been quite the past few days for Elliott , the 1988 champ, and his family. On Thursday it was announced that his son, 19-year-old Chase, would make his first start in the Sprint Cup Series later this year. On Friday, the elder Elliott was one of five drivers inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His son landing the ride with Hendrick Motorsports , where he will take over a car perhaps even more famous than that of his father was the bigger deal, Bill Elliott said. "Let me tell you this little story," Elliott offered after he, along with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White were officially inducted into the Hall. "I called Chase – I think it was Wednesday night and I was talking to him and he said 'guess who called me?' "I said 'I don't know.'" Told it was someone named Jeff, the name didn’t register. "He said, ' Jeff Gordon called me.' He was so excited that Jeff Gordon had picked up the phone and called him," Elliott said. "… That meant so much to him (to talk about) what his next step and what his next role was going to be." Elliott made the No. 9 Ford Thunderbird one of the most recognizable cars on the track during his career. In addition to his championship, he won 44 times in premier series competition. He, along brothers Ernie and Dan, set qualifying records likely to remain unbroken as well. Gordon, scheduled to end his driving career at the end of '15, has won 92 times and four championships with Hendrick Motorsports . For fans that began following the sport in the early '90s or later, Gordon’s brightly painted No. 24 Chevrolet quickly became just as recognizable and even more successful. He's won on nearly ever track where the Sprint Cup Series competes, and several that are no longer on the schedule. And now Chase Elliott prepares to step into the ride once Gordon steps aside. MORE: Gordon calls Chase the 'total package' As much as the sport has changed since Bill Elliott arrived on the scene in the latter part of the '70s, one thing has remained constant – the cycle of drivers that show up, make their mark and eventually depart. Gordon is making plans to exit. Elliott's son Chase is preparing to arrive. Not much different than when he and his family first showed up, the elder Elliott said. "When I came in you had Cale (Yarborough), David Pearson, all those guys kind of winding down," Elliott said. "Then I watched Richard (Petty) retire and now it's turning … again." At that time such changes didn't catch his attention, he said, explaining that with a limited budget and much to learn, "all I cared about was just trying to go race. "There was so few of us, we really didn't worry about anything else," Elliott said. "It was kind of like you were driving down the road with blinders on, you were really oblivious to anything else going on." PHOTOS: Best moments from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony His son understands what lies ahead, Elliott said on a night he was honored for what took place in the past. "He's an incredibly good race car driver, and I'm not saying it's because he's my kid," Elliott said. "… I've said all along he's better than I ever thought about being." Maybe so, but the father was no slouch. Among his 44 victories are four that came in the in the twilight of his career before he began to scale back his racing schedule. Driving for Ray Evernham, who had helped guide Gordon to three of his four titles, Elliott won at Homestead, Pocono, Indianapolis and Rockingham. "There aren't many names that transcend a sport," Evernham said. "If you're not even a baseball fan you know the names Ruth or Mantle; even the most casual football fan knows Lombardi and Unitas. "In our sport, in motorsports, they know Foyt and Andretti and Earnhardt and Petty and even casual fans know Bill Elliott because of the things he's done. "It's an honor to have him as a friend, and it's been a great ride."
Photo credit -- Chase Elliott 's Instagram @chaseelliott9 RELATED: Series standings At only 19 years old, Chase Elliott already has a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship, is currently contending for a second one and has a pretty sweet job lined up next year taking over the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for retiring four-time Sprint Cup Series champ Jeff Gordon . Not only has Elliott's racing career taken off, he has too -- literally -- having just earned his private pilot license on July 23. And the view from above is something he's wanted his whole life. It seems Elliott got more than the racing gene from his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott , as he has inherited the flying bug from his dad, an accomplished and avid aviator. "He's been flying a long time so I've always been around it since I was little," Elliott said of his father. "I've watched him fly for years and years and been fortunate enough to have access to his planes and sit up front and watch him fly them so I've always definitely interested in it. "It's one of those things where the more you do it, the more you become interested in it. And the more you get into it, the more intriguing it becomes. I learn something new every time I fly. "It's definitely tough to (master all the necessary lessons). A lot of things come along with it. But flying is a privilege and something you can't take lightly ever." A lot of the same traits -- discipline, smarts and dedication -- Elliott put into his burgeoning racing career he used to earn the pilot license. He actually started taking lessons while still in high school but it was such a busy time between school, racing and flying lessons that Elliott put off finishing his license until a few months ago with the support of his dad. "It's something you work hard for to achieve," Bill Elliott said. "I see so many people who have gone through a lot of the flying part and the learning curve but never went on and got their pilot licenses and they always regretted it. I told Chase, 'You need to go on and get this done.' "I'm glad he did. That's something he'll carry with him regardless of where racing takes him." The Elliotts join an impressive list of NASCAR drivers who have secured private pilot licenses including Carl Edwards , Greg Biffle , Matt Kenseth and retired drivers Mark Martin , Rusty Wallace, Cale Yarborough and Ricky Rudd. Ryan Newman 's wife Krissie flies helicopters. Similarly, Elliott figures having the ability to pilot an airplane can be as much a practicality as it is a luxury. His father helped secure him a Cessna 182 single-engine, four-seater to use and Elliott is eager to start flying to races closer than home. Last week, he flew to Bristol. He has also posted a photo of himself practicing grass landings on Instagram. "Absolutely, it's a major convenience if you need to go somewhere, you can turn a four-hour drive into an hour-and-a-half flight," Elliott said. "Time is valuable for anybody and any chance to make up time like that is great." Elliott wasn't sure if he would fly himself to this weekend's XFINITY Series race at Road America , but he is looking forward to the stand-alone road race regardless. It's the third road course race in the last four weeks for the series and Elliott is one of the series regulars who embraces the opportunity to turn right. He is on a six-race run of top-10 finishes in his No. 9 NAPA Chevy and currently trails championship leader Chris Buescher by 23 points in the standings. He has finishes of seventh (Watkins Glen) and fifth (Mid-Ohio) in the two road races this year and finished fourth at Road America last season. "I thought last year was a good learning experience," Elliott said. "I was really pleased with Watkins Glen. I'm still learning on my end, but thought we had good cars this year and that's a big step in right direction." For Elliott , that direction is up.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Wood Brothers Racing , one of the longest tenured teams competing in NASCAR's premier series, will return to full-time competition beginning in 2016. Officials with the team and Ford Motor Co. made the announcement Friday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway , site of this weekend's Ford EcoBoost 400 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) season-ending event. Ryan Blaney will handle the driving duties, embarking upon his first full season after making 15 starts for the team this year heading into Sunday's race. Weather issues kept the team from attempting to qualify at Daytona, Kentucky and Chicago earlier this year. "These are the guys that made it happen, Ford Motor Company," co-team owner Eddie Wood said. "It is just a lot of people that have been working on this for a long time and we are really proud of our association and heritage with Ford Motor Company. We have been racing Ford Motor Company products for 65 years and we are really looking forward to next year and getting started with that." The team will continue to have a technical alliance with Team Penske , which fields Sprint Cup entries for drivers Joey Logano and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski . "It is what you dream of as a kid," Blaney, 21, said. "I have been fortunate enough to get great opportunities and meet great people being with Team Penske in 2012 which led to the Wood Brothers this year and then beyond for next year. "Obviously it is a little overwhelming right now … knowing what is going to come but I am excited for it. I don't get excited about a lot of things and maybe I don't show it but I am really excited about this program for next year and having the opportunity." It will be the first time since 2008 that the Wood Brothers organization, founded by team owner Glen Wood in 1953, has attempted to run the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. That season, three drivers -- Bill Elliott , Marcos Ambrose and Jon Wood -- split the driving duties, although Johnny Sauter made one attempt, failing to qualify at Las Vegas. The last full season with a single-driver for the team came in 2006 with veteran Ken Schrader . "We were in Pocono … testing for the Pocono race on May 28, 2008," Wood said. "At about noon that day Mr. Ford called me looking for a phone number. I hadn't talked to him in a while and he said, 'I haven't heard from you in a while, why haven't you called?' I told him we had been running so poorly that I had really just been ashamed. He says, 'So, you are saying this 21 is broken?' and I said, ‘Yeah, it is broken right now.' "So he said we were going to see about that, that we would fix that. From that day until now, it has been just like this. He put some things in motion that started to help like increased engineering and just more of everything. There were some Ford Motor Company people that … moved in with us and helped get us straightened out and three years later we win the Daytona 500 (with driver Trevor Bayne ). You can never give up." Wood Brothers entries have visited Victory Lane 98 times, sixth most among active teams and seventh overall. The list of drivers who have won for the team includes NASCAR Hall of Fame members Wood, Curtis Turner (a 2016 inductee), Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Dale Jarrett. Leonard Wood, younger brother of Glen and crew chief for the majority of the team's victories, is also in the Hall of Fame. Despite often running a limited schedule, the organization has finished in the top 10 in points 13 times and won the series' premier event, the Daytona 500 , five times. "I think the timing was perfect for this to all come together," Edsel Ford II said. "I think with Team Penske 's help, that kind of motivated us to sort of talk to the Wood Brothers internally … and find out if this was possible. It just all came together this year and fit. It fit perfectly. So why not do it." NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series schedule consists of 36 points races and two non-points event and runs from February through mid-November. Entering this weekend's event, 35 teams have competed in all points races contested thus far this season.
Bill Elliott talks about the common bond of hard work and dedication possessed by all NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.
Awesome Bill's thrilling triumph was 30 years ago RELATED: Best #TBT posts of April On May 5, 1985, Bill Elliott started from the pole and won his first race at Talladega Superspeedway . There's much, much more to that story, however. Perhaps the most improbable comeback win in NASCAR's rich history, Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX) will mark the 30th anniversary of Elliott's amazing run in the 1985 Winston 500 where he made up more than a 5-mile deficit -- without the benefit of a caution period -- to capture the impossible triumph. Elliott , with smoke billowing from under his Ford Thunderbird's hood, was within a few hundred yards of going two laps down to the leaders on the 2.66-mile track after taking an unscheduled pit stop to make repairs to an oil fitting line. Elliott climbed all the way back to the front and rocketed to Victory Lane. That unexpected 1985 pit stop, which occurred on Lap 48 after Elliott had already led 25 laps -- he wound up leading 60 total -- lasted 1 minute and 9 seconds, putting the Dawsonville, Georgia, native within shouting distance of falling two laps down. He began his march up the leaderboard by turning laps nearly a second faster than the leaders, banking that his brother's (Ernie Elliott ) prepared engine would last. Ninety-seven laps later on Lap 145, he passed Cale Yarborough down the Alabama Gang Superstretch for the lead. "I will never forget that day in 1985," said Elliott , who topped the scoreboard 35 of the last 44 circuits, including the final 20. "I remember coming down pit road and our guys dealing with the oil line issue. We went back out and ran wide open and I was totally shocked the motor lived all day long; totally shocked. "We were a bunch of misfits put together, 12 of us total on the team, and that included the motor shop and the chassis shop. Most of the guys who pitted the car came in on weekends. We all had a good understanding of the race cars, though. It seems like it was yesterday." Elliott's margin of victory was 1.72 seconds ahead of a pack of cars, including Kyle Petty, who edged Yarborough at the start/finish line for second. He averaged a then-record of 186.288 mph in the race, which only had two cautions, both late in the event. The trip to Victory Lane was his first at Talladega, and he added to his legacy two years later with another victory. "I about kissed everything goodbye because I didn’t know what happened when it started missing there (and engine started smoking)," the 16-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver said on that momentous day in 1985. "But, they raised the hood and got it fixed faster than I thought they would. It felt like I sat there six or 10 laps. I worked my tail off to try and keep up. I just kept on digging. This old car kept on digging. I want to thank the good Lord for making up those laps. The old car just held together and worked." Last week, Elliott celebrated his tremendous 30-year accomplishment by donning a helmet, firing up the engine of that famed red, white and gold Ford that made him a legend, and made hot laps around NASCAR's biggest and baddest track. The car's engine hadn’t been cranked since it was put on display at the nearby International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1986. "It felt like a million bucks (being back in his historic car)," Elliott said in a press release. "I really miss the competitive side of racing week-in and week-out. I ran so many laps around this race track and tested here so many times in my career. It feels like it was yesterday I was racing here." The NASCAR Hall of Famer made five laps around the track, then drove to Victory Lane and was presented a replica trophy from 30 years ago. "The car actually drove surprisingly well. I don't know how fast I went -- couldn't see for some dirt blowing in my eyes. I think that is the way I drove here in '85 -- with my eyes closed most of the race, so I was right at home. I wanted to go faster but the oil temp went up a bit and I said 'it (the engine) isn't going to live long.' " When asked if he wanted to come out of retirement to compete at Talladega again, Elliott joked, "I want to come back Sunday (for the GEICO 500 ). Don't tell anyone. I hope the car gets through inspection."
Five-race schedule features short tracks, historic venues Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: Elliott to drive No. 24 full-time in 2016 " Why the No. 24 is not being retired Before Chase Elliott embarks on the heady task of taking Jeff Gordon's spot at Hendrick Motorsports in 2016, he'll be dipping his toe in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series waters with a partial schedule this season. That five-race audition, though, is no string of uncontested layups. The hand-picked slate for Elliott in 2015 is purposely a mixed bag of challenging tracks, all intended to give the defending XFINITY Series champ a demanding dose of seat time before he goes full-bore as a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate in NASCAR's top division. "You know, it doesn't do you any good to pick the easiest tracks or the best track," team owner Rick Hendrick said last week during the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "If we're going to have a rough race, then I'd rather have it in these five and a learning experience than when we get into it for real, when the points are counting and we're trying to get into the Chase for his rookie year." The 19-year-old driver, set for his second full XFINITY Series season this year with Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports, is scheduled to make his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 25 Chevrolet on March 29 at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR's shortest track and among the sport's trickiest. From there, Elliott will tackle another short track April 25 at Richmond International Raceway before turning his attention toward stock-car racing's longest event: The Coca-Cola 600 on May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Elliott wraps his first Sprint Cup foray with two more historic venues -- July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway -- completing what Hendrick called "a good spread," with the races spaced out by design. With the NASCAR-mandated ban on testing taking effect this year, Hendrick said adding a degree of difficulty to the five-race schedule was crucial to help Elliott develop a feel for Sprint Cup competition. "It's going to be really hard for a guy like Chase not to have tests," the 65-year-old team owner said. "We're throwing him into some really tough races, but you know it's going to be the same for everybody and it'll be a learning curve. Hopefully there'll be enough tire tests that we'll get some tests and feedback. It's going to be the same for everyone, but I think the rookies are the ones that are really going to have to pay the price because they're just not going to have the availability to have track time." MORE: Gordon calls Chase the 'total package' The architects of Elliott's limited schedule were Hendrick Motorsports executive vice president and general manager Doug Duchardt, plus the team's array of crew chiefs -- all working in conjunction with the youngster and his father, newly minted NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott . According to the younger Elliott , the scope of his early Sprint Cup itinerary was taking shape for 2015 even before Gordon's decision to step aside. "I think more or less, it was just to try to gain some experience," Chase Elliott said. "... That was just something that came up and it was an opportunity. (Team sponsor) NAPA was interested in doing it, and those five races were obviously something I was interested in doing and we kind of planned that out. That was all before anything else came out with Jeff." Elliott has competed in XFINITY Series races at four of the five tracks on his 2015 Sprint Cup schedule. The only exception on the list is Martinsville, where he placed sixth and 20th in a pair of Camping World Truck Series events in 2013. Still, a lack of experience hasn't been much of an impediment for Elliott thus far. The boy wonder stifled a star-studded field loaded with Sprint Cup regulars to score his first XFINITY win last April at Texas Motor Speedway, then followed that with two more Victory Lane celebrations -- at Darlington and Chicagoland Speedway -- helping him clinch the crown with one race left on the schedule. "I don't see a problem," Bill Elliott said. "I think you can take the kid anywhere from what I saw this year from the XFINITY side, the way he competed. We talked a little bit about it and he said, 'I really don't want to do the speedway stuff because you really don't learn a lot about the race car at those places.' It's more about just positioning and that sort of thing. He'd rather go ... to those kind of places that you learn more about the car that will teach him more down the road, and I think that's what's important to him." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Will the 2014 champ's momentum continue into 2015? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: First Wins: Three (Texas in April; Darlington in April; Chicago in July) Strides: Won a pole (or two)? Check. Won a race (or three)? Check. Sunoco Rookie of the Year? Check. Series champion? Absolutely. Elliott , 19, was the surprise story of the year for the Nationwide (now XFINITY ) Series, becoming the first driver to win the championship in his rookie season. The son of 1988 premier series champion Bill Elliott , the youngster drove more like an experienced veteran than a fresh-faced kid with no prior starts in the series. "There were a lot of points in the season when people said 'he's a rookie, he's going to make a mistake here or there' and he didn't," teammate Regan Smith said. "He drove like a veteran and it was great for him and great for JR Motorsports to see that." As surprising as his first career win was at Texas, perhaps more impressive was following up that victory just a week later at Darlington, one of the series' most difficult tracks, with a second consecutive win. In addition to his three victories, Elliott ended the season with 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes. His average finishing position of 8.0 was No. 1 among those running full-time in the series. Elliott was always quick to point to the efforts of others. "I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am," he said. "It's been an honor to work with these guys ... not just this year, but all along the way. It's been fun." Setbacks: Elliott didn't always shine -- his best finish on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega was 15th. But for the most part, he ran with and often outran Sprint Cup drivers making the occasional stop in the series. Quoteworthy: "He's so much better than I ever through about being." -- Bill Elliott What's next: With JRM's ties to Hendrick Motorsports , the road to a ride at the Sprint Cup level seemed to clear a bit with the recent announcement of Jeff Gordon 's pending retirement. Before that either does or doesn't take place however, Elliott will spend another year in the XFINITY Series. Greg Ives, who served as crew chief, has moved up to Sprint Cup to be paired with Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a co-owner of JRM. Veteran crew chief Ernie Cope will now be paired with Elliott . "Winning more races and not letting the same people beat you every week ... is the biggest thing," Elliott said of the '15 season. "Keeping it about as simple as possible. ... I see things I can improve on personally and stepping up and not letting people out‑drive you every week because I feel like that's happened a lot this year. "I'd like to minimize those weekends, and I feel like we have the cars, the teams, the motors, the group of people to go and contend with the best. We've just got to put it all together ... not talk about it anymore and go do it." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
At age 19, Chase will attempt to qualify for first Sprint Cup race Vote: Who will win at Martinsville? " Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Think about this for a moment: Chase Elliott , son of the ever-popular Bill Elliott , will attempt to make his Sprint Cup Series debut at Martinsville Speedway , a track steeped in history and tradition, for Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). Not only does he need to qualify for the race -- with Team Xtreme withdrawing, there are 45 cars on the entry list; 43 make the race -- but Elliott also will need to do it without having the benefit of much time spent in a Sprint Cup Series seat. And if that's not enough, if he qualifies for the race -- which is expected to be attended by none other than Richard Petty -- Elliott will do so at a younger age than Jeff Gordon did in 1992. Throughout his short history as a national series driver, Elliott has shown an unflappable, even-keel approach en route to such heights as last season's XFINITY Series title. But if any weekend were to test his Zen-like calm, who could blame him if this were the one? "If I wasn't nervous come this weekend, then I'd think something was wrong with me," Elliott said. "I think that should be the case. With as much excitement as this weekend brings I think you're going to have some nerves to go along with it. I'm looking forward to experiencing both of those sensations." If his nerves indeed need some calming, then Elliott can go to bat knowing he will have Gordon on his side. Jeff just happens to be tied with HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson for the most Cup wins at the track among active drivers with eight, so it's not like he's coming at Chase with a blank slate. "I think for me, Jeff will probably be the guy I lean on most this weekend," Elliott said. "One, our car is being prepared out of the 24 and 5 shop. Just to be familiar with that group of guys and how they do things, I think that only makes sense to kind of lean on those guys more than anybody else with the plans for next year. Last time I checked, Jeff had run a handful of races at Martinsville; I feel like he'll have some good information and a lot to be learned talking to him." Elliott said he hasn't driven a Cup car since January of 2014, and most of that experience was at Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.33-mile concrete track that was used for testing. Plus, in the time since Elliott drove a Cup car, a lot has changed thanks to the 2015 rules package. Add in the fact that Elliott will be working with crew chief Kenny Francis for the first time, and there are a lot of challenges he'll be facing beyond just the normal task of driving on a tough, tight 0.526-mile track. But besides having Gordon and the entire HMS team on his side, Elliott also has the benefit of it being a break in the XFINITY Series schedule. Therefore, he can concentrate on the very tall task at hand. But as one might expect, his own expectations for his first Cup race sound pretty reasonable. "Hopefully, for me, I just want to execute all weekend and put together a solid week," Elliott said. "I think for us, if we can run all the laps and stay on the lead lap and battle to run in the top 15, I feel like that's a great day to shoot for. I feel like that's possible and that would be a really good day." Of course, if he does something more than that, then it could add to the track's already thick history. It's a history that will be on the young driver's mind. "I think back of all the times I've gone to Martinsville to watch my dad race," Elliott said. "Even not that long ago. Weird to think I'm going to go run a Cup race and not be watching. ... Such a great opportunity and I want to make the most of it." Senior writer Holly Cain contributed to this report. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule