Two of NASCAR’s young drivers are switching numbers.
For the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron and Chase Elliott will pilot the Nos. 24 and 9, respectively, for Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday, Aug. 29.
That announcement means Byron, who has driven the No. 9 in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series, will drive the No. 24, a number Elliott has assumed since moving to Cup in 2016 to replace Jeff Gordon. Elliott, meanwhile, returns to the No. 9 he drove in his XFINITY days.
The move has some significance, as it means Elliott takes over the number popularized by his father Bill Elliott.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the [No.] 9′ again,” Elliott said in a team release. “It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Georgia), and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the racetrack. There’s a legacy attached to that number, and I want to carry it on. I think it’s awesome that Hendrick Motorsports and NAPA wanted to do this. It’s impossible not to be excited.”
Added Byron, who will become the second rookie to pilot the No. 24 since Gordon’s retirement (a streak that stretches even further since Gordon himself was a rookie when he began driving the number): “Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from. I didn’t think I could be more motivated, but when Mr. (Rick) Hendrick called to tell me (about driving the No. 24), it took things to another level. I have so much respect for all the people who have contributed to the success of the [No.] 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.”
The addition of the No. 9 to the series means Hendrick Motorsports will not field the No. 5 full-time in 2018. The car has been driven by Kasey Kahne, who will be replaced by Byron on the team’s roster for 2018, and was Hendrick’s first car number when the team entered Cup competition in 1984.
“That was by far the hardest part,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “The [No.] 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.”
Despite the number switch, Elliott’s current No. 24 crew will remain with him in 2018, while Kahne’s No. 5 crew will stay with Byron at the No. 24.
The change means only one team, driver and number combination will (currently) remain intact at Hendrick for 2018: Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48. Alex Bowman will pilot the No. 88, taking over for the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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