Reigning XFINITY champion looks to balance title run, Sprint Cup slate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The car looks familiar, and the driver is a year older but otherwise unchanged. The team that helped carry Chase Elliott to the 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series title, however, has undergone a major overhaul. Gone is spreadsheet-wielding crew chief Greg Ives, who can now be seen heading up the efforts of JR Motorsports founder and namesake Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Likewise, car chief Travis Mack has departed, and has assumed the same duties with Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports outfit. Veteran crew chief Ernie Cope, who previously handled the organization’s third team that featured several Cup drivers (Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne), is now overseeing the No. 9 team as Elliott begins preparations to defend his series title. Christopher Allen is the team's new car chief, while Tristan Smith (lead engineer), Seth Kookier (assistant race engineer) and Rick Pennington (rear end mechanic) are also new to the team. HMS’ Brad Thompson will serve as engine tuner. "I think it's kind of like starting over a little bit, I guess, with Ernie and really a whole new group of guys," Elliott , 19, said. "I think there are only two or three of us that are back with the team from last year, and that includes me. "Last year we worked pretty closely together. We tried to stay on the same page with setup stuff; we were usually very, very similar last year to (their) car and whatever they were running. I think that relationship helped. "And we got to work with them firsthand at Road America when Greg was at home with his (new) baby. Having that race behind us will hopefully help us get going." A three-time race winner last season, Elliott is attempting to become only the seventh driver in the history of the series to capture back-to-back titles. His first opportunity to get a leg up on the competition comes here on Saturday with the running of the Alert Today Florida 300 (FOX Sports 1, 3:30 pm ET) at Daytona International Speedway. The son of NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott (himself a champion in NASCAR's premier series), the younger Elliott admits he's a long way from being an expert in the series. One season and one championship taught him plenty, but there's still much more to absorb. "It still kind of feels new to me; I definitely don't feel like a veteran, that's for sure," he said. "It's crazy to think that it's already been a year since that first (series) start and that we're back at Daytona. A year goes by fast. "I still have a lot to learn, still a lot of new things I'm experiencing, especially with the personnel changes this season." Elliott ’s journey up the racing ladder has been slow and steady by design. He competed in a mixture of ARCA, NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Camping World Truck Series races – and winning on more than one occasion – while filling the racing void with a Late Model effort. That schedule, he said, helped prepare him for the rigors of last year’s 33-race XFINITY Series schedule. "I can think back to a couple of years ago when we were running Late Model stuff and we ran something in the mid-40s," he said. "The number of (XFINITY) races, that didn't feel like a ton to me; the biggest difference was just the traveling." His Late Model efforts were primarily in the Southeast. There were no West Coast trips, or stops in the Midwest. In addition to defending his series championship, Elliott is also scheduled to make his Sprint Cup Series debut this season. He will drive a fifth car for Hendrick Motorsports in five events before sliding into the group’s No. 24 car in '16, replacing four-time champion Jeff Gordon. The five Sprint Cup races are Martinsville (March 29), Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6). This schedule might be a bit more hectic on those weekends, but it's something Elliott said he’s eager to attempt. "The good part about it is that the first race at Martinsville is an off-weekend for the XFINITY Series," he said. "Having that opportunity to just try to get your feet wet a little bit will be a good time to do that – not having going back and forth. "But at the same time, I've always enjoyed running two races a weekend. I can remember from the go-karting days, I used to always run a couple of races. In Late Model races, the weekend where they had their bigger shows, I used to always try to run the Super and the Pro races as well. I've always really liked that." 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
Driver scores third straight series win at 1.54-mile track RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings HAMPTON, Ga.—If you had to pick one driver to knock Joey Logano off his pedestal at Atlanta Motor Speedway, you couldn't make a better choice than Kevin Harvick. Holding off Logano after a restart on Lap 140 of 163, Harvick won Saturday's Hisense 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race, ending a success streak that saw Logano beat Harvick for the win in the Daytona 500 and edge Harvick for the Coors Light Pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX) at AMS. The victory was Harvick's third straight at Atlanta and fourth overall. He won for the 45th time in the XFINITY Series, third most all-time. It was also the first victory for Dave Elenz as a crew chief. After Logano developed a left rear wheel vibration during the final run, Harvick pulled away and crossed the finish line 1.208 seconds ahead of Logano, who finished second at Atlanta for the second straight season. Ty Dillon came home third, followed by Chris Buescher and defending series champion Chase Elliott , who pushed Harvick ahead of Logano on the Lap 140 restart. "I knew I needed to take off," Harvick said of the final run. "I thought his car was a little bit better as we got to about lap 20 (of a fuel run). He started reeling us in from that point on. "All in all, these guys on this Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet did a great job today. Awesome pit stops all day long, and we were able to make up some ground on that last pit stop (under caution on Lap 136)." Logano had to cope with the outside lane on the final restart, after Harvick chose the inside as the prerogative of the leader. "We got beat off pit road, but we had a decent restart from the outside lane—the outside is so tough—I thought if I could get door-to-door with him and get him loose underneath me, but the 9 ( Elliott ) was able to push him out ahead. "At that point, I was just trying to move around, different lanes, trying to find something for some speed. I was starting to catch him, and then I just had this huge vibration. At that point, I was just trying to survive and hoping the left rear didn't pass me." Logano started from the pole and dominated the race until the first round of green-flag pit stops. Bringing the No. 22 Ford to pit road as the lead on Lap 50, Logano had issues on the right front and spent a couple of extra seconds in his stall. Logano's issues played into the hands of Harvick, who had entered pit road three laps earlier running five seconds behind Logano. But Harvick's three-lap advantage on new tires, coupled with Logano's snafu on pit road, put the No. 88 Chevrolet out front when the round of pit stops cycled through. Harvick maintained the top spot, with Logano in pursuit roughly one second behind, until NASCAR called the second caution of the race, for debris in Turn 3 on Lap 86, just in time for the nine cars on the lead lap to come to pit road for four new tires and fuel. Harvick surged ahead from the top lane after the subsequently restart on Lap 91 and quickly rebuilt his one-second lead over Logano. Logano, however, soon began chipping away at Harvick's lead, first by hundredths of a second, later by tenths. On Lap 126, Logano drove high into Turn 1, gained momentum and pulled up near Harvick's bumper as the cars completed the circuit. Harvick took the high line into the first corner on Lap 127, but Logano steered to the inside and made the pass for the lead off Turn 2. But fluid on the backstretch slowed the field for the third time on lap 134, and Harvick beat Logano off pit road and retook the lead after yellow-flag stops on Lap 136. "That pit stop is what won this race," Harvick said. "Joey probably had a better car the second half of the run. It really played out for us there at the end, as we were able to have that short run and take off." 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
Chase Elliott talks about the 2015 season in the XFINITY Series and competing in 5 Sprint Cup Series races.
Brian Scott lines up second to Team Penske driver RELATED: Full lineup for the Hisense 250 Joey Logano won the Coors Light Pole Award on Saturday for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). This is the Team Penske driver's first pole award at Atlanta and the 27th of his XFINITY Series career. Along with winning the Daytona 500 last week, Logano also grabbed the Coors Light Pole Award for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). Lining up next to Logano on the front row will be Richard Childress Racing driver Brian Scott. Regan Smith, Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth round out the top-five starters. Chase Elliott , reigning XFINITY Series champion, will line up ninth at his home track. The XFINITY Series will return to the track at 2 p.m. ET for the Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott , Joey Logano and others talk about trying to catch Kevin Harvick at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
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
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."
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
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."
Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon talk about handing the reigns over to Chase Elliott while Jimmie Johnson relishes stepping out of the spotlight.