CONCORD, N.C. -- It’s been three seasons since Rick Hendrick has had one of his Chevrolets competing for a title. Now Chase Elliott will try to earn Hendrick Motorsports it’s record-extending 13th championship on Sunday when he competes at Phoenix Raceway.
Elliott earned his spot after a thrilling win at Martinsville Speedway on Nov. 1. Hendrick said he’s extremely proud that Elliott made his first Championship 4 and added the way he secured his berth was reminiscent of four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
“I remember Jeff Gordon winning in Martinsville and getting in,” Hendrick said on SiriusXM Wednesday. “I’ve been so fortunate to have (had) a host of great drivers, and now with the young guns, they are really coming on. Our momentum has been really good toward the end of the year and Chase did an unbelievable job. That was probably the most exciting race I have ever witnessed.”
Hendrick also acknowledged the race at Phoenix will be bittersweet for him. Longtime driver Jimmie Johnson will have his last event as a full-time Cup Series driver this weekend, and Hendrick knows it’s going to be an emotional moment seeing Johnson wrap up a historic career.
“To win five championships back to back, it’s a very sad day to see that come to an end,” Hendrick said. “We can’t have the celebration that we want to have with Jimmie because of the COVID-19 situation. We did the best we can and we’re going to salute him.”
Johnson announced last year that 2020 would be his final full-time season in the Cup Series. The 45-year-old driver wants to spend more time with his family and tackle other goals outside of stock-car racing. Hendrick added he’s in awe of the kind of person Johnson is and said the pair will always be close.
“What an awesome individual he is,” Hendrick said. “He and (his wife) Chani do so much charity work and he never says anything bad about anybody. He goes about his work and he’s shown he’s one of the greatest race car drivers that ever drove in the sport.
“I told him a couple of days ago, ‘You’re not leaving your family. You’re just going to be driving an open-wheel car and having a little fun. You’re always going to be in our family.”
Tune in to see Elliott and Johnson compete in the final race of the season Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.