CONCORD, N.C. – This weekend, Chase Elliott is poised to make his second career Sprint Cup Series start for Hendrick Motorsports.
But once again, he knows he has to qualify to make the race.
“I’ve been looking forward to Richmond for quite some time,” he said. “We have to take this weekend step-by-step. First we need the weather to cooperate to be able to practice in order to qualify Friday night. So we’ll position ourselves the best we can in the situations we can control. I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity Mr. (Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick) Hendrick and his organization is giving me.”
It’s no coincidence that Elliott’s No. 25 car is at Richmond International Raceway for this weekend’s activities, just as it wasn’t by chance that his first Cup start came at Martinsville Speedway.
The five races in which Elliott is slated to compete in 2015 were hand-picked by Hendrick Motorsports.
“It doesn’t do you any good to pick the easiest tracks or the best track,” Hendrick said. “Just let him get in – if we are going to have a rough race then I’d rather have it in these five and let him get the experience than when we get into it for real, when the points are counting and we are trying to get into the Chase for his rookie year. So really I left that up to the crew chiefs and (Hendrick Motorsports General Manager) Doug Duchardt and they spoke with Chase and Bill (Elliott). But I think it is a good spread.”
The spread that began with Martinsville in March and continues this weekend with Richmond also features Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 24, Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26 and Darlington Raceway on September 6.
"They just said, ‘Here are the five that we are thinking,’ and I said, ‘Sounds good to me, I’ll be there.'"Chase Elliott
Duchardt noted the importance of spreading the races apart, not only for Elliott’s schedule but so that the right amount of resources could be put behind the No. 25 car without harming the performance level of the Nos. 5, 24, 48 and 88.
Once the races began coming together, it was clear the collection of tracks would be a benefit to the rookie.
“We felt like this was a good combination of two different types of short tracks with Martinsville and Richmond, and then three different types of intermediate tracks with Charlotte as a one-and-a-half mile, Indy with a two-and-a-half-mile, and then Darlington of course is unique and Chase had a lot of success there,” Duchardt explained.
Kenny Francis, who is serving as Elliott’s crew chief with the No. 25 team for the five races, agreed with Duchardt’s assessment.
“I think it is a good set of tracks,” Francis said. “They are all kind of different, a couple of them are pretty challenging. Well, they are all going to be challenging, but Richmond and Martinsville and Indy are challenging in that they’re unique tracks that you don’t see all the time.
“Hopefully we can get him enough seat time so when he goes back there in 2016 he is not struggling to learn the track and learn what is going on. He can have some comfort level going to those tracks.”
As for Elliott, he was happy to take on whatever races the organization decided to put in front of him.
"They just said, ‘Here are the five that we are thinking,’ and I said, ‘Sounds good to me, I’ll be there,'" he smiled. "They are five really cool races, I think, to go do."
The path to race No. 2 begins on a very busy Friday, with two Sprint Cup practice sessions, an XFINITY Series practice session, qualifying for both series and finally the XFINITY race at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the team,” Elliott said. “I just want to go out and do my part the best that I can this weekend in Richmond.”