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Chase Elliott opens up on challenge of moving to Sprint Cup in 2016


during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 16, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Todd Warshaw

Chase Elliott has spent the better part of 2015 saying how focused he is on repeating as Xfinity Series champion, while downplaying his ascension to race in the Sprint Cup Series in 2016.

And that’s very true: Elliott is ranked second in the Xfinity standings, 27 points behind series leader Chris Buescher.

But during an open NASCAR Sprint Cup test session Thursday at his home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Elliott opened up on the challenge ahead next season when he replaces Jeff Gordon behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“I’m definitely excited,” Elliott said during a break in the test. “I don’t think it’s all set in just yet. I’m really looking forward to next season.

“The more days we spend doing tests like this, I think the more it starts to set in for me that the next time we come to this track will be next year and in the 24 car and we’ll be racing full-time in Sprint Cup.

“All those things are things I’ve dreamed about doing for a long time, so I’m definitely very excited and honored to have the opportunity to come race at a race track like this and on a circuit like the Sprint Cup Series. I’m just trying to make the best of the great opportunity that’s in front of me.”

While Elliott has a strong racing pedigree, being the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, he’s also prepared for a learning curve when he moves to NASCAR’s premier series.

“I know, going into that 24 car next year, I’m going to be by far the weakest link in the chain, I know that for a fact going in,” he said. “I know that’s a good group and if I could step up and do my job, there’s no reason to not be able to go compete for a win and that would be great. But I just have a long ways to go personally to get to that point right now.”

Elliott, who turns 20 on Nov. 28, will be one of the youngest drivers in Sprint Cup next season. He already is formulating strategy and setting goals for how he hopes his rookie Cup campaign will go.

At the same time, he knows he has a great deal to improve upon, calling himself out for some of the finishes he’s had in five Cup races this season, including 38th at Martinsville in the spring, and 41st at Darlington on Labor Day weekend.

“Regardless of how it goes, you’re going to show up with goals and try to achieve them, regardless of how the year goes for you or how you start off,” Elliott said. “So, yeah, I have goals I’d like to achieve.

“I think the first I’d like to achieve is to get better. The first five races we had this year were not by any means where I wanted to be because I didn’t feel like I did a very good job at all, to be honest with you.

“I felt I did very poorly in the Cup races I ran in this year. I thought the Cup cars were fine, I didn’t have any issues with that. At times, our cars drove good and there wasn’t a lack of lack of effort or execution from our team. I just did poorly and that’s something I need to do better on.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski