Monday, January 6, 2014

One-on-one with new NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Chase Elliott

   Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of former NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, will move fulltime to the Nationwide Series in 2014, driving the No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports and sponsored by longtime NASCAR sponsor NAPA Auto Parts.

   The Observer spoke with Chase on Monday morning about his new move, the prospects of racing against Sprint Cup Series drivers and his new sponsor, among other topics.

   Q: Are you excited to go full-time NNS racing?
   Elliott: Absolutely. Couldn’t be more excited about it.  For me, it’s really the opportunity of a lifetime.  Again, this is my chance to do what I love to do and to race and to make the most of it.  This is my opportunity to race for a long time.  This is a chance that I’m going to try to make the very most of.  This is a big step for me, but at the same time I feel like as a person and personally and as a driver as well, I feel that it’s definitely doable for me.  I feel like I can get the job done.  It’s going to take a lot of hard work.  I don’t feel like at this point right now, I don’t have a lot of experience.  It’s not going to be easy.  Starting off it’s definitely going to be tough and hopefully get some races under our belt and try to get some experience quick and get in these cars as much as possible.  I think if we can do that and if I can get things figured out that need to be done then we can do things together as a group like they should be and all do our jobs to the best of our ability then I think we can have success here.

   Q: Will this be the first time you have run a full season for a championship?
   Elliott: I’ve run for a couple track championships.  A Gulfco championship down around the Gulf coast -- Mobile, Pensacola area.  Other than that, this will be the first one.  Going to be really cool.  This will be the longest whole season for one championship that I’ve ever done.  This is going to be a really different experience for me because of travel with the series and just focus on the series and just doing this one thing, this is going to be cool.  It’s going to be something different, but I’m ready for it.

   Q: Do you welcome the chance to race against Sprint Cup Series drivers in Nationwide?
   Elliott: One hundred and fifteen percent!  I’ve said this all along, any time I have a chance to race against Kyle Busch whether it be in a Late Model or whatever when he comes to run those races, I welcome him and I want him to be there.  I want to have an opportunity to out run those guys and I feel like when those guys run those races, you’re racing with the best of the best and there are a lot of Nationwide guys that have just as much experience and just as much success as they do now, but to have those guys obviously come out of the Cup Series and come run those races has a lot more emphasis on it and I welcome them.  I’d love to race against them every single weekend if I could and I feel like a lot of them will be doing that so I’m looking forward to that side as well.

   Q: How have you approached each step of your career?
   Elliott: It’s easy to get ahead of yourself.  I can say that and I’ve caught myself doing that in the past and really a couple years ago I caught myself doing that really, really bad and saying that stuff is really going good and I want to be here a few years and then I need to go do that.  That’s not the way at all to go about this and to go about racing in general.  I feel like I’ve looked past that a lot and you really have to focus on what you have going on right now.  There’s absolutely no guarantees on what the future holds.  One thing that I do guarantee is that I have to get the job done regardless of what’s going on.  I have to go out there and do the best that I can and contend for wins.  At the end of the day I have to get the job done to move forward and I’m going to try to do just that this year.

   Q: Is it a big benefit to get an established team and crew?
   Elliott: I think so, as far as the team side goes there’s going to be a few changes around on people and what not, but to have Greg I think is going to be a big help to me.  Just his experience.  He’s been on the box at Cup races with Jimmie and Chad and to have that experience and that knowledge and from last year he worked with Regan all year long and to understand the Nationwide Series and understand what it takes to win races -- they obviously did that a couple times last year and to have his knowledge and experience and for him to come help a guy who has no knowledge and no experience in these cars is going to be a big help.  Again, don’t really have very much knowledge about these race cars and it’s going to be a big learning curve for me to try to figure that out and figure out what they want and what they don’t want.  Having Greg’s knowledge and not only just his knowledge and experience, but fresh knowledge and fresh experience and things that he went through last year and things that I’m going through this year and him coming fresh off that is going to be a big help to me.

   Q: How did the number 9 come about?
   Elliott: It was never asked.  Me wanting to be number 9 and has always been assumed and has always been the correct assumption.  I’ve always wanted to be it and the only time I haven’t been number 9 is whenever I can’t be or it’s taken.  Ran some races in the 94 last year and that is also a meaningful number to the Elliott family, but to have the 9 and for me a throwback to the 80s when my dad was having a lot of success in the Coors car and what not, that was a little before my time, but my memories come from the Evernham days and that was kind of where I gained my love for the number 9.  It’s always the number I try to get and fortunately it worked out to get it this year since nobody had it and it’s kind of the next number with 5, 7, 9 so that kind of worked out, too.

   Q: Was NAPA a perfect fit since they are based in Atlanta?
   Elliott: It really is and to have that personal connection with the guys at NAPA is really neat.  Their headquarters and offices are only about 30 minutes from my house, which is another really cool thing.  Just have a lot in common with those guys.  Being from Atlanta, obviously I feel like another cool thing is that Mr. Reardon, the main guy over there, we’ve talked to him a lot to kind of get things going and I feel like those guys and myself, I’m as big of a fan of racing as whenever I’m a part of it too.  I’m a bigger fan more than anything and I think those guys are as well and they respect that side too and to have that relationship and that connection is going to be really neat.  Obviously, being from the same area makes it even better.

   Q: What are you most looking forward to this season?
   Elliott: Getting started for sure, just getting started.  Obviously, there’s been a lot of talk and today finally the announcement and just getting through today and I’m really excited about today, but at the same time this is just the beginning of the year and the real thing starts here in February in just a few weeks.  I’m anxiously awaiting getting down to Daytona and getting the season started off and hopefully started off on the right foot.  It’s going to be a difficult process I think for me to learn and get to where I need to be in these cars and I’m looking forward to that side as well.  You’re going to have good days and bad days and you have to learn and move forward and I’m looking forward to just getting started and seeing where things go.

   Q: What is the most important advice you have picked up?
   Elliott: Fortunately for me I’ve been surrounded by some awesome people.  I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without Mr. Hendrick and his support and his belief in me to give me all these opportunities that he’s done for me, couldn’t be any more thankful for that.  To have the people around me that I’ve had, whether it be Mr. Hendrick or my dad or Dale or all these great people that have had so much great success in this sport, I don’t feel like there is really one thing that I could narrow down.  I’ve obviously gotten some great advice over the years and especially looking forward to this year.  Moving into this year I’ve gotten a lot of advice and I feel like as the year rolls along whether it may be on the race track or off the race track, the knowledge from those guys is really going to benefit more than anything.

   Q: Will there be pressure to win the NNS most popular driver award working with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
   Elliott: I know that’s always been an Elliott and Earnhardt deal winning the most popular driver.  Between my dad and him, they pretty much dominated that award.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to give him a run for the money one day.

Sam Hornish Jr. gets a part-time ride in Nationwide Series for 2014

   Officials at Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday confirmed Sam Hornish Jr. has been hired to drive at least seven races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2014 for the organization, splitting time in the No. 54 Toyota with Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch.

    Hornish most recently competed in the series with Penske Racing and finished second in the series standings. The former IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500 champion has two career wins in the series.

   “I’m excited about driving the No. 54 Monster Energy car this year. It’s a great opportunity for me,” said Hornish. “It’s the best possible situation for me to jump into great equipment and have the opportunity to go right out and win. After working with Penske for 10 years and now to have the opportunity to partner with Joe Gibbs Racing, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. These are great people, top notch.

   "To partner with Kyle, and all this team provides, with the support of Joe and J.D., it provides me with everything I need to succeed. It’s also a phenomenal opportunity for me to partner with a market leader such as Monster Energy. The brand identity and fan following that goes along with this sponsor is super. I can’t wait to get into that car!”

   Hornish’s first race behind the wheel of the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota will be May 3 at Talladega. In addition he will race both Iowa Speedway races, Road America, Chicagoland Speedway on July 19, Mid-Ohio, and Kentucky Speedway on September 20.