Chase Elliott will have a new number for 2018. Likewise, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Hendrick Motorsports newcomer William Byron will see a change in plans for his own number.
Instead of the #24 and #5, Elliott and Byron will be driving the #9 and #24, respectively. The switch was announced Tuesday afternoon.
Elliott drove the #9 during his NASCAR Xfinity (then Nationwide) Series championship run in 2014. The number was also used by Elliott’s father Bill for much of his Cup Series career, winning 38 of his 44 career Cup races in a #9 car across two teams (Melling Racing and Evernham Motorsports), along with the 1988 Cup championship. During his early career, Chase also raced with #9 in the ARCA Racing Series, K&N Pro Series East and the CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series. JR Motorsports introduced the #9 for the 18-year-old Dawsonville native in 2014, during which he became the first rookie to win a NASCAR national series championship. He backed it up with a 2nd-place finish in the 2015 Xfinity points battle, finishing behind Chris Buescher.
He ran five Cup Series races in 2015 before moving up to the Cup Series in 2016, where he succeeded four-time champion Jeff Gordon in Hendrick’s #24. Although he has yet to win a race, he has three pole positions (including two at the Daytona 500) across 66 career races. He currently sits 7th in the points standings, higher than all three of his Hendrick teammates (though he is 14th in the playoff standings). NAPA Auto Parts, who has sponsored Elliott since 2014, will follow him to the #9.
“I know what the 9 means to Chase and his whole family,” Rick Hendrick stated. “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.”
“This is something I’m really excited about,” Elliott said in a Twitter video. “This number is really, really special to me and my family and a number that I have been running for a long, long time, a number I started racing go-karts with, because my dad ran it over the years.”
“This number means a lot to me. I’m excited to get back in it and hopefully make all the folks that have made it what it is today over the years – not only my family, but all the people that have been involved with that number over the years – proud.”
The #9 was last used by Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, driven by Sam Hornish Jr., and was a remnant of the Evernham Motorsports operation, which merged with RPM in 2010. After Bill Elliott’s retirement, current HMS driver Kasey Kahne, RPM’s Aric Almirola (now in the #43) and retired V8 Supercar champion Marcos Ambrose drove the #9. RPM rebranded the #9 as the #44 in 2016, leaving the number slot empty for the season. In 2015, Petty admitted the number was not of much sentimental value to him (as a former Evernham number) and stated if Elliott wanted it “next year, though, that’s fine with us.” Elliott took over the #24 as expected, though for just two seasons before finally switching to #9 in 2018.
With the new number, it marks the first time since 2008 that Hendrick has added a new number to the stable. That year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the HMS’ #25 team, which was subsequently renumbered to #88.
Byron, who took over the #9 JRM car in 2017, has established himself as one of NASCAR’s rising stars. With three wins so far, the 2016 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year currently sits 2nd in the championship battle. As he moves up to the #24 in 2018, he will share a certain trait with Gordon: both were 20 years old when they made their Cup debuts in the #24. Prior to Gordon joining HMS, the number had never won a Cup race; since then, #24 has visited Victory Lane 93 times, while also bearing witness to four championships.
“Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from,” Byron commented. “I didn’t think I could be more motivated, but when Mr. Hendrick called to tell me, 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.”
20 days earlier, Byron had been announced as the replacement for Kahne in the #5 car for 2018. With the number change, the teams will see adjustments: the #24 will become the #9 team, while the #5 becomes the #24. Liberty University, which Byron currently attends and has been sponsored by since he began racing, will join him at the #24.
The #5 has been a staple of Hendrick Motorsports since its debut in 1984 with Geoff Bodine, who also won the team’s first race at Martinsville that year. In the years since, it has seen the likes of Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears and Mark Martin, combining for a total of 24 wins and a championship courtesy of Labonte in 1996.
“That was by far the hardest part,” Hendrick commented. “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.”
With the number change and the addition of Alex Bowman to replace the retiring Earnhardt in the #88 car, Hendrick Motorsports will enter a new era. Of the four drivers in 2018, only seven-time champion Johnson is over the age of 40, while Byron (20), Elliott (21) and Bowman (24) will mark a youth movement for the team.
“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.”
Featured image by Matt Sullivan (Getty Images) and NAPA Racing