Chase Elliott climbed out of the car and lied his head on the roof for a moment; absorbing everything. Then he hopped off and jumped into the arms of his pit crew. After his trackside interview with NBC, he walked over and hugged his father, Bill Elliott, and mother, Cindy Elliott.
“All you can dream for is an opportunity,” Chase Elliott said, “and I’ve been very fortunate to have that over the years. You know, and that’s all thanks to some great people. You know, my parents obviously have played a huge role.”
Elliott showed, Sunday, why he’s a generational talent, by taking the checkered flag and his first Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway.
NASCAR’s reigning most popular driver led a race high of 153 laps on his way to his 11th career Cup Series victory and first title. Unlike Friday and Saturday, there was no late caution to throw a wrench into the machine.
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano led a combined 141 laps, but didn’t get a late caution to get a late chance at Elliott and finished second and third, respectively.
“Yeah, I would have liked to have had one of those late race yellows like we saw in the Truck and Xfinity race,” Keselowski said. “I thought we were pretty good there, just didn’t have the track position to make it show.
“I thought we had a shot at the end of the second stage and just couldn’t keep it up in spot to keep it where we could have a lead.
“Really proud of the speed we had. Just a solid day and just wish we had one more spot.”
“Yeah, we were close, and you know, everyone executed and did their job, and that’s what we should be most proud of,” Logano said. “And also how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season until now as a team. A lot to be proud of.
“It stings not winning, I’m not going to lie, it hurts, but at the same time we’re stronger because we went through it.”
Denny Hamlin was a non-factor, as he didn’t lead a single lap and came home fourth.
“Yeah, we were a little off handling,” he said. “But I think just overall car speed, I think we just didn’t have quite enough. Our next best teammate was check 10th.
“As an organization we’ve got to get a little bit better, especially on the short tracks. It just seemed like we were a little bit off all year, and that was all I had, that’s for sure. I was pushing for everything I had, just the FedEx Camry didn’t have quite enough today, and we ended up fourth.”
In what might be his final Cup Series start, Jimmie Johnson brought his No. 48 Chevrolet home to a top-five finish.
Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-10.
Logano led the field to green, after Elliott dropped to the rear on penalty. He led all 75 laps of the first stage and won it.
Elliott broke into the top-10 on Lap 26 and finished the first stage in third.
Hamlin and Keselowski complained that their cars were too loose, after the competition caution.
Not much else of note happened in the first stage. Logano exited pit road with the lead, under the first stage break.
Logano’s dominance continued for much of Stage 2, until Elliott bumped him in the dogleg and passed him in Turn 1 on Lap 121. He lost the lead when he hit pit road on Lap 139. He cycled back to the lead on Lap 152. On Lap 173, however, Keselowski ducked inside of Elliott in Turn 3 to take the lead on Lap 174. On Lap 183, Elliott dove inside of Keselowski in Turn 1 to retake the lead. While he held off Keselowski for most of the final seven laps, Keselowski overtook him in Turn 3 on the final lap to win the second stage.
Logano and Hamlin finish the stage third and fourth.
Elliott left pit road with the lead, under the second stage break.
REST OF RACE
The final stage started off quiet, as everyone got in position for the run to the finish. The Championship 4 drivers occupied the top four spots in the running order.
Cars hit pit road with 55 laps to go. Elliott pit from the lead with 53 laps to go. Logano, who pitted a lap early, cycled out ahead of him and took both the race and championship lead with 52 laps to go.
Elliott took advantage of lap traffic to reel in Logano with 44 laps to go and drove onto victory.
WHAT ELSE HAPPENED
In contrast to the Truck Series and XFINITY Series race, the Cup Series race was light on cautions. Only one flew for an on-track incident.
NUTS AND BOLTS
The race lasted two hours and 47 minutes, at an average speed of 112.096 mph. There were 19 lead changes among nine different drivers, and four cautions for 27 laps.
TOP IMAGE: Chris Graythen/Getty Images