Bill Elliott reflects on the road paved by those before him, and the one he and a small team from Dawsonville, Georgia paved during his NASCAR career.
Almirola will pilot patriotic car for two holiday race weekends Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live The U.S . Air Force is joining forces with Richard Petty Motorsports for the seventh consecutive season as a primary sponsor for two races on Aric Almirola 's No. 43 Ford in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season. Almirola will carry the Air Force logo for the two most patriotic race weekends of the season: Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, May 24, 6 p.m. ET, FOX) and Fourth of July weekend at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400 (Sunday, July 5, 7:45 p.m. ET, NBC). In addition, the U.S . Air Force will remain an associate partner on the No. 43 Ford for the entire 2015 season. This season marks the U.S . Air Force's 15th in NASCAR. Almirola will also continue to support at-track swear-ins for the Delayed Entry Program and entertain active duty military guests at the track. Almirola won the Coke Zero 400 last summer at Daytona with the U.S . Air Force as his primary sponsor. The victory was his first in the Sprint Cup Series and came on the 30th anniversary of Richard Petty's 200th win. The military branch has a close tie to Almirola as his father served in the U.S . Air Force and Almirola was born on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. "Working with the Air Force for the past three years has been really rewarding," Almirola said in a team release. "With my dad serving in the Air Force, I understand the sacrifice the men and women make to keep our country safe. It was great to be able to celebrate my first Sprint Cup win with the Air Force, and I'm so glad they will be back as we defend our win in the Coke Zero 400 ." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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
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Organization to utilize Team Penske alliance in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Leavine Family Racing team owner Bob Leavine recalls when he signed his driver Michael McDowell with a fondness that stems from respect on and off the track. "We interviewed four drivers and I had seen Michael in the garage,” Levine said during Charlotte Media Tour on Wednesday. “ The time he took with fans was in line with our family values, the way he treated people. “A good driver, and he wasn't driving the best cars in the world. I knew that we didn't have many, but what we were putting on the track was good. So I just thought that it would be a good fit from what we were trying to accomplish." Fast forward a year and the small family-owned Sprint Cup Series team is headed in a direction that both the driver and team are excited about. McDowell, 29, is expected to run a minimum of 20 Sprint Cup Series races in 2015, trumping last year’s number. Last season, he qualified for all but three Cup events that he attempted, nabbing notable finishes at Daytona (seventh) and Bristol (18th), a victory that McDowell said he would have celebrated by popping champagne at his hauler if any had been available. “ The thing about that (Bristol) race for us is we ran where we finished most of the day,” McDowell said with a smile. “For a small Sprint Cup team to be in the teens and the low 20s, that’s a great day for us. “For us, to run where we’ve run all night and to finish it off was definitely a confidence builder and momentum for us.” The No. 95 driver appears to be sticking with the big boys for now, despite his strong finishes in the few races run with XFINITY Series in 2014. “I love running in the XFINITY Series. I’ve had a lot of great runs in the last few years,” McDowell said. “… I hope that I’ll have a few opportunities again to run some races, but there’s nothing permanent on the schedule right now. But having a part-time schedule in the Sprint Cup Series gives me a little bit of flexibility. “Now with a tighter alliance with Team Penske and a tighter alliance with Ford, it’s eliminated some of the opportunities with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota and those things.” This season marks the second season of the organization’s technical alliance with Team Penske , a partnership that Leavine thinks will aid the 14-person team on improving from last season. “It’s just a different mindset,” Leavine said. “… Roger (Penske) wasn’t willing to accept anything less than perfect. And that’s contagious." The fever seems to have spread to the organization's shop in Concord, North Carolina, as Leavine describes the team’s readiness to improve and be even more competitive next season. And that’s just what McDowell plans to do. “We want to be in the mix and we want to be in the conversation and we feel like at the end of the year last year, we were getting to that point,” McDowell said. “But we’d just like to be able to do that more consistently. And that’s the focus this year. "You can’t always hit home runs, but if we could hit doubles every game and eventually we’re going to get a few home runs in there and that’s really what we’re focused on.” FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Following up teammate Kurt Busch's attempt isn't in the cards
After two tough years of not making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Tony Stewart is prepared to get back on track.
The Nationwide Series returns to Iowa for a night race
2014 Sprint Cup champion will be second reigning champ to cast a ballot Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: See the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees class by class Kevin Harvick received several perks after securing his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last season -- the trophy, the oversized check and the ability to etch his name in the stock-car racing history books. This spring, he'll cash in on another bonus: Having his say in which drivers take their rightful place in the sport's annals. Harvick will take part in NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day this May, becoming the second reigning Sprint Cup champion to cast a ballot to help determine a class to be enshrined. Harvick is scheduled to participate in Friday night's induction (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) of the 2015 class at the Charlotte Convention Center. Harvick, entering his 15th season in NASCAR's top series, demurred when asked about his own chances of one day being selected for enshrinement, but said he imagined his Voting Day duties would be educational. "Well, I'm not going to rate my own credentials, but I can tell you that I'm excited to be a part of the process, having a vote and being able to experience that and learn more about our sport," Harvick said Tuesday during Stewart-Haas Racing 's portion on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "I think there's obviously that you can constantly learn about, and to be able to take that in and experience that is going to be a lot of fun." Alterations were made to the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel in December 2013 to add the reigning Sprint Cup champion to the list of vote-casters. That change meant that Jimmie Johnson , just weeks removed from winning his sixth title in NASCAR's top division, was involved in the discussions and balloting process that determined the Class of 2015. The responsibility wasn't lost on Johnson, who reflected on his Voting Day experience to the NASCAR Wire Service last year. "That was a huge honor and an amazing day to be a part of," Johnson said. "To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport and know about our sport and then discuss what took place in eras of time when I certainly wasn’t around … it was a very awesome and unique experience and something I think that is a huge honor and in years to come. "It's only going to help drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport and grow closer and more attached to the people that built this sport. And in a big way, I wish that the garage area could sit in on that discussion and see the respect that the peers and the people on the voting panel have for our industry and for the people involved." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion honored by namesake Richard Petty