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Elliott wins Nationwide championship
Makes history with most popular driver award, rookie of the year honors
1 Elliott at Homestead pic1
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, receives the NASCAR Nationwide series championship trophy following the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, in Homestead, Florida on Saturday. - photo by Vincent DeVries Dawson Community News

Nationwide champion. Rookie of the year. Most popular driver.

The list goes on and on for Dawsonville's Chase Elliott, who in his first year of contention, clinched the NASCAR Nationwide Series a week before the season ended.

He celebrated the victory Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he received the 2014 trophy and at 18, made history as the youngest champion in any national series.

"It's just been a very, very fun road," he said following Saturday's season-ending race in Miami.

While it's his name on the trophy, the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet said he could not take the credit alone.

"I feel very fortunate. I feel like all these people along the way have made me look a heck of a lot better than I really am, and they're the reason we're up there tonight," he said.

"It's been an honor to work with these guys, and not just this year, but all along the way. It's been fun."

Elliott finished the season with a 42 point lead over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith in second place.

After running near the front of the field for much of the race, he fell to 17th position following a brush with the wall and cutting a tire with 10 laps to go.

He dropped to 28th but was able to recoup 11 positions to 17th with a couple of late race restarts.

Hoping to end the season that already included a championship with a win, Elliott admitted his disappointment.

"Lack of a driver was the biggest thing that happened there. It was my fault for sure. We could have come home with a top five, maybe a top four," he said.

But the disappointment didn't last too long.

On Monday, he was officially named the Nationwide Rookie of the Year, just hours before learning at a banquet that night that he was also voted by the fans as the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver.

No other driver in NASCAR history has won the championship, rookie of the year honors and most popular driver in the same year.

"This is really cool," he said after accepting the award. "I got to do this in the K&N Series. To know you have the support of a lot of great fans across the United States when you do as much racing as we have this season, it's been really, really cool to see that at home and on the road, as far away as California.

"Just thanks to everybody who made it possible."

His legendary father 1988 Sprint Cup Champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott received the award 16 times, more than any other driver since the award was created in 1956.

Looking back on the history-making season, which included wins at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland, as well as 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, Chase Elliott said he took the week between Phoenix, where he clinched the title, and Homestead-Miami to reflect.

"I really didn't know if we were going to be racing full time this year or not," he said.

It wasn't until January that officials announced he would run for JR Motorsports, the professional race team and management firm of Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Atlanta-based NAPA Auto Parts as his primary sponsor.

Despite the winning in his inaugural year in the series, he knows there's plenty to work in the off season in preparation for the 2015

"Winning more races and not letting the same people beat you every week I think is the biggest thing. I see things I can improve on personally and stepping up and not letting people out-drive you every week because I feel like that's happened a lot this year," he said.

He'll have to do that without Crew Chief Greg Ives, who is moving on to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup team.

"I think Greg is very deserving of the opportunity, and I think anybody that is wondering about the change, I think they're going to be pleasantly surprised by the results," Elliott said.