By Jared Turner
Rick Hendrick is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame for many reasons. Following are just three.
He’s arguably the most successful team owner in the history of the sport. He has a special knack for finding and hiring great talent. And he holds a deep appreciation for NASCAR history that goes far beyond just his own organization — Hendrick Motorsports.
It’s this deep-rooted appreciation and his personal affection for second-year Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott that led Hendrick to recently announce plans to change Elliott’s car number from “24” to “9” for the 2018 season.
While Elliott has enjoyed his two seasons with the number made famous at Hendrick Motorsports by Jeff Gordon, the second-generation driver has a maintained a deeper, more personal connection with the “9,” which is the number his father, Bill, carried to the 1988 Winston Cup championship and some of his most treasured victories — including the 1985 and 1987 Daytona 500. Chase competed with the number during both of his seasons in the XFINITY Series, winning a championship in the first one and finishing as championship runner-up in the second.
The bottom line? It makes all the sense in the world why Hendrick made the decision to allow Chase to return to the No. 9 and put newcomer William Byron in the No. 24. But not every team owner would have have done this. Hendrick, however, is the kind of boss who sees his drivers more like sons than employees.
Now, Elliott will likely spend the rest of his career with the car number that as a kid he dreamed of racing with and winning with. On social media, fans have already voiced their approval of the number change — which only will help the sport get in touch with its past. And they have Hendrick to thank for it.