CONCORD, N.C. – With just five races to work with in 2015, there was no time for Chase Elliott to dip his toes in the water.
He had to jump straight into the deep end.
“It doesn’t do you any good to pick the easiest tracks or the best track,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said at the start of the season. “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.”
With that in mind, the organization chose Martinsville Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, the Charlotte 600, the Brickyard 400 and the Southern 500 – as well as the Sprint Showdown prior to the All-Star Race – as Elliott’s first taste of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.
“Five races isn’t a ton to have time to mesh with the group, but it is a lot of racing, especially with some of the races that we chose with the Charlotte 600 and the Brickyard,” Elliott said. “Those are big, long races and I think that the ones we chose were great in that sense. I’m very pleased to have had the chance to go run the ones we did.”
In the five points races, Elliott had to take the No. 25 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS to the garage twice – resulting in finishes of 38th and 41st – but completed 963 of a possible 964 laps in the middle three races, all of which ended with a top-18 result.
Additionally, he earned a top-five finish in the Sprint Showdown.
With the experience at a close, Elliott said it was “absolutely” worth it to get behind the wheel of a Cup car before he takes over the No. 24 Chevrolet SS full-time in 2016 – even if next year will be a whole different animal.
“I don’t really know what to expect for next year until we kind of get rolling and kind of see what it’s going to be like first-hand,” he said. “But definitely to get a little bit of a taste this year has been good. I think it has definitely had its ups and downs and you always wish things would go better. I obviously think it was a good learning experience for me.”
Though his 2015 Cup slate is behind him, Elliott still has his focus squarely on the NASCAR XFINITY Series, where he became the youngest champion in NASCAR national series history just last year.
Still, it’s hard not to drift a little toward thoughts of his full-time Cup debut in 2016.
“I mean, how can you not think of next year and the changes coming along and going to Daytona in the No. 24 car? All that is definitely something that I think about, and probably a good bit, but it’s not going to take away from our mindset and goals on the XFINITY side,” Elliott said. “That’s definitely priority right now. That’s what we’re concerned with first and foremost, to try and go get some wins on that side and have a shot at the championship over there. That’s our main goal.”