CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Budding star Chase Elliott has landed a full-time NASCAR ride for 2014 with JR Motorsports, with surprise sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts.
Elliott, the son of 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott, will race for the Nationwide Series title at JRM driving the No. 9 Chevrolet in a nod to his father's longtime number.
The ride became possible when NAPA reversed its decision to leave NASCAR following the scandal surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing's attempt to manipulate a September race to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
NAPA issued a harsh rebuke of MWR and ended its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Truex one year into a three-year contract extension with MWR. That cost Truex his ride at MWR and forced the organization to lay off about a third of its workforce.
But the Atlanta-based company had a change of heart, deciding to return for a 19th season in NASCAR to back the up-and-coming Elliott. The Elliotts are from Dawsonville, Georgia, roughly an hour from NAPA headquarters, and Chase didn't become eligible to compete full-time in NASCAR until he turned 18 at the end of November.
"NAPA is pleased to continue its long standing involvement in NASCAR, the most popular form of motorsports in the United States supported by its many loyal and passionate fans," said Dan Askey, president of NAPA. "Chase Elliott is a young and talented, future star in the sport and will represent NAPA well both on and off the track."
NAPA representatives declined interviews.
Elliott will make his Nationwide debut at the Feb. 22 season opening race at Daytona. He will report for testing this weekend and be paired with crew chief Greg Ives, who led Regan Smith to a pair of wins and a third-place finish in the standings at JRM last season.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me, a chance to make a career of this," Elliott said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I couldn't ask for anything more than a chance with JR Motorsports, the backing of Rick Hendrick, and the support of NAPA. I think to have that connection with NAPA is really, really neat. The headquarters is not far from our house, and to me, that goes a lot further than you think. For both of us to come from Georgia, my home state, is special."
Elliott has been in the Hendrick Motorsports development program since 2011, when he was a freshman in high school. His first NASCAR K&N Series win was at Iowa in 2012, and he became the youngest superspeedway winner in ARCA history at Pocono last June. He then won in the Truck Series in only his sixth start when he won at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in September.
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