SPRINT CUP DRIVER LINEUP: Jimmie Johnson (Chad Knaus), Chase Elliott (Alan Gustafson), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Greg Ives), Kasey Kahne (Keith Rodden).
XFINITY DRIVER LINEUP: None
CHANGES: Biggest change is the retirement of four-time champion Jeff Gordon and the ascension of 2014 Xfinity Series champ Chase Elliott to the Sprint Cup Series. Gustafson remains as crew chief of the No. 24.
DID YOU KNOW: Team owner Rick Hendrick was inducted last week into the National Motorsports Press Association along with Joe Gibbs and IndyCar great Al Unser. … After winning five championships in a row, Jimmie Johnson skipped two years before earning his sixth title. He’s now missed winning the championship again for the last two years. Is he due in 2016, at least numerically? … Even though he’ll segue into the broadcast booth for Fox Sports, Jeff Gordon will remain co-owner of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car and team.
EXPECTATIONS: Look for Johnson and Knaus to figure out a way to get through the Chase and into the final round this season. … Given that the first two winners of the new format of the Chase were first-time Sprint Cup champs (Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch), will Dale Earnhardt continue the trend and be the third first-time Cup champ in 2016? … While hopes are high, expectations are more realistic for Chase Elliott in his first season. Probably the biggest goal is for him to win Rookie of the Year honors. Anything after that (including a win or making the Chase) will be a bonus.
WHAT THEY SAID:
“I think we’re better going into this year. We’re definitely going to miss Jeff Gordon. But I think the teams are fired up. We want to be contenders and we want to win the championship. We want to do that every year. We started by really digging in last summer. We had a heart-to-heart with everybody, all of us together, to see what we could do to be better.” – Team owner Rick Hendrick
“You always get fired up this time of year. The proof is when you get down to Daytona and see how you do. We’ve won a lot of those races. If we can go down and win that race to kick off the season, I think we’ll be in good shape.” – Team owner Rick Hendrick
“I’m excited about watching Chase race, he’s very mature for his age and he has a lot of talent. … I’ve seen Chase handle pressure so well, not make any mistakes, always says the right thing. I don’t think he gets rattled. All the testing he’s done, he’s been good. He’s been extremely fast but extremely careful. He doesn’t wreck a lot of cars. There’s no pressure other than what he puts on himself. He handles it well. … Chase is a little bit different driver, he’s more like his dad than Jimmie (Johnson) or Jeff (Gordon). I’m excited. I think he’s going to win a race this year and has a real good shot of making the Chase. I would never put him in a car if I didn’t think he could do it.” – Team owner Rick Hendrick on Chase Elliott.