One adjective dominates when racing fans talk about NASCAR driver Chase Elliott: unbelievable.
And rightly so.
History was made Saturday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway when Elliott captured the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, becoming the youngest title-holder in series history when he crossed the finish line.
Elliott, 18, entered the event 48 points ahead of his JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith and only needed to maintain that advantage to clinch the championship at the end of the penultimate race of the season only one race remains, the DAV 200 Honoring American Veterans at PIR.
By posting a fifth-place on Saturday compared to Smiths 10th place Elliott was able to seal the deal, celebrating in the desert with one race still remaining, next Saturday night at Homestead Miami Speedway.
The newly-crowned titlist is the son of the 1988 Sprint Cup Series champion, Bill Elliott. As a result, he becomes the youngest half of the fourth father-and-son duo to win a NASCAR national touring championship, joining Ned and Dale Jarrett, Lee and Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The younger Elliott had continually dismissed questions about the championship during the summer stretch, opting to place his focus on each individual race. He has said throughout the season that he was not thinking about the title and was literally speechless about the accomplishment upon first stepping out of his Chevrolet Camaro as champion.
Upon finding the words to say, he humbly chose to thank his team and family for making the opportunity in NASCAR possible.
Ive never been a part of anything like this, Elliott said. Just to have the opportunity to work with the group of guys I have this year its just been a blessing. Honestly, I dont know what to think right now, and I dont even know how to feel.
Elliott performed a burnout on the frontstretch alongside race winner Brad Keselowski in the aftermath of the race and wasnt even sure if that was allowed. He admitted that he simply got lost in the moment.
I was pumped, Elliott said. This is very, very cool. I want to give a big thanks to NAPA Auto Parts, Chevrolet and Hendrick Engines all of our partners at JRM. Its been an amazing year. Id like to win another race, next week at Homestead, and were going to give that our best shot, too.
I really appreciate (Smith) and the way hes raced me this season what a classy guy and teammate. Its been a lot of fun racing them this year.
The fact that Elliott and his No. 9 team were able to win the championship this season was remarkable on several fronts. First and foremost is the fact that entering the season, Elliott was an 18-year-old rookie with no experience whatsoever on tracks a mile-and-a-half or longer.
More fascinating is that Elliott wasnt even sure he would have a full-time ride until January, having only secured the NAPA funding in the closing weeks of the off-season. As a result, the older Elliott said 2014 has exceeded his wildest expectations.
For us, it was a miracle to have anything, he said. It is beyond belief that this kid has come into this season and had this kind of incredible success.
Bill Elliott said he hopes his son can remain humble and focused as he gets ever closer to making his full-time debut in the Sprint Cup Series, something he believes is a realistic expectation given the maturity he has displayed during his rookie campaign in Nationwide.
He is a very smart driver and individual and he really knows what he wants out of a race car, he added. I think thats 90 percent of the game. If he can keep going that direction, hell be as good as they get.
Thats exactly what future team owner Rick Hendrick is banking on.
While Elliott raced for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season in Nationwide, Hendrick Motorsports controls the long-term future of the second-generation superstar. There has been some speculation that Hendrick may consider promoting Elliott to Cup next season but the veteran car owner swiftly shot those rumors down on Saturday after the race.
Elliott may make a few one-off starts next season but he likely will not go full-time in Sprint Cup until 2016 at the earliest.
I think we have another year here (in Nationwide) so well see, Hendrick said.
Georgia Racing Hall of Fame President, Gordon Pirkle, agrees.
I hope he stays where he is for two years because when he starts the Cup, Pirkle said, I want him to do what he did in Nationwide, win rookie of the year and the championship his first year.
Regardless of when he makes his debut, Hendrick seems to believe he has a special talent and may have the successor to champions Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson already in his development stable.
Hes unbelievable, Hendrick said. Cindy (Elliott, Chases mom) and I were just talking about it a year ago, this time, we were trying to figure out what we were going to do to get him in a (Nationwide) Series ride. Im just so grateful that NAPA came along to JR Motorsports and we were able to put it all together.
Man, what a young man. What a great racer he is and its really neat to be a part of history.
Editor Kimberly Boim contributed to this report.