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After four wins in 2014, can Junior do even more with new crew chief? RELATED: Complete schedule for driver previews Team: Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet Rank in final 2014 standings: Eighth Wins: 4 ( Daytona International Speedway in February; Pocono Raceway in June and August; Martinsville Speedway in October) Year in photos: Recap Earnhardt Jr .'s 2014 season Strides: Earnhardt's eighth-place points finish was his third top-10 result in the past four seasons and his four wins was the most since 2004. He won for the first time in his career at Pocono, where he swept both events, and at Martinsville. The two Pocono victories marked his first sweep at a track since Talladega in '02. The Martinsville win upped his career win total to 23 and was especially gratifying. "This is so special," Earnhardt Jr . said of the Martinsville win. "I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it's a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win here." Earnhardt Jr . qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the seventh time. In addition to the breakthrough wins at Pocono and Martinsville, he managed personal bests at Darlington where he was runner-up, and Sonoma where a third-place run was his first career top-10 on the California road course. He equaled his best finish at Las Vegas (second) for the third time in his career. Setbacks: Earnhardt Jr .'s struggles in the Contender Round saw his title hopes end early as he had finishes of 20th or worse at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega. Needing a victory to keep his championship hopes alive in the Contender Round finale at Talladega, where he has five career wins, Earnhardt Jr . was involved in a late-race accident that relegated him to a 31st-place finish. The 2014 season was also the first since 2009 that Earnhardt Jr . failed to win at least one Coors Light Pole Award. Quoteworthy: "I expect the cars to have more speed eventually; it may take us a couple of races or a couple of months to get there but I think our cars will be faster and give us an opportunity to run better (in 2015)." What's next: Besides a few changes among those going over the wall on race day, Earnhardt Jr . will have a new crew chief in Greg Ives and a new car chief in Travis Mack. Ives, who guided Chase Elliott to the 2014 XFINITY (formerly Nationwide ) Series title, steps in for Steve Letarte while Mack (Elliott's car chief) replaces Jason Burdett. The return of engineer Kevin Meendering to the No. 88 team is expected to help smooth the transitions. "That's going to help a ton," Earnhardt Jr . said, "because Kevin has all this information on what's worked with me. All drivers like things a little different. So Kevin's going to be real influential in getting Greg up to speed." While he won't rule out the possibility of a few rough spots as the team comes together, Earnhardt Jr . said he isn't worried. "I don't know that we will struggle," he said. "I expect us to come out and be competitive. By midseason I expect us to be a better race team than we were last year. "I think Greg is a talented crew chief. He has many advantages that will make us a better team. Steve was the strategist, one of the best guys on the box when it came to strategies, fuel mileage and stuff like that. It's too soon to tell exactly where we are there. Greg's been running in the Nationwide Series for a couple of years and their strategies are kind of mapped out already because of the tire rule and so forth. You can't really pull a lot of little levers and get things done, get crazy. … "But I know the engineering side is getting stronger because of Greg's history as an engineer." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Junior's comeback season brought out the best of old and new The announcement of NASCAR's new points system dominated the preseason in 2014, and headlocks and brawls and go-for-broke racing dominated the end. But in between, the best story was the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr . The sport's biggest star turned in the most important season of his career. After a solid but winless 2013, his slide from the top of NASCAR's mountain had ended, and he needed to race his way back to the top. He did and then some. He won the wildest Daytona 500 anybody has ever seen, he won at Pocono twice, and he drove away to the checkered flag at Martinsville while everybody behind him beat-and-banged on each other. His four wins equaled his total from the previous nine seasons combined. He was nearly as entertaining off the track, as he joined Twitter and turned 140 characters into an art form. But more than the wins and the tweeting, Earnhardt's season thrilled Junior Nation because it signaled the return of the confident Dale Earnhardt Jr . In 2014, he lived and breathed the exuberance that first made him so popular and then disappeared when his career went into the toilet. Few public figures, in sports or anywhere else, are as transparent as Dale Jr . He opens his mouth and the truth comes out. If his mouth doesn't betray his true feelings, his body language does. He couldn't fake it if he tried. So even more important than the results is the manner in which he achieved them -- with a strutting, head-up, eyes forward, let's-do-this bravado, as opposed to the Dale Jr . who sulked around the garage from 2007-2011, looking at his feet, sure his car would stink before he even got in it. He lost his swagger and believed he would never find it again. And so he wallowed, year after frustrating year. Everyone had brilliant ideas about how to fix him except him. For Earnhardt , the difference between wanting to and doing is the difference between doubt and confidence, and for years he didn't believe in himself or in his cars. He looked at his race car and saw a plodding tank, and he looked in the mirror and saw a driver who couldn't drive it fast if it were a rocket ship. He fumbled through seasons like a man looking for clothes in a dark closet. He had no idea what he was pulling out, and he was stuck wearing it regardless. He tumbled to 25th in 2009 and 21st in 2010 and even those miserable stats only hint at how far he had fallen in his own head, from title contender to also-ran. He wondered if his career as a competitive driver was over. And then an amazing thing happened. Team owner Rick Hendrick gave him Steve Letarte as a crew chief before the 2011 season. Letarte arrived on Earnhardt Jr .'s porch an hour or so after getting the job. He had just finished a winless season as Jeff Gordon 's crew chief and wasn't overflowing with confidence either. Each needed to look the other in the eye and size him up. Are you going to take me back to where I belong? As Letarte entered Dale Jr .'s house, he immediately put his new driver at ease and started putting him back together again. Before they ever went to the track together, Letarte insisted on rules nobody had ever been able to enforce with Junior. Letarte told him to show up before practice to talk about the car and to stay afterward until Letarte didn't need him anymore. It sounded like drudgery to Junior. And the results were slow to come, at first. He hit everything but the scoring pylon that year in Speedweeks. Then he was slow after that. Before a race in Las Vegas, his confidence still shot, Junior forced himself to stay and listen to and talk with Letarte and the engineers. The next day, the car was as fast as any he had driven in years. From then through 2013, hints of the old Earnhardt came back. His average finish improved dramatically; it was a career best 10.9 in 2012, a far cry from his career worst in 2009 (23.2). But he visited Victory Lane just once in that stretch, in 2012. In 2013, only a blown engine in the first Chase race kept him out of title contention. He couldn't wait to start the 2014 season and immediately showed why. He drove a brilliant Daytona 500 , passing high and low and early and late and with speed and cunning. He spent most of the rest of the season at or near the top of the leaderboard. For the first time since 2004, he had a legit title chance. Those hopes evaporated with back-to-back finishes of 39th at Kansas and 20th at Charlotte in the 30th and 31st races of the season. He wound up eighth in points. But to measure him only by where he finished in points is to miss the point entirely. The way to measure the new (and getting older) Dale Jr . is against the old (and forever younger) Dale Jr . and the one in the middle. He no longer resembles the one in the middle. The new and old have a lot in common, and the key difference is this one has confidence based on wisdom and experience rather than the ignorance of youth. The highlight of Earnhardt's season came after his win at Martinsville. A win there yields an iconic grandfather clock trophy, which Earnhardt had coveted for as long as he could remember. For his Hendrick Motorsports team, it came within days of the 10-year anniversary of a Hendrick Motorsports team plane crash that killed 10 people, including Hendrick's brother, son and two nieces. Earnhardt climbed from his car in Victory Lane and unleashed an utterly captivating stream-of-consciousness interview soaked through with joy. He was out of breath when he started talking. Not from driving, he said, from celebrating. He bounced from the bucket-list delight of winning a clock to heartfelt empathy of the magnitude of winning at that place on that day. "I lost my daddy a long time ago and I know how hard that is," Junior said. "I can't imagine losing the magnitude of people Rick lost. My heart goes out to him during this weekend. And I love that his cars are good here and give him a victory. And this honors them." He talked afterward about putting the clock right by the front door of his house so everybody who came over would see it. When it chimes, it heralds a great win that capped an unforgettable comeback season. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Hendrick Motorsports drivers discuss newest teammate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full coverage of Gordon's final full-time season " Elliott to drive No. 24 car in 2016 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon had been watching Chase Elliott for years. Some say the young driver from Dawsonville, Georgia, reminded them of a young Gordon. Equipped with raw talent at a young age and a drive to succeed – not to mention an incredible pedigree – Elliott seemed like the next big star. And for Gordon, he checked all the boxes. "When I'm looking for talented drivers – the ones that I'm thinking are championship-caliber," Gordon said at Charlotte Media Tour presented by Technocom on Thursday. "You're looking for ones that improve throughout the race, handle a certain situation calmly or improve throughout the season. And he has all those qualities and then he gets out and says all the right things." Team owner Rick Hendrick’s announcement of young Elliott's move to the No. 24 car in 2016 was met with awe from the racing world and excited reactions from his newest teammates: Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne . Like Gordon, Earnhardt -- Elliott's XFINITY car owner at JR Motorsports -- had been watching the budding star for years and anticipated the No. 9 driver's move to Hendrick Motorsports for awhile. "I think Chase is going to have a long career and to have a little part in that is something I can hang my hat on years down the road," said Earnhardt , who watched Elliott seize the XFINITY championship during his rookie season in the series. "I know Rick picked him out of a crowd and said 'That guy is the guy' at a very young age." RELATED: Can Elliott defend XFINITY title? " Elliott's championship timeline The announcement also came as no surprise to Johnson. "It just felt right," Johnson said. "It seemed right. I had a feeling it was coming, knew it was coming and it makes perfect sense. "You can't put anyone in the 24 for a lot of reasons and to have somebody with a father that accomplished so much, somebody that really understands and respects the sport.” The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion reflected on watching Gordon in his younger days and admiring him as a driver. Later on, he would come to respect him as a close friend and teammate. But while he recognizes that his longtime colleague is irreplaceable, Johnson looks to a new era with Elliott. “Chase is a great fit to go in the car and the best thing is he knows he's not trying to fill Jeff’s shoes," Johnson said. "He's going to go out there and be Chase Elliott and just continue on in the history of the 24." WATCH: Gordon says No. 24 car in good hands " Elliott not looking to 'fill somebody's shoes' For Elliott's soon-to-be shop-mate Kahne, Elliott is exactly what Hendrick has been searching for with his next driver. "He's everything that Mr. H likes," Kahne said. "So I feel like he's a perfect fit to get in that 24 and do what Chase Elliott does. It's going to be pretty neat to see him in the car." Elliott's task in 2016 is both daunting and thrilling for the young star. And Gordon can’t wait to watch his familiar vehicle piloting around NASCAR’s tracks from the unfamiliar sidelines. "He's the total package," Gordon said. "And it's very exciting to see him be the driver that’s going to be driving the 24 car in the future." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Junior: 'We're gonna win this race' RELATED: 40 pictures of Dale Jr . on his 40th birthday CONCORD, N.C. -- Feeling good on his 40th birthday, Dale Earnhardt Jr . called his shot in a televised interview after Friday's first practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "We're gonna win this race. I've got a really good feeling about it," Earnhardt Jr . said. Earnhardt Jr . was 11th in the practice session at 188.633 mph and will line up ninth in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Despite being winless at Charlotte in 29 points starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr . has been optimistic about his chances to win the race throughout the week. "I'm really excited, actually," Earnhardt Jr . told the media on Thursday. "I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend. Super-fast car, this place is a bit similar. "We obviously know what the situation is with the points and how important it is for us to come in here and win the race. I have been winless at Charlotte in a points-paying race since I started my career, so it's bound to happen sooner or later. I always win at the weirdest times, in the oddest circumstances. So I feel like everything is lining up and feel real good about this weekend." On the season, Earnhardt Jr . has three wins, 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s. He finished 19th here in the spring in the Coca-Cola 600 and has not recorded a top-five finish at the track since 2008. Earnhardt Jr . led 45 laps at Kansas and was running the best he had in the Chase before a cut tire derailed his day and led to a 39th-place finish. With two races remaining in the Contender Round, Earnhardt Jr . is 11th in the standings and 25 points back of the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. A Chase driver must be in the top eight in points or have a win to advance to that round. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Dale Jr . wins Myers Brothers Award, Harvick earns seven honors DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– In recognition of his career achievements as a champion driver, team owner and philanthropist, Dale Earnhardt Jr . was named the recipient of the 2014 NMPA Myers Brothers Award, a prestigious accolade recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. "This doesn't even seem real," said an emotional Earnhardt after receiving the honor at the 2014 NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon held at Wynn Las Vegas. "The truth is obviously I’m extremely humbled by this award, but I feel like I share it on so many levels - my sister Kelley ( Earnhardt Miller) along with everyone at JR Motorsports is as deserving of this as anyone. I have a lot of passions with NASCAR, but I wouldn't be able to know how to make them realities without all those folks." An accomplished driver, evidenced by his 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories and two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, Earnhardt was cited just as much for his achievements outside his No. 88 Chevrolet, namely as the owner of JR Motorsports and a tireless community benefactor. This season, JR Motorsports driver Chase Elliott became the youngest competitor to win a NASCAR national series championship after clinching the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series title. The 18-year-old will likely join Brad Keselowski , Aric Almirola , Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt as Sprint Cup regulars who have developed under Earnhardt full time at the Nationwide level. In addition to his Nationwide Series program, Earnhardt contributes to racing at its grassroots levels, fielding Late Model or Street Stock cars since founding JR Motorsports. His Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron finished first and second, respectively, this season in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Hickory Motor Speedway. Earnhardt's work extends off the track into the community. He has made 235 appearances on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a number that ranks in the top five among professional athletes. Furthermore, his Dale Jr . Foundation raised $913,000 to be distributed to more than 70 different charities. "I'm just as proud of what we've accomplished there as anything we've ever done on the race track," Earnhardt said about his foundation. The NMPA Myers Brothers Award has been presented annually since 1958 in the names of pioneer NASCAR competitors Billy and Bobby Myers and its winner is chosen by a vote of the National Motorsports Press Association. Past recipients are a virtual who's-who of the industry – drivers, owners, track operators, sponsors and members of the media – and include nearly every current member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Seventeen other awards were given out at the luncheon, spanning from achievements in marketing, performance on the track and exemplary work in the garage. 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick garnered seven honors, including the 3M Lap Leader Award and Mobil 1 Driver of the Year. "This is really the first time I've gotten to stand up here and actually realize what we've accomplished," Harvick said. "Thank you to everyone who has participated in making our sport what it is." Here is the complete list of Thursday’s award winners from the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon: • NMPA Myers Brothers Award: Dale Earnhardt Jr . • Buddy Shuman Award: Bill Joyner, Sunoco’s Manager of Automotive Events • NASCAR Marketing Achievement Award: Toyota • 3M Lap Leader Award: Kevin Harvick • American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award: Kevin Harvick • Coors Light Pole Award: Brad Keselowski • Duralast Brakes “Brake in the Race” Award: Kevin Harvick • Freescale “Wide Open” Award: Kevin Harvick • Goodyear Tires Award: Kevin Harvick • MAHLE Clevite Engine Builder of the Year Award: Billy Davis, Hendrick Engines No. 4 team • Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award: Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team • Mobil 1 Driver of the Year Award: Kevin Harvick • MOOG Steering & Suspension Problem Solver of the Year Award: Luke Lambert, crew chief No. 31 Richard Childress Racing team • Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap Award: Matt Kenseth • Sunoco Diamond Performance Award: Kevin Harvick • Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award: Kyle Larson • Champion Sponsor Award: Budweiser • Champion Crew Chief: Rodney Childers Champion’s Week will conclude tomorrow with the following events (all times local PT unless noted): Friday, Dec. 5 • Pit Pass Check-In: Beginning Wednesday, Dec. 3, fans can pick up a Pit Pass at NASCAR fan headquarters, Champion’s Week Live at The LINQ Promenade, and start checking in at various locations around the city where NASCAR partners will feature displays, including show cars. Running from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. each day, check-in locations include Tropicana (Ford), Treasure Island (Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Auto Club Speedway ), Paris Las Vegas (Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Caesars Palace (Chevrolet), Lagasse Stadium at The Palazzo (Toyota), and Excalibur (Mechanix Wear). • 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards: This black-tie celebration will be held at Wynn Las Vegas, where the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver and owner and the other Chase drivers will be honored. The drivers and stars will walk the Red Carpet from 4 – 5 p.m. and NASCAR.com will live stream the arrivals from 4:30 – 5 p.m. FOX Sports 1 will air the show live beginning at 9 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will begin coverage at 8 p.m. ET. • Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award Reveal: The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award will be given to one dedicated NASCAR fan who has made a profound impact on children in his or her community. The NASCAR Foundation will announce the national award winner during this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards. Fans can cast their vote for the 2014 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award winner by visiting www.NASCAR.com/Award before 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 4. For more information on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas, visit www.NASCAR.com/ChampionsWeek . MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Kasey Kahne discuss their new crew chiefs headed into the 2015 season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr . generates a landmark moment winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career.
NASCAR XFINITY Series champ will run five Sprint Cup races in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Elliott's 2015 preview " Gordon says final full-time season to be in 2015 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before Thursday afternoon's presentation from Hendrick Motorsports , five director's chairs stood empty on the stage, one earmarked for team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest for his four drivers. One chair rested to the side, awaiting its moment to join the group. In the same way, Chase Elliott has waited for his seat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And now his time is just around the corner. Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Elliott, the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, will join the sport's premier circuit full-time in 2016 after running a partial schedule of five races this season in the No. 25 Chevrolet. In making the step forward, Elliott, 19, will take over the Hendrick-owned No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by four-time champion Jeff Gordon , who announced last week that this will be his last full-time season in NASCAR's top division. Elliott said he was informed of his impending promotion to Sprint Cup by a phone call from Hendrick, shortly after Gordon made his intentions known to his team. As big a shock as news of Gordon's decision was, Elliott said the piece of the story involving him was an even bigger stunner. "That's a phone call I was not expecting that day. That is for sure," Elliott said during the final leg of the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "I didn't know anything about Jeff's announcement until that morning and to have Mr. Hendrick tell me that he wanted me to be that person to go in and drive that car whenever Jeff got done was just an unbelievable phone call -- one that I was not expecting and something that I couldn't have dreamt happening." News of Elliott's plans comes one day before the induction of his father, Bill Elliott, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The elder Elliott, the 1988 champion and a 44-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and his wife, Cindy, have offered support for his son's racing efforts through the Late Model ranks, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and eventually the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- a crucial, thoughtful upbringing that weighed heavily into Hendrick's decision to sign the youngster to his team's developmental driver program in 2011. All the while, the younger Elliott's quick ascent to stock-car fame rejuvenated their small hometown community of Dawsonville, Georgia, which signaled each accomplishment with a shrill blare from siren mounted atop the Dawsonville Pool Room, an area institution and haven of Elliott racing memorabilia. Now the community -- including the father best known as "Awesome Bill" -- has two reasons to be proud on consecutive days. RELATED: Gordon says No. 24 team in good hands " See how the No. 24 torch was passed "No way," Bill Elliott told NASCAR.com when asked if he thought this moment would come this soon in his son's career. "I mean, you hoped it, you wished it, but for it to actually happen, it's like, 'Wake me up. Am I dreaming or what?' Chase has done a great job, and Mr. Hendrick has just … the man's done everything he said he would do, and I have never met anybody with the integrity that man has." While the younger Elliott has an appreciation for this father's accomplishments, he's been able to create a new chapter to the family's racing tradition. Now Elliott inherits another legacy, following a legend who has helped forge stock-car racing's identity and direction over the course of a decorated 22-year career in the sport's top series. Despite both of those rich connections to the racing history, Elliott insists he'll be his own man as he makes his way to the sport's top levels. It's a heady, fresh approach that has commanded Gordon's respect as he prepares to hand over the wheel of the No. 24. "He's light-years ahead of where I was at 19," Gordon said. "I think Bill, being as experienced as he has been in winning races and the championship, and then Cindy and Bill together, I just think they did an amazing job with this young man, the way he handles himself, the things that he thinks about and the things that he says as well as what he does on the track. He's the total package, and I didn't have that at 19, I didn't. I definitely had a lot of growing up to do, and the Cup Series will help you grow up in a hurry. That's why I'm so excited to watch what he does." RELATED: Gordon calls Elliott the 'total package' " Elliott's championship timeline To help Elliott get acclimated to his first taste of NASCAR's big leagues, the team announced a five-race schedule for 2014. The second-generation driver is slated to make his Sprint Cup debut March 29 at Martinsville Speedway , then compete April 25 at Richmond International Raceway , May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , and Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway . Kenny Francis, who moved to the role of vehicle technical director for Hendrick in the offseason, will serve as crew chief for Elliott's five-race slate this season. In 2016, Elliott will work with longtime Hendrick crew chief Alan Gustafson, a 19-time winner in NASCAR's premier series who has been atop the pit box for Gordon for the last four seasons. While Gustafson has prepared himself for Gordon's last full-fledged shot at NASCAR's top prize, he's also embracing what the future holds with Elliott in 2016. "With his age and the maturity, you just see a tremendous amount of potential," Gustafson said. "That's the thing that I just think about is the opportunity to really do some amazing things." MORE: See the paint scheme for Elliott's 2015 Cup car For Ray Evernham, now a consultant for Hendrick Motorsports ' competition department, Elliott's move carries extra meaning on several levels. Gordon's growth into a championship-winning driver came with Evernham calling the shots as his first crew chief on the No. 24 team in NASCAR's top series. Evernham later left Hendrick to form his own team, leading the effort to bring Dodge back to NASCAR with Elliott -- driving his familiar No. 9 -- as his lead driver. To see all those bonds overlap, ultimately leading to Thursday's announcement, brought his involvement full circle. "For me, it's really a special thing because the two cars that have been special in my life are the 24 and the 9," Evernham told NASCAR.com, "and now rolling those together -- the Elliott family, the Gordon family and the Hendrick family -- it's just amazing when you think of the racing heritage there. … He's surrounded by a lot of people who believe in him that have years of racing experience." For 2015, Elliott's Sprint Cup entries will carry No. 25, with NAPA -- his XFINITY Series sponsor -- as the primary backer. The team said sponsorship for 2016 would be announced at a later date. When Gordon announced last Thursday that his days as a full-time driver were coming to an end, speculation on a replacement immediately centered on Elliott, who became the youngest champion in the NASCAR XFINITY Series during his rookie year in 2014. Elliott is entering his second season with JR Motorsports, a team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr . with Hendrick affiliations. RELATED: Junior on Elliott's 2014 success Both Hendrick and Earnhardt said last season that the timing seemed right for Elliott to advance to the top rung in the NASCAR development ladder with a limited Sprint Cup campaign in 2015 before making the full-time jump. The arrangement announced Thursday allows Elliott to make that move while benefiting from another year of seasoning in the XFINITY Series for JRM. Despite Elliott's age, Hendrick said watching his poise and ability to lead his team gave him no hesitation about making that fateful phone call, just one week ago. "I am amazed at the maturity he has," Hendrick said. "I just can't believe some of the things that come out of his mouth. When you think he's going to answer it one way, and he just comes up with something totally personal that's from inside. He is so comfortable in his skin. He doesn't feel the pressure of being an Elliott, and he doesn't feel the pressure of being behind Gordon. He wants to be Chase Elliott , not Bill Elliott, not Jeff Gordon . You don't have to talk to him very long to figure that out." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
An elated Dale Earnhardt Jr . celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in Victory Lane.