Like father, like son: Chase Elliott is a Cup champion

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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.

MORE: Race results, driver points 

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.”

Chase Elliott’s pit crew celebrates the Cup championship. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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.

 

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.