NASCAR: Elliott making Cup debut

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Of all the places Hendrick Motorsports could have picked for Chase Elliott’s first Sprint Cup Series race, the organization landed on historic Martinsville Speedway.

The Virginia race track has hosted so much Hendrick success — the organization has 22 Cup wins at Martinsville — but is also a place of tremendous tragedy: In 2004, a Hendrick plane crashed en route to the track, killing all 10 on board.

The history of Martinsville and the place it holds in Hendrick lore is not lost on Elliott, who will turn his first real laps in a Cup car Friday. The 19-year-old will have to qualify on speed to make Sunday’s race.

“The Hendrick history at Martinsville, that’s something that will never be forgotten,” Elliott said. “That’s such a special place for HMS, they’ve had a lot of success there, and it’s a place that everyone always wants to step up and do well at, and they certainly have done that as an organization, no matter who is driving.”

Elliott will drive the No. 25 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Hendrick. It’s the first of five races he has scheduled this season as he prepares to transition from reigning Xfinity Series champion to the replacement driver for four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. Elliott in January was picked to replace Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet when Gordon retires at the end of this season.

The Hendrick affinity for Martinsville aside, on paper the track might seem a curious choice for Elliott’s first Cup event.

He has very little experience at the track — just two Truck Series races in 2013 — and the odd paper-clip layout with its long straightaways and flat, narrow turns makes it a challenge for drivers.

Elliott isn’t sure how his schedule was set by the Hendrick braintrust, but isn’t complaining. He always enjoyed watching races at Martinsville, and at just .526 of a mile, the length suits him.

“I kind of look at it as it’s just a short track,” said Elliott, who prepared for NASCAR racing short tracks across the Southeast.

“I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of short-track racing over the last several years, and that place definitely has its differences from a lot of short tracks I raced in Florida and Georgia and North Carolina and Alabama. But at the same time, you are still short-track racing … you don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You still want to race with the same goals, and you are still going to be looking for the same things. The key is going to be to try to marry the excitement of the weekend and your first Cup attempt with the fact that you are still going short-track racing. That’s going to be important.”