It’s no secret that plans have current NASCAR Nationwide series rookie and championship points leader Chase Elliott in a full-time Sprint Cup ride associated with Hendrick Motorsports in 2016. The possible soon-to-be Nationwide champion is expected to run a second full season in the Nationwide Series next year, along with a spattering of Sprint Cup starts with the plans to go full-bore, full-time Sprint Cup racing the year after that.
A Sprint Cup Series ride with a continued relationship with Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t necessarily mean a Sprint Cup ride with Hendrick Motorsports, specifically. That Cup ride could be with a team associated with HMS. Stewart-Haas Racing, perhaps? Thing is, both Hendrick and Stewart-Haas are already at full capacity with four full-time Sprint Cup teams apiece.
At this point in time, if the future ride for Elliott isn’t specifically with HMS, the other logical locale would be SHR, but how would that work? Where is there room for Elliott? Or maybe the question should be what current driver at one of those organizations would be out?
The most cut-and-dry answer would be retirement for Gordon after 2015. He has said recently that his back just isn’t what it used to be. Remember, he missed some practice time and had a back-up driver in place on race day earlier than needed. The whole Gordon retirement conversation seems to flip-flop back and forth. Earlier this season, Gordon hinted at possible retirement after winning another title (which would be his fifth). I have to say, 2014 is looking like a distinct possiblity for that. Later, Gordon kind of, sort of took that retirement statement back as a statement that shouldn’t have been taken so seriously. Then he’s talked about his back not being what it used to be and that his back would probably never be 100 percent all the time again. Was that a descrete hint that retirement may be looming, like at the end of the 2015 season? It’s possible, I guess.
On to Jimmie Johnson. Seriously, do you really see him going anywhere? The guy’s won six championships in a rather short span of time, five of those being consecutive and all coming with Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chase Knaus. Johnson’s definitely going anywhere.
What about Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He’s like an HMS cash cow if there ever was one. Okay, maybe it’s not nice to call someone a cow, but you catch my drift. He’s the sport’s most popular driver. Yes, Rick Hendrick wants to win, but racing is a business and the point of business is to make money. Besides, Earnhardt and Hendrick go way back. I don’t see that relationship ending anytime soon. Also, Earnhardt’s experiencing a career resurgence. Heck, he has three wins this year and looks to be one of the top championship candidates as the Chase for the Sprint Cup draws near.
Let’s skip over Kasey Kahne for a minute and head on over to Stewart-Haas Racing.
There’s Tony Stewart. He’s co-owner of the team, so he’s not going anywhere. That leaves us with Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Harvick’s been the brightest star over at SHR, from a racing standpoint, and this is his first year with the team. And isn’t he close friends with co-owner Stewart?
Danica is to Stewart-Haas what Earnhardt is to Hendrick, to a point — the team cash cow minus the race wins. Okay, there’s that cash cow term again. Patrick attracts mainstream attention that probably funnels money in through memorabilia sales, and given her mainstream appeal, I’m guessing she’d probably one of the easiest drivers for which to secure sponsorship.
That leaves Kahne at HMS and Busch over at SHR. Could one of those guys be ousted at the end of 2015 to make room for Elliott?
Earlier this season, the frontrunner for replacement was Kahne. But Kahne finally claimed his first win of the season and now finds himself Chase bound. Busch also is on his way to the Chase with a single win.
Okay, I admit, it’s way too premature to pick a driver for Elliott to replace. After all, the 2014 Chase hasn’t event started, and there’s still 2015 to consider. Kahne or Busch could go on some kind of tear once the Chase gets underway and win the 2014 Sprint Cup. Or it could happen next year. In 2015, what’s to say that one of the other aforementioned drivers won’t fall flat on his/her face or do something totally stupid that could be ride-costing?
This one’s too early to call, but when the day does come for Elliott, who’s going to be the odd man (or woman) out? Things that make you go hhhmmmm.
– Photo of Chase Elliott (left) and Dylan Kwasniewski courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
Talk to us on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (Facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner.