Similar to how Jeff Gordon and seven-time Cup Series champion Richard Petty became forever intertwined as the former began his premier series career in the latter’s final race in 1992 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott and Gordon will be linked in perpetuity.
Gordon, the four-time champ, hung up the fire suit after “going to Homestead” to complete a Hall of Fame career (minus a brief stint filling in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. the next year). He then handed off the proverbial keys to a fresh-faced 20-year-old Xfinity Series champion with a famous last name, allowing Elliott to become the first full-time driver of the 24 car since Gordon grabbed the wheel in ’92 — three years prior to Elliot’s birth.
Arguably the most famous driver in arguably the most famous car for the majority of his career, Gordon guided Elliott through the transition phase while shifting gears to pick up a microphone in the NASCAR on FOX booth.
Though Elliott was winless his rookie and sophomore years, now with three Most Popular Driver awards and a Cup championship in the trophy case, it’s safe to say Gordon mentored his young ward successfully.
“I feel like Jeff’s kind of always had that about him and he’s always just been helpful to me,” Elliott said. “I feel like the most engagement and the largest interactions that I’ve had with him have been just car-related, especially when I first came in. Obviously, he was stepping away and I was stepping in. There was a transition period he really helped me through. I was going to work with a team that he had a lot of experience with and working with, around. Guys he wanted and helped kind of assemble.
“I feel like that transition, when I look at how he helped me through that, it was very professional.”
Things are about to get even more professional, as Gordon will shift from the broadcast booth to his upcoming 2022 role as vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports.
For a team that’s already setting the world on fire with a series-best nine race victories in the season’s first 19 races on top of housing the defending champ and current 2021 title favorite, what could having the 2019 Hall of Famer in-house possibly add to the dynamic?
Quite a bit, actually.
“He has a good feel and a good mindset for all the things that it takes to make racing and make a race team work,” said Elliott, favorite to win Sunday’s Cup return to Road America (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). “He has fought the battles on the driver’s side, on and off the race track, and he has a good understanding of the business aspect of it, the NASCAR aspect of it and just how all these puzzle pieces that come together to make it work.”
Above all else, however, is one thing. Gordon is already a big part of what keeps the Hendrick machine humming. And happy.
“I would say one of his biggest strengths is understanding all the different areas of how it works and how to make everybody as happy as they can (be),” Elliott said. “I feel like he has a really good understanding of how to do that.”