Chase Elliott Dominates At Phoenix To Win The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championshipby Hunter Thomas November 8, 2020 1 comment
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Chase Elliott won his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday after winning the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
Elliott had to win the final race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway last weekend to advance to the Championship 4; however, when the team rolled through technical inspection on Sunday at Phoenix, they had to endure yet, another challenge. Prior to the green flag, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet failed pre-race technical inspection twice, and he had to abandon his pole starting position and start from the rear of the field.
Despite starting from the rear, it only took Elliott 79 laps to reach the lead and battle for the 2020 championship. Throughout the 312-lap race, the Dawsonville, Georgia native battled Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski for the race lead on numerous occasions. With 43 laps to go, Elliott pulled off the winning pass on Logano and cruised to victory, beating Keselowski by 2.740 seconds.
“You know, I saw Joey was pretty loose there and felt like I needed to get to him while I could,” Elliott said. “I knew I’d been kind of tight on a longer run and he was probably going to get a little better. Just unbelievable.”
Elliott put on a dominant performance as he was out in front of the field on seven occasions for a race high of 153 laps; however, the team was strong all season long. Elliott and the No. 9 team won a total of five races and amassed 15 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes. At 24 years, 7 months and 15 days old, Elliott became the third-youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Cup Series championship. The championship run marked the 13th for car owner, Rick Hendrick.
“I just, man, I’m at a loss for words,” Elliott said. “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.”
Elliott joins his father, Bill Elliott as a series champion. Back in 1988 when Bill won his first and only championship, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship, and the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, and that series of events repeated itself again in 2020.
Finishing second on Sunday was Championship 4 competitor, Keselowski. The driver of the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford ran up front, led 16 laps and won Stage 2, but his team struggled on pit road, which really hindered Keselowski’s progression in the closing laps.
“You know, obviously at the end of Stage 2 I was right where I wanted to be, in the lead, and we lost a spot, which is not fun,” Keselowski said. “But it’s a team effort, and just was tough to fight back through.
“We got up to second there at the end, and I feel like we were pretty equal. The 9 car and I would have loved to have had a chance to race it out, but that’s not the way it played out.”
Logano who was also running for the championship finished third after winning Stage 1 and leading on four occasions for 125 laps. The driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford was the leader on the final restart, but Elliott’s car was just so much faster.
“Yeah, we had good track position,” Logano said. “Our pit crew was on it just like they’ve been through this whole Playoffs. Like I said it before, they’re a pressure team. They love the pressure and they truly rise to the occasion.
“They did that the whole race. They did it even the last stop under green. Was able to get ourselves out in front of the 9 by a pretty good distance. And like I said, the 9 just kind of fired off a lot faster and kept going.”
Denny Hamlin was the lowest finishing Championship 4 contender as he crossed the finish line in fourth. Hamlin may have had a disappointing day, but the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota team ended the season with an impressive seven wins, 18 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes.
“Yeah, certainly disappointed,” Hamlin said. “But you know, you’ve got to make sure you put your expectations kind of in check in the sense of, you know, we didn’t ‑‑ our organization hasn’t really been very good on the short tracks this year. It’s kind of a learning period for us.
“But we put our best effort forward. We had no mistakes today, did everything I possibly could, just I had nothing there to go.”
Rounding out the top-five was Jimmie Johnson who competed in his final NASCAR Cup Series race as a full-time competitor. Over the past 20 years, Johnson won seven series championship and 36 poles, and he also amassed 232 top-five and 374 top-10 finishes. Johnson has gone down in history as one of the most successful drivers to ever compete on NASCAR’s highest level of competition.
“Excited to do this, excited to get on track and have this final event,” Johnson said. “For me the hardest point was about this time last year when thoughts were heavy on my mind and I was going to make the decision and made the decision to myself and my family, then had to go to Rick’s house and talk that through with Mr. Hendrick. So that point in time was probably the most emotional and most difficult.
“And as the year has gone by, many moments of reflection and just pride. Then all of that rolled into today and just very excited to be on track.”
Ryan Blaney finished sixth, followed by Kevin Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.
There were only four cautions for 27 laps, and only one of the cautions were for an accident.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season has concluded, but the green flag for the 2021 season will fly in February when the series makes its return to Daytona International Speedway. The Clash at Daytona will get underway on February 9, followed by the Duels on February 11 and the prestigious Daytona 500 on February 14.
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Applaud Chase from coming back from behind over a failed inspection. Then conquered the race and the title. Excellent courage from this youngster. For Denny, well, he will wait for another year. He may have 3 x Daytona 500s before. He has to start all over again. The only way he would have won this year’s championship if the outcome seen the other final four drivers unexpectedly got stuck in a wreck. It did not happen Denny’s way. So he needs reliance from the equipment to get up to speed and prepare differently. It could be the key to his first ever title. Will revisit that one next year if Denny makes it again to the championship 4.