Chase Elliott knows he’ll have a huge task trying to fill the shoes of Jeff Gordon when he steps into the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Sprint Cup car in 2016.
And even though he’ll attempt to qualify for his first career Sprint Cup start in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway, Elliott is trying to keep all things Cup-related in perspective.
Sure, his future is in Sprint Cup, but he has to get through this Xfinity Series season first – and potentially win a second consecutive championship in NASCAR’s junior league before moving up to the big league next year. Thus far, he has two fifth-place finishes and a 25th-place showing in his first three Xfinity starts this season.
“I just put emphasis on the fact that next year is a year away and just realize that it’s a long ways off and there’s a lot of racing between now and then that really has no reason to be overlooked at the end of the day,” Elliott said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. “I feel like I have a job to go and give it my all for my guys (on his Xfinity team) and it’s unfair for them for me to look past that and I’m not going to do that to them. They wouldn’t do that to me.
“So I just try to be fair about it. Sure, I’m looking forward to next year, but at the same time, I’m also looking forward to this year just as much. We have a lot of exciting things with trying to make our first Cup start here in a couple weeks at Martinsville, and with a lot of new stuff with our Xfinity team and (crew chief) Ernie Cope and a lot of new guys. I’m just excited about this year as I am next year and hopefully we can have a good season and get to Victory Lane.”
Martinsville will be both exciting and difficult for Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
The excitement part is obviously that race being his first career Cup start.
But there’s a difficult part, as well. With no owner points, he’ll have to qualify and race his way in to the March 29th STP 500.
“You have to be careful about how excited you get because a lot of things have to go your way just to get into the race without any (owner) points,” Elliott said. “You can’t get overly excited about something that may not happen.
“I’ve got to be careful to make sure qualifying goes okay and we’re able to get in the show and hopefully the weather will hold off. If we can get in the race, I’m really excited about it. To make your first Cup race is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Elliott is no stranger to Martinsville. He watched his father run there a number of times – although, ironically, the half-mile bullring is one of the few tracks the elder Elliott never won at in his career.
“To go Cup racing, it’s weird to be going to Martinsville to race myself and not go watch my dad,” Chase Elliott said. “I’ve gone and watched him race there a bunch of times.
“It’ll be a different feel to show up and be able to compete in the Sprint Cup Series. I’m looking forward to it and hope we can have a solid weekend.”