Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four stories examining why each driver could win the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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Chase Elliott will win the 2020 championship because …
He’s built for this moment.
NASCAR’s playoff format and the whole concept of the Championship 4 is inherently eventful, and Elliott is arguably NASCAR’s biggest superstar — for reasons that extend beyond his last name. Superstars tend to take part in the biggest moments in sport, Elliott being a prime example of that as recently as last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
With his back against the wall last Sunday, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports driver took the checkered flag in one of the most pressure-packed and intense races in recent memory to secure a title shot for the first time in his career. It was his second straight playoff cutoff race victory, and there’s no remaining doubt that when things are on the line — such as needing to fend off three competitors all vying for the same season-long prize in one race — Elliott won’t shrink from the moment.
The 24-year-old has been making an impact in the sport since before he even turned 18, stretching all the way back to wrecking Ty Dillon coming to the checkered flag north of the border at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to become (at the time) the youngest winner in Camping World Truck Series history. A dominant run to an Xfinity Series title followed not too long after, too.
Think back to some of the most vivid and impactful NASCAR memories you have over the past five-plus years and there’s a strong chance a good number of them include Elliott, from a nose-first dive into the Turn 1 wall at the Charlotte Roval and subsequent victorious return to that spot for a burnout a few moments later to telling driver No. 18 he was No. 1 earlier this season. NASCAR’s (likely) soon-to-be three-time Most Popular Driver certainly inherited some of that clout from his Hall of Fame dad, but he’s done plenty to back it up over recent years. His Championship 4 appearance is the furthest thing from a fluke. He earned it.
RELATED: Odds for Phoenix race
Statistically-speaking, 2020 is the best season of his career, with four wins, 14 top fives and 21 top 10s. His 1,083 laps led are second only to the season’s elite driver in Kevin Harvick and those four wins could’ve easily been six or seven if a small handful of things had gone slightly differently.
Elliott has yet to win at Phoenix, and hasn’t won on a similarly-configured track, but he’s shown to be much, much more than just a road-course ace. Wins at the very different Dover, Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Rovals at Charlotte and Daytona and now Martinsville show he’s tremendously well-rounded and it’s only a matter of time before he knocks a track like Phoenix off his list.
After leading 93 laps from the pole in the spring race, it could be this weekend. And it could be for the championship.