The Nationwide Series and the world of NASCAR have been set on fire the past two weeks by Chase Elliott. The 18 year old rookie driver has won back-to-back Nationwide races at Texas and Darlington. All of this success has prompted fans to speculate even more about when he will be brought to Sprint Cup and whose seat he is going to take.
Elliott currently runs the No. 9 Nationwide machine for JR Motorsports. It’s no secret to the world that Elliott is a Hendrick’s guy and that being said one would have to assume that when he comes to Sprint Cup it will be with Hendrick Motorsports. Team Hendrick currently has a full stable of drivers that consists of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne. As long as all four of those drivers remain with the team, there isn’t going to be room for Elliott. So, needless to say something is going to have to change.
Prior to the start of the 2014 season, Gordon alluded to the fact that he would most likely retire if he won a championship in 2014. For arguments sake let’s say Gordon wins the 2014 championship and then retires. This might be the easiest and most efficient way to get Elliott into Sprint Cup. If Gordon decides to retire on his own accord, Rick Hendrick will have to fill that seat and obviously Elliott is the best choice.
What happens if Gordon doesn’t win a championship in 2014?
Gordon is currently under contract with his sponsors for the next three seasons. At the age of 42 years old, Gordon is currently in his 21st year in NASCAR. He will be 45 years old when his current major sponsor deals run out and that would symbolize the end of his 24th season in the sport. Assuming Gordon doesn’t retire prior to 2017 it’s safe to assume that he would wrap up his career in his 24th season with or without a fifth championship. Obviously he could retire before that but if he is still competitive I don’t foresee him hanging em out unless he wins that elusive fifth championship.
In the scenario where Gordon retires in 2017, it’s still plausible that Elliott takes his seat. 2014 is Elliot’s first year in Nationwide and he is only 18 years old. Having Elliott run Nationwide full time in 2015 and 2016 will provide him with ample time to hone his craft and polish his skills. 2017 could be a year where he runs his final Nationwide schedule and runs a good chunk of Cup races, possibly with a smaller team that uses Hendrick engines. Come 2018 Elliott would be 22 years old and primed to dominate the Sprint Cup Series.
Some folks will say that 2018 would be waiting too long to bring him up. Those people might be right but at the same time you wouldn’t be able to argue how polished he would probably be. So what happens if Hendrick wants him in Cup sooner?
Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt aren’t going anywhere unless they decide to retire and that would obviously change everything. Gordon’s scenarios have been played out above which leaves us with Kasey Kahne. Kahne might be hoping that Gordon wins a title this season because if Gordon sticks around he might be on the hot seat. The relationship between Hendrick and Gordon runs deep and it would seem highly improbable that Hendrick would force Gordon out. Kahne on the other hand is without question at the bottom of that team’s totem pole.
Kahne hasn’t performed this season as well as Gordon, Earnhardt and Johnson have. This season aside, Johnson and Gordon have 10 championships between them and Earnhardt is the most popular driver in the sport. Kahne just isn’t as valuable to the team nor does he have the credentials to make him work keeping over anyone else. Let’s say Elliott is ready to come up in 2015, Hendrick is not going to risk him going to another team. Bottom line is that if it’s Elliott or Kahne, Kahne is going to be looking for another ride.
At the end of the day NASCAR is a business and in today’s business world it’s all about what you have done for your company lately. Kahne has just done less than everyone else and that’s all that there is to it. I personally think Kahne is a great driver and that some of his misfortunes are not his fault. Despite all of that I would take Elliott over him in a heartbeat as Hendrick most likely will if push comes to shove.