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Elliott clinches the title
First rookie to win any national series
2 Chase wins pic
Chase Elliott celebrates with car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. - photo by For the Dawson Community News

Dawsonville's legacy of producing NASCAR champions continued Saturday when Chase Elliott clinched the 2014 Nationwide Series title with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix International Speedway.

"I'm in disbelief. I don't even know what to think. I don't even know how to feel," he said. "I didn't know if it was OK if I did a burnout or not, so I did one anyway, because I was too excited not to.

"It's very, very cool. This has been just a heck of a year."

The 18-year-old Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, is the youngest NASCAR champion in history and the first rookie to win in any national series. He clinched the crown with a week remaining in the season.

"This truly has been a dream come true for me to be competing this season," he said. "Actually, this race a year ago, we had no plans of racing Nationwide this season, and really was uncertain of what our future would be."

It wasn't until January that officials announced Elliott would compete full time in the series for JR Motorsports, the professional race team and management firm of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Atlanta-based NAPA Auto Parts is his primary sponsor.

"They're really the reason we're here," Elliott said. "They came on board and committed big to a full season and that takes a lot from a sponsor. They really stepped up and made it all possible. We were able to have a good season, and it's not over."

With wins at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland, as well as 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, Elliott holds an insurmountable 58-point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith going into the final race Saturday at Homestead-Miami.

But instead of resting on his laurels, the young champ hopes to increase the lead with another win. He also wants to gain more experience in preparation for next year, when he'll possibly compete in a few Sprint Cup races while continuing to drive full time in the Nationwide Series.

"I don't know what tomorrow brings, so I have no idea what the future has in store for myself or my team," he said. "I just need to make the most of what's going on right now and let it figure itself out.

"We're looking forward to Homestead first and foremost and next season when it rolls around."

His father, Bill Elliott, the 1988 Winston Cup champion, said he couldn't be more proud of his son's accomplishment.

"To come into this season and have the incredible year this kid had, it's been totally beyond belief," he said.

Mother Cindy Elliott was without words after the race.

"For his dreams to come true today, it's indescribable," she said holding back the tears.

Fans and friends also couldn't hold back the excitement for Chase Elliott's championship title.

"I can't be any prouder," said Gordon Pirkle, president of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame and owner of the world-famous Pool Room, where a siren sounded throughout Dawsonville on Saturday night to celebrate the victorious season.

"I felt that he was going to win it all along, and this is a big bonus with him winning early so he can go down to Miami and win one more race."

Mayor James Grogan said he loves to see Dawsonville in the "winner's circle."

"They are the duo from Dawsonville, Chase and Bill," he said. "Chase won the Nationwide series and Bill being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The timing couldn't have been better."