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November 8, 2020

Chase Elliott joins racing royalty with 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship

Chase Elliott won his first NASCAR Cup Series title Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, joining his father, Bill, as champions of stock-car racing’s top division.

At 24 years, 11 months and 11 days old, Elliott became the third-youngest Cup Series champion in NASCAR history. Only Jeff Gordon, who claimed his first title at 24 years, three months and eight days old in 1995, and 1950 champ Bill Rexford (then 23 years old) were younger.

Elliott topped fellow finalists Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the season-ending race, held for the first time at the 1-mile Arizona oval. Hamlin, the ace for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, was also competing for his first Cup Series crown; Team Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano were both seeking their second series titles.

“I’m not sure that I still even know,” Elliott said when asked what the championship means to him. “I just, man, I’m at a loss for words. This is unbelievable. Oh, my gosh. We did it. I mean, we did it. That’s all I’ve got to tell you. Unreal.

“Championship crew chief, Alan Gustafson, is now a NASCAR Cup Series champion, and very deserving. I just can’t say enough about our group. I felt like we took some really big strides this year, and last week was a huge one. To come out of that with a win and a shot to come here and have a chance to race is unbelievable.”

RELATED: Race results | Chase Elliott wins at Phoenix

Even more unbelievable considering Elliott had to come from the back of the field because of multiple failures in pre-race inspection. However, Elliott was already up to third place by the end of Stage 1. Then, he moved up to second by the end of Stage 2 before taking over the race in the final stage.

Elliott ended up leading a race-high 153 laps, including the final 43 circuits after passing Logano on Lap 270 of 312. Elliott’s margin of victory was a hefty 2.740 seconds over Logano’s teammate Keselowski.

Elliott became the fourth driver to bring a driving championship to team owner Rick Hendrick. His march to the title gave Hendrick Motorsports its 13th title and its first since 2016, when teammate Jimmie Johnson scored the last of his record-tying seven championships — all with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick’s other titles came from Gordon, a four-time champ who spent all of his Cup Series career with the organization, and 1996 title winner Terry Labonte.

Elliott rode into the postseason picture with two victories, then advanced through the playoffs with wins in both the Round of 12 and Round of 8 finales. Along the way, he continued his mastery of road-course racing, stretching his win streak to four with triumphs at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course (a new venue added after the COVID-19 shutdown) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. His other victories were career firsts, one on Charlotte’s oval layout and the other at Martinsville Speedway in the season’s penultimate race.

His Sunday triumph brings the championship back to the small town of Dawsonville, Georgia, where Bill Elliott’s march to his only Cup Series title was celebrated in 1988. The Dawsonville Pool Room, a shrine to the Elliotts and other Peach State racing legends, regularly cheered Bill Elliott’s wins by sounding its signature “si-reen.” The pool room’s owners shifted those victory cries to mark Chase Elliott’s accomplishments as he climbed through the NASCAR national series ranks.

RELATED: Chase Elliott through the years | Youngest NASCAR Cup Series champions

Like his father, Chase Elliott carried the No. 9 to a championship. They are the third father-son duo to win Cup Series titles, following Lee and Richard Petty, and Ned and Dale Jarrett — all NASCAR Hall of Famers.

“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. The past year has been tough. I lost my best friend about a year ago tonight. Lost my grandmother last year. And all those things bring families closer, so I really can’t thank them enough.”

The championship marked Elliott’s second national series title. He also secured the NASCAR Xfinity Series title as a rookie with JR Motorsports in 2014.

The title was also a first for crew chief Alan Gustafson, who completed his fifth season atop the No. 9 team’s pit box. Gustafson’s crown came in his second Championship 4 appearance; he also helped guide four-time champ Jeff Gordon to the title round in his final full season in 2015.