Chase Elliott, 18, is already climbing through the NASCAR ranks at an unbelievable pace. He is truly ahead of the game, especially for someone that is still in high school.
Elliott, the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Bill Elliott, might just be what the NASCAR world has been looking for. He is aggressive, smart and mature - all of which he has learned thanks to his hard work and determination. Sure, there are other drivers out there around his age group in the Nationwide Series such as Dylan Kwasniewski and Ryan Reed, but they are not having early success like Elliott.
However, even while becoming the youngest driver to win back-to-back Nationwide Series races in the history of the division, Elliott still has plenty to learn. Due to his success, rumors have initiated about Elliott's immediate future. Currently, the Dawsonville, Ga. native is leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers points standings while racing for JR Motorsports. Think about it this way - Elliott has won two races, outraced his teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith as well as outracing Sprint Cup Series regulars which usually dominate in the sport's second tier division.
JR Motorsports has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, one of the most proficient teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. However, the team does most of their work in-house as their alliance is mainly for Hendrick's engine program. Moreover, Elliott is winning in equipment which former Sprint Cup Series driver, Smith, has only won in four times in 41 events since Homestead in 2012. What makes Elliott's early success so magnificent?
Well, he has done things the old fashion way. He worked his way up through the ranks at a rapid pace, but did so by winning in everything he raced in. That is how he landed a deal with one of, if not the, most successful team in modern-day NASCAR.
Even though the season is still young, Elliott's points lead is obviously not a fluke. He has Smith's former crew chief, Greg Ives, atop the pit box, and they seem to be clicking rather well. Not only has Elliott been contending for wins, but he has finished inside of the top-10 in each race since Daytona where he made his Nationwide Series debut. Clearly, he has the talent to get the job done. But does it mean he should go to the Sprint Cup Series next season?
It is extremely unlikely that Elliott will be full-time in the Cup Series next season. If he were to win the Nationwide Series title as a rookie, it will be one of the most abundant accomplishments which have been achieved in the modern-era of stock car racing. However, he will still need another season in NASCAR's second tier series just to show he can make even fewer mistakes before he goes to NASCAR's largest stage. Thus, it will enable him to be extremely competitive right away.
Moreover, Elliott will be entitled to race in a Hendrick Motorsports car in the Cup Series if they opt to go that route. The problem is - NASCAR only enables four entries per team, and they can also enter a fifth car for a handful of races under Hendrick Motorsports ownership for a rookie driver. This would be the ideal situation for Elliott. It will enable him to still race full-time in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, and it will also let him get adjusted to the larger, more powerful vehicles in NASCAR's top division. Previously, team owner, Rick Hendrick, has stated that Elliott has tested Cup Series cars, and actually ran times as competitive as four-time champion, Jeff Gordon. That's pretty impressive at his age.
Elliott is rumored to replace one of the four drivers at HMS in the near future. Specifically, Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne.
Gordon has stated that he is considering retirement. However, he has done so since having back problems several years ago. It is likely, however, that he will call it quits within the next dozen years or so. But with success like he has had already in 2014, putting a close on a Hall of Fame career should be no where near in the sights of NASCAR's active wins leader.
Kahne's case is a lot different from Gordon. He entered Hendrick Motorsports with hopes of contending for championships. Sure, he has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in both years that he has driven for HMS, but he has been extremely inconsistent. To start this year, Kahne only has two top-10 finishes in eight races, and four finishes of 22nd or worse. That is not what HMS is about. With each of the Hendrick drivers seeing success other than a Kahne, a driver change might occur in the foreseeable future. Before he joined HMS, most believed that Kahne would certainly be winning more races than he did when he was with Evernham Motorsports (which developed into Richard Petty Motorsports). However, consistency has always been a problem for Kahne since joining the Sprint Cup Series back in 2004. His contract runs up at the end of the 2015 season, as does Elliott's contract with his sponsor, NAPA.
It is possible that if Kahne does not show he is a title contender this year, Elliott can replace him at the start of the 2016 season. However, if Kahne resigns with the organization once his contract expires, Elliott might end up with a team which has an alliance with HMS. This would give him the option of racing with HScott Motorsports which is what Austin Dillon did last year as he prepared to race for Richard Childress Racing on a full-time basis in 2014. It is unlikely that Elliott would race for another organization that has an alliance with HMS which include Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. But anything can happen from now and then.
Let's face it - Hendrick is not going to give up on Elliott. He is going to be a champion if he keeps this up. He is still in school, and once he graduates, his focus will be on racing and racing only.