Murto: Elliott lands with NAPA

It was announced this week that driver Chase Elliott will compete full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports starting in 2014, and do so with NAPA Auto Parts as his full-season primary sponsor.

It makes sense since NAPA and Elliott both are based in Georgia. But with the long-term relationship NAPA had with Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR), it seemed Chase would have to seek other sponsorship. It was thought that Aaron’s would sponsor Elliott, but they’re staying with MWR in 2014.

Of course, when MWR was accused of manipulating the finish of the race at Richmond, NAPA had an out. After the “spingate” controversy in which MWR was accused of intentionally drawing a caution and bringing a car into the pits to affect the running order, they used all the usual corporate excuses about protecting their reputation, etc., and said they didn’t know what their future in racing would be.

I’m sure they knew. I also find it interesting that they obviously overlooked the fact that Chase got thrown out of the Snowball Derby in December for cheating.

With Elliott as its driver, the 2014 season will mark NAPA’s 19th in NASCAR sponsorship, according to a statement released by JR Motorsports. NAPA (National Automotive Parts Association) has more than 6,000 stores nationwide, and is headquartered in Atlanta, just a short distance from Elliott’s hometown of Dawsonville.

Elliott will carry the No. 9 on his NAPA Chevrolet — the same number his father, legendary racer Bill Elliott, carried for much of his career that included the 1988 Sprint Cup Series championship. The 2014 season will mark the younger Elliott’s Nationwide Series debut. He turned 18 on Nov. 28, becoming eligible for competition.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Chase Elliott said. “My family and I are still trying to believe it all. I couldn’t ask to be partnered with anyone better than Dale Jr., Kelley and Mr. Hendrick, along with all of the people at their organizations who have put in countless hours to pull this together.

“Working with NAPA will be an honor. They’ve had a tremendous impact in NASCAR, and I’m proud to represent their brand, on and off the track, to race fans. I’m extremely pumped to get to work in 2014 with that first trip to Daytona and make the most of this opportunity.”

The news release goes on to say, “Elliott’s ascent through Super Late Models and other national touring divisions is decorated with wins and accolades.” But his career in Super Late Models is also tarnished with numerous incidents of creative interpretation of the rules. Still, the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame named Elliott its 2013 Driver of the Year after winning the All-American 400 in Nashville.

Elliott was signed by Hendrick Motorsports owner and JR Motorsports partner Rick Hendrick in 2011, but all of the rules infractions occurred in cars fielded by Bill Elliott.

Despite some sketchiness in the Late Model ranks, Elliott demonstrated talent. He scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series win at Iowa Speedway on May 19, 2012, and became the youngest superspeedway winner in ARCA at Pocono Raceway on June 8, 2013. He aggressively dumped Ty Dillon to win his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in only his sixth start on Sept. 1, 2013, at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

“Chase has been extremely successful, and I think the Nationwide Series is only a short step for him,” said JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his team’s release. “With the infrastructure we have at JR Motorsports and our close-working partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, we have every opportunity to continue Chase’s development as a driver while contending for a championship. He’s that good.”

NAPA landed in a high-profile position; what they must have wanted all along. Now we know why they jumped off the MWR ship when they had the chance.

“The key in this is NAPA, and I feel privileged to welcome them to my race team after working with them so extensively earlier in my career,” Earnhardt continued. “I recognize — and I think Chase does, too — the responsibility that comes with representing a company so significant in the lives of NASCAR fans. We welcome the opportunity and appreciate what NAPA means to this sport.”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.