Hendrick Motorsports makes changes to its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup car lineup for 2018
Hendrick Motorsports will drop the No. 5 Chevy from its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series lineup starting in 2018. The team announced Tuesday night that the current No. 24 team with driver Chase Elliott will campaign the No. 9, while newcomer William Byron will take over the No. 24, with that team coming from the current No. 5.
The No. 9 is significant as Chase Elliott’s father, Bill, raced that number in the Cup series. NASCAR Hall of Fame member, Bill Elliott scored 38 Cup wins and the 1988 series championship with the number. His son, a native of Dawsonville, Georgia, raced the No. 9 to the 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series title.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the ‘9’ again,” said Chase Elliott, 21, who is currently in his second season driving the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Georgia), and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the racetrack. There’s a legacy attached to that number, and I want to carry it on. I think it’s awesome that Hendrick Motorsports and NAPA wanted to do this. It’s impossible not to be excited.”
Byron was signed as a replacement for Kasey Kahne, who will leave the team after a five-year tenure. Byron will begin his 2018 rookie season at the same age Gordon was (20) when he made his Cup debut in 1992.
“Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from,” said Byron, 19, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and signed with Hendrick Motorsports in August 2016. “I didn’t think I could be more motivated, but when Mr. (Rick) Hendrick called to tell me (about driving the No. 24), it took things to another level. I have so much respect for all the people who have contributed to the success of the ‘24.’ I know it’s rare to have the chance to be part of something like this. I’m going to make the most of it.”
Next season, Elliott and Byron will join the No. 48 of seven-time Cup champion Johnson, 41, and the No. 88 of 24-year-old newcomer Alex Bowman in the Hendrick Motorsports stable.
“I know what the ‘9’ means to Chase and his whole family,” said Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “They’ve contributed so much to our sport, and I’m happy we can honor that history by bringing the number back. I think fans will really love seeing it out there. I told Chase we’d only do it if he promised to win a bunch of races, so I’m going to hold him to that.
“The ‘fit factor’ is something I’ve always believed in, and that’s what I see with William and our organization. He reminds me a lot of Jeff at that age with regard to being a special talent and having a great head on his shoulders. But William is also his own person with his own career ahead of him. It’s going to be fun to watch him jump in the ‘24’ and show what he’s capable of.”
The debut of the No. 9 will mark the first time in nearly a decade that Hendrick Motorsports will field a new car number for one of its full-time teams. The most recent addition was the No. 88, which was added in 2008 when driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the organization.
“I’m excited about the future,” Hendrick said. “We’ve made some management decisions recently that I feel really good about. Looking at next year, Jimmie will continue to be a leader and help set the tone. Alex is chomping at the bit and ready to go. When you add the (new) Chevrolet Camaro race car into the mix, it’ll definitely be a new look for us. Everyone’s energized.”
Hendrick Motorsports said that following this season the team will withdraw its No. 5 car number from competition. It was the organization’s first car number and has run full-time since the team was founded in 1984. The No. 5 was raced to Hendrick Motorsports’ first victory at Martinsville Speedway during its inaugural season; Labonte drove it to a Cup Series championship in 1996.
“That was by far the hardest part (of the car number decisions),” Hendrick said. “The ‘5’ means so much to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports and to a lot of our fans. The memories and the history will always be there, and I won’t rule out bringing it back some day. Never say never.”