Hendrick Motorsports have announced that they will be changing the race numbers of two of their drivers in next year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The team announced that the incoming William Byron will race the #24 instead of the originally planned #5, with Chase Elliott switching from the #24 to the #9.
The team broke the news on their various social media platforms with the video, viewable below, which highlighted each of the four ‘historic’ car numbers that they will field in next year’s Cup Series; with Byron’s #24 and Elliott’s #9 joining the #48 of Jimmie Johnson and the #88 of Alex Bowman.
The decision to make the change came fairly recently, with team boss Rick Hendrick revealing the plans to Byron this past weekend. Byron, who will begin his NASCAR Cup Series career driving the iconic #24, is fully aware of the history made by Jeff Gordon with that number:
“Jeff and Jimmie (Johnson) are the drivers I’ve always watched most closely and tried to learn from,” said Byron in a Hendrick Motorsport statement, “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 ‘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.”
Perhaps the more surprising side of the announcement was the news that Chase Elliot will be driving the #9 for Hendrick Motorsports and that the #5 would be absent from the squad. The #5 was the first car that Hendrick Motorsports entered into the NASCAR Cup Series way back in 1984 and has been a permanent feature since. Geoff Bodine gave the team their first victory at Martinsville that season, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the #5 won a championship in the hands of Terry Labonte.
“That was by far the hardest part (of the car number decisions),” said team boss Rick Hendrick. “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.”
Chase Elliott’s switch to the #9 may be unexpected, but it doesn’t come without reason. The #9 is deeply rooted in the Elliott family having belonged to Chase’s father, Bill Elliott when he took thirty-eight of his forty-four NASCAR Cup Series victories, as well as his 1988 championship. Chase then took hold of the famous number when he competed in the NASCAR XFINITY Series; resulting in Chase winning the 2014 championship before moving to the #24 when he made his Cup Series debut in 2016.
“I wasn’t sure I’d ever drive the ‘9’ again,” said Chase, who is currently competing in his sophomore season in the NASCAR Cup Series, “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.”
It was also announced today that the respective pit-crews for Elliott and Byron would remain with each driver. The current #24 team, led by Alan Gustafson, will remain with Elliott in the #9, with the current #5 crew that run with Kasey Kahne switching to the #24 with Byron from next season onwards under the leadership of Keith Rodden.
The debut for both drivers with their new numbers will be during the 2018 Daytona Speedweeks in February. William Byron will be hoping to get his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career off to a great start in the #24, whilst Chase Elliott will be chasing a third straight Daytona 500 pole position; this time in the #9 Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro.