By JENNA FRYER
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The brand new face of NASCAR circled Phoenix Raceway for a celebratory lap of his best achievement. Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s hottest driver, was now a Cup champion, too.
He came across teammate Jimmie Johnson, who banged doorways with Elliott. Then the seven-time champion, in his closing race, gave Elliott a fist bump.
The torch has formally been handed.
That is NASCAR’s Camelot.
Elliott did what Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t and parlayed the recognition gleamed off his Corridor of Fame father right into a NASCAR championship. The son of “Superior Invoice from Dawsonville” Georgia solidified himself as the brand new face of Hendrick Motorsports, of Chevrolet and of NASCAR on the day the best driver of this technology referred to as it a profession.
Elliott drove from the again of the sphere to victory lane at Phoenix to win for Hendrick and Chevrolet, which had been shut out of the title race since Johnson received his seventh and closing crown in 2016.
“I simply by no means would have thought that this yr would have gone prefer it has,” Elliott mentioned. “I imply, NASCAR Cup Collection champion, are you kidding me? Unreal.”
He shared an extended hug with Johnson, who joined Elliott for the victory celebration.
“Oh my gosh, I imply, to share a second like that, Jimmie’s final race, to win and lock the championship,” mentioned Elliott, “these are moments you possibly can solely dream, you recognize, and this can be a dream.
“Simply hoping I don’t ever get up.”
Elliott’s automotive failed pre-race inspection and the penalty price him the pole when he was despatched to the rear. However he raced his approach by site visitors within the first stage after which took management of the championship. Elliott led seven instances for a race-high 153 laps.
Johnson completed fifth — his finest consequence since August — in his closing journey in Hendrick’s No. 48 Chevrolet.
“My coronary heart is full,” mentioned Johnson, who’s tied with Corridor of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven titles. His 83 victories rank sixth on the profession wins checklist and his stretch of 5 consecutive titles from 2006-2010 is a NASCAR document.
Requested what he’ll bear in mind about his 686th race, Johnson mentioned will probably be Elliott’s breakthrough.
“Chase Elliott received his first championship. I’m so joyful for that man,” he mentioned. “I can recall going snowboarding with Invoice out in Colorado and Chase was possibly 8 years outdated on skis, tremendous quiet, wouldn’t say a lot.
“To look at him develop up and to be round him and to provide him some recommendation on occasion has actually been significant for me. I feel extra about him successful a championship greater than something.”
Elliott, who turns 25 later this month, has adopted his father’s footsteps. Invoice Elliott received the 1988 championship and 16 instances was voted by the followers NASCAR’s hottest driver.
Chase Elliott turned the fan favourite in 2018 after Earnhardt Jr. retired. He’s the primary hottest driver to win the championship since his father received his solely title.
The Elliotts joined Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett as simply the third father-son mixture to win a NASCAR Cup title. The Elliotts, together with Corridor of Famer Tim Flock, are the one three drivers from Georgia to win the title.
Hendrick Motorsports prolonged its NASCAR document with a thirteenth championship.
Elliott handed Joey Logano with 42 laps remaining and pulled away in a race Elliott managed even because the 4 title contenders ran 1-2-3-4 a lot of the afternoon. Elliott had charged by the sphere throughout the first stage to clump the 4 contenders within the winner-take-all season finale.
It was Elliott’s fifth win of the season, trailing solely Kevin Harvick (9) and Denny Hamlin (seven). Elliott’s win at Martinsville final week not solely locked him into the ultimate 4, however eradicated regular-season champion Harvick.
“I felt like we took some actually large strides this yr, and final week was an enormous one,” mentioned Elliott, who additionally received the All-Star race at Bristol. “To return out of that with a win and a shot to return right here and have an opportunity to race is unbelievable.”
Elliott beat Brad Keselowski, who was adopted by Crew Penske teammate Logano after which Hamlin, who’s now 0 for 4 in title races. Hamlin is taken into account together with Corridor of Famer Mark Martin the very best driver with no Cup title.
“Nobody has received greater than we have now over the past two years. Fairly proud what this crew is doing,” Hamlin mentioned. “We’ll come again and do it once more subsequent yr.”
Hamlin was the one driver among the many closing 4 to not lead a lap at Phoenix, the place he received final November.
Logano led 125 laps, however most of them early.
“It stings not successful, I’m not going to lie. It hurts,” he mentioned.
Keselowski had been holding out hope for a late warning to arrange a brief dash to the end, which is how each the Truck Collection and Xfinity Collection titles had been determined the earlier two nights.
“I might have liked to have raced it out,” Keselowski mentioned. “We simply didn’t get any yellows.”
The race had simply 4 complete cautions, three of them scheduled breaks. It made Elliott’s coronation look straightforward.
The race accomplished NASCAR’s frenzied 38-race schedule that was overhauled due to the pandemic. The season was suspended 5 days after NASCAR raced at Phoenix in March, a race received by Logano, and the engines idled for 10 weeks.
However going through crippling monetary losses to the groups and the trade, NASCAR was one of many first sports activities to renew competitors. NASCAR went racing once more Could 17 and used doubleheaders, midweek races and an enormous scheduling shuffle to finish the season for all three of its nationwide sequence.
For the finale, the primary one at NASCAR’s owned and transformed Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR loosened its “bubble” and allowed households and visitors for the primary time since, properly, the final time they raced at Phoenix. The post-race celebration was the primary time Johnson had seen Rick Hendrick, his boss of 20 years, since March.
“If you will get by a yr like this and also you’re NASCAR, actually it bodes properly,” Keselowski mentioned. “I assumed it was actually superb what the game was capable of obtain, that we had been capable of get all of the races in. To be right here at this time and have an important race for a championship, I feel that’s actually spectacular.”