For newly crowned Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott, Saturday afternoon was a throwback to an earlier point of his career where getting to Victory Lane was the only thing that mattered at the end of the day.
Having wrapped up the NNS championship one week earlier at Phoenix International Raceway, Elliott was able to return to his roots and simply focus on winning a race rather than accumulating points in order to protect a relatively stable advantage as he had been tasked to do over the past two months.
The pressure-free environment, however, resulted in one of the more frustrating finishes of the season as Elliott hit the wall in the closing laps of the race and finished his championship campaign with a 17th-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
On the other hand, Elliott did not celebrate his championship at Phoenix and saved the festivities and pageantry for Homestead. The 18-year-old wunderkind is the first rookie to win a NASCAR national touring series championship and is also the youngest Nationwide Series champion in the storied history of that tour.
Elliott turns 19 next week.
The event signified the final time that Elliott would compete under crew chief Greg Ives, who will soon depart for Hendrick Motorsports to guide the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 Sprint Cup team. Ives took part of the blame for Elliott ending up the wall, praising his driver for his driving despite the lost track position he gave him throughout the afternoon.
We had a solid night, Ives said. We didnt finish where we wanted to. When Chase gets back to outside the top-20 like I put him on those pit stops, it presents an opportunity for him to grow and to learn
Like I said, I couldnt be more proud of what he was able to do tonight, driving it back to contending for a top-5, and he gave it all he had.
Elliott took responsibility, saying that the driver was the biggest cause of the incident and praised Ives for his work over the past 11 months. He will remain in the Nationwide Series next season and will work with veteran crew chief Ernie Cope. Despite winning the championship, Elliott still believes he has much to learn over the next few years, especially in regards to the rest of the competition.
Were going to focus on winning more races and not letting the same people beat you every week, Elliott said. I think that is the biggest thing -- keeping it about as simple as possible and I think that is about as simple as it can get.
I see things I can improve on personally and stepping up and not letting people out-drive you every week because I feel like thats happened a lot this year. Id like to minimize those weekends.