NAPA hopes it knows how to pick a future NASCAR champion.
Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of former NASCAR Cup series champion Bill Elliott, will run full time this season in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, driving the No. 9 made famous by his father.
The automotive parts chain, which enters its 19th season of sponsorship in NASCAR, is based in Atlanta, not far from the Elliotts’ hometown of Dawsonville, Ga.
“It’s really the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Chase, who has been running a variety of motorsports series in recent years as a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports. “This is my chance to do what I love to do and to race and to make the most of it. 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. It’s not going to be easy.”
The pairing seems a natural one for NAPA, but the company’s NASCAR plans had been uncertain after the 2013 season. NAPA most recently sponsored driver Martin Truex Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series but left the Michael Waltrip Racing organization at the conclusion of the 2013 season after MWR was involved in a cheating scandal.
“Chase Elliott is a young, talented, future star in the sport and will represent NAPA well both on and off the track,” said Dan Askey, president of NAPA. “We welcome Chase and the entire JR Motorsports organization to the NAPA family.”
Chase has made a quick and successful progression in his motorsports career, scoring track championships and numerous victories in Super Late Models. He signed with HMS in 2011 and earned his first victory in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Iowa in May 2012.
Elliott’s victory at Pocono in June 2013 made him the youngest superspeedway winner in Automobile Racing Club of America series history at the time. He earned his first NASCAR Truck win in just his sixth start on Sept. 1 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
“This will be the longest whole season for one championship that I’ve ever done,” Elliott said of his move to the Nationwide Series. “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.”
Running a full schedule for the first time, Elliott will have the chance to become the fifth multigenerational NASCAR champion, joining Richard and Lee Petty, Larry and David Pearson, Dale and Ned Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jr.
“Bill Elliott is one of the greats. I’ve always looked up to him,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He had some great battles with my dad.
“I think there are a lot of Elliott fans and Earnhardt fans that will take interest in Chase’s career and support him 100 percent.”
Chase Elliott and his new team will participate in this weekend’s preseason test at Daytona International Speedway. Nationwide teams are scheduled to be on the track on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m really excited about today, but at the same time, this is just the beginning,” Chase said. “I’m anxiously awaiting getting down to Daytona and getting the season started off on the right foot.”
JR Motosports, owned by Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Cup owner Rick Hendrick, will field two full-time Nationwide teams in 2014, with Regan Smith again piloting the No. 7.
“This will be the strongest lineup we’ve put on the track since we started racing full time in 2006,” said Earnhardt Miller, the organization’s general manager.
JRM also will field part-time entries in 2014 with Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 and Kevin Harvick in the No. 5.
Smith’s crew chief, Greg Ives, will serve as Elliott’s crew chief on the No. 9 with Ryan Pemberton taking over the No. 7 team this season.
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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