Dawsonville native Chase Elliott took home his first ever NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Sunday, Nov. 8 after winning the final race of the season at the Phoenix Raceway.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Elliott said to NBC right after the race. “This is unbelievable. We did it. That’s all I gotta tell you. Unreal.”
NASCAR gave Elliott and his number nine team a pre race penalty for two failed car inspections before the beginning of the race. Elliott started in the back of the pack but quickly drove through his opponents, taking the lead for the first time on lap 120.
“It’s 312 laps right?” Elliott said pre race. “I think that’s more than enough time to get back up to the front if your car’s driving right.”
Elliott and his dad Bill Elliott join Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett as the third father-son duo to win Cup Series championships. ‘Awesome Bill from Dawsonville’ won the Winston Cup Series in 1988. All five retired drivers are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
According to Elliott, his father was confident all week that Elliott would be victorious and that all he had to do was “beat three drivers.”
“All you can dream for is an opportunity, and I’ve been very fortunate to have that over the years,” Elliott said. “You know, and that’s all thanks to some great people. You know, my parents obviously have played a huge role.”
Elliott also became the third youngest driver to win a Cup Series Championship, just twenty days before his 25th birthday. He is the youngest to win since Jeff Gordon won his first championship. Oddly enough, Gordon’s retirement opened up the spot at Team Hendricks that Elliott filled.
“This is a moment I’ve dreamed about,” Elliott said. “This is all I’ve wanted to do is be a race car driver and race in NASCAR. To be honest, I’m humbled. I just never would have thought that this year would have gone like it has. NASCAR Cup Series Champion. Are you kidding me?”
Elliott complimented his crew chief Alan Gufstafson, saying he was “very deserving” of being a champion crew chief. Elliott added that he thought his team “took really big strides” from seasons past and that the win was still “unbelievable.”
Despite the penalty pushing Elliott to last place prior to the start of the race, Elliott was up to 10th place by lap 27. Stage 1 lasted 75 laps and by lap 47, Elliott drove in third place and stayed in third to end Stage 1, behind Denny Hamlin and leader at the time, Joey Logano.
Stage 2 started with a battle between Elliott and Hamlin for second place. Elliott conceded for a few moments but completed the pass around Hamlin for second place, passing Logano shortly after on lap 120.
Elliott and Hamlin both drove onto pit road on lap 139. Brad Keselowski, the fourth playoff driver, went to pit road a few laps before Elliott and was in the lead once Elliott drove back onto the course. By lap 146, Elliott took the lead back from Keselowski.
A bold two-tire pit stop by Kurt Busch during a caution on lap 161 put Elliott in second place but he completed the pass for first place before the first lap of the restart finished.
Keselowski crept back up and periodically took the lead from Elliott on lap 173 but Elliott managed to take it back on lap 184. Keselowski passed Elliott on the final lap of Stage 2, putting Elliott in third place.
Elliott beat Keselowski for first place on the restart of the final stage. Elliott held his lead until he went to pit road on lap 260. Logano pitted one lap before him and took the lead for just 10 laps. Elliott passed Logano with 42 laps left in the race and held it until the end.
“I saw Joey was pretty loose and felt that I needed to get to him while I could,” Elliott said.
Elliott led 153 laps of the biggest race of his life. He crossed the finish line 2.74 seconds ahead of Keselowski in second place.
The season ends with Elliott winning five races. Elliott will have to wait at least 98 more days to collect his next victory, when the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season begins.