I am a big fan of a musician from Camden, S.C., named Patrick Davis. He wrote a song called Numbers a few years back that Jason Michael Carroll recorded. While not my favorite song Davis has done, it was pretty good. As the name would lead you to believe, the song is about the significance of numbers in our lives.
We saw some moves this week around the significance of numbers in NASCAR with Hendrick Motor Sports. It was announced that Chase Elliott would be moving from the No. 24 to the No. 9 and rookie William Byron will be moving to the No. 24 in 2018. Of course, Chase’s dad Bill made his career in the No. 9 driving for Harry Melling in the 1980s. Before coming to Cup, Chase had been in a car decked out in the No. 9. He did drive the No. 94 in the truck series, which was his dad’s number when he owned his own team in the ’90s and 2000.
Chase said he wasn’t sure if he would ever be in the No. 9 again; the number his dad won 38 of his 44 career races piloting and the 1988 Cup championship.
Ironically, Byron currently runs the No. 9 in the Xfinity Series.
“It’s a huge deal to my family and everyone back home (in Dawsonville, Ga.),” he said, “and I hope all of our fans will be pumped to see it back on the race track. 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 (his primary sponsor for most of the season) wanted to do this. It’s impossible not to be excited.”
Personally, I wish it was a Ford, but that’s just me and liking things to come full circle.
For his part, Byron understands the legacy he is inheriting getting behind the wheel of the No. 24 Jeff Gordon piloted to four Cup championships, 93 wins and 81 poles.
“It’s really special for me just because of how much it means to Hendrick Motorsports and the legacy that Jeff Gordon and everybody on that team left behind,” Byron, 19, said. “It’s a really neat connection for me, something that I will take a lot of pride in running the number and hopefully be able to make my own name with it and be able to keep the legacy alive.”
That legacy word kept coming up in the announcement and it is very apt in this situation and something I hope will resonate with NASCAR fans. For Chase especially, it is honoring NASCAR’s past and his father’s accomplishments from a time NASCAR fans wax nostalgic about. For Byron, his path mirrors that of Gordon’s (not that Chase’s didn’t). There was a meteoric rise through the ranks and hitting Cup at a young age.
But the move to bring the No. 9 into the fold didn’t come without a sacrifice to Hendrick. It means he will be giving up the No. 5, which was his first number when he entered Cup racing in 1984 with Geoff Bodine and won a championship with Terry Labonte in 1996.
“Not running a No. 5 entry was by far the hardest part of the car number decision,” Rick Hendrick said.
But Hendrick went through the same things in 2007 when he stopped fielding the No. 25 in favor of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88. The No. 25 had been his father, Papa Joe Hendrick’s team and he had recently passed away.
The number plastered on the side and roof of a racecar may seem insignificant to most, but they have meaning. They build equity and a following. For me, I’m a fan of the No. 21 no matter who is driving. Now, I am bigger fan of Ryan Blaney than Paul Menard, but I will still pull for them to do well and would be happy to see them in victory lane.
As a fan, I appreciate Hendrick’s recognition of the significance of the numbers and what they mean to the sport. Chase belongs in the No. 9 and it could have an important impact on the sport.
Andy Cagle can be reached at email@example.com.