Chase Elliott, groomed in speed by his Hall of Fame father, and adored by fans as the sport’s most popular driver, is NASCAR’s newest champion.
The 24-year-old son of Bill Elliott, is the third-youngest champion in series history. He wins the crown on a day that seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson ran his final Cup race as a full-time series driver before embarking on an IndyCar campaign.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Elliott told NBC Sports’ Kelli Stavast. “This is unbelievable. Oh my gosh, we did it. We did it. Unreal.”
When Elliott celebrated with Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick, Elliott just kept saying “Can you believe it?”
The win and title by Elliott was commemorated by the siren blaring at the Dawsonville Pool Hall in his hometown.
Elliott’s title is the first for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet since Johnson won his seventh crown in 2016. Sunday’s race could provide a generational passing of the torch from Johnson to Elliott.
“This is a dream,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “I’m hoping I don’t ever wake up.”
Elliott’s title denied Denny Hamlin, in his 15th full-time season, his first crown. Elliott also prevented Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski from each celebrating their second Cup crown.
Keselowski finished second. Logano placed third. Hamlin was fourth. Johnson completed the top five.
“Didn’t have the speed at the right time,” Logano, who led 125 laps, primarily in the first third of the race, told NBC Sports. “It stings not winning but at the same time we’re stronger for going through it.”
Keselowski told NBC Sports: “I would have liked to have one of those late-race yellows like we saw in the Truck race and the Xfinity race. I thought we were pretty good there and just didn’t have the track position to make it show.”
Hamlin told NBC Sports: “We just as an organization got to get a little better, especially on the short tracks. It seems like we were a little bit off all year. That was all I had.”
The No. 9 car took the lead for good with 42 laps to go when Elliott slipped underneath Logano’s car. Elliott, making his first title race appearance, led 153 of the 312 laps.
“Chase is not a normal 24‑year‑old person, that’s for sure,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “He’s got the physical attributes and skill sets of a 24‑year‑old, but he’s got the intelligence and the experience of someone much older and wiser, so he acts like he’s a 35‑year‑old in his prime.”
Only Bill Rexford (age 23 in 1950) and Jeff Gordon (age 24 in 1995) won titles at a younger age. The Elliotts become the third father/son combination to win Cup titles, joining Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett.
“All you can dream for is an opportunity, and I’ve been very fortunate to have that over the years,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “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.
“Mr. Hendrick, for taking a chance on me and believing in me when a lot of people didn’t. I think it really says a lot about him. And then to have a championship sponsor like NAPA, all of our partners, and Chevrolet, huge thanks to Team Hendrick and everybody at our shop that peaked at the right time. That’s all we can ask for.”
Elliott finished the season with five wins. He won three of the last five playoff races. He might not have had a chance to win the title had his jackman. T.J. Semke not tagged back up to the pit wall after jumping over the wall too soon in last week’s race at Martinsville. By doing that, the team avoided a penalty and Elliott, in a must-win situation, went on to score the victory and secure a spot in the Championship 4.
He won Sunday’s race after starting at the rear of the 39-car field because his Chevrolet failed inspection twice before the race. That did little to hinder Elliot, who climbed into the top 10 in 26 laps and took the lead for the first time on Lap 79.
Johnson won a championship after starting from the rear and shared that story with Elliott.
“Then I saw Chase just before the trucks rolled, just before the driver intro part of the ceremonies this morning, and I reminded him, I’ve been there,” Johnson said. “Of the championships I’ve won coming from the back, I had less nervous energy in my body when I took the green flag and it was very easy what I needed to do.
“I shared that with him, and he smiled and he said, ‘I hope that’s how it goes today.’ And it did. We didn’t think of it as a passing of the torch, but I tried to share some of my experience with him before the race.”
The championship is the first Gustafson, who celebrated his fourth win at Phoenix with four different drivers. His title comes in the last race for seven-time champion Chad Knaus, who will move into an executive role at Hendrick Motorsports after this season.
“There’s no crew chief in the garage more deserving than him,” Elliott told NBC Sports about Gustafson.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano
STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Jimmie Johnson‘s fifth-place finish in the last 11 races. … Matt DiBenedetto finished eighth, ending the season with three consecutive top 10s. … Clint Bowyer finished 14th in his final Cup race.
NOTABLE: Chase Elliott’s championship is the 13th Cup title for Hendrick Motorsports. HMS has won 13 of the last 26 Cup crowns. The organization has won a championship in each of the last four decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s) … Cole Custer is the Cup Rookie of the Year.
NEXT: The series returns in February at Daytona with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 14.