NASCAR crowned a new champion as Chase Elliott came on top at the Arizona desert
Chase Elliott rose to glory last Sunday after winning the Season Finale 500 in Phoenix Arizona. The newly crowned NASCAR Cup Series Champion joins elite company as he’s the third-youngest driver to win a championship at just 24 years of age. The final race of the 2020 season also saw the retirement of Clint Bowyer and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is set to compete in the Indycar Series in 2021.
Elliott Starts from the Rear
Phoenix welcomed its first-ever Cup Series finale after the end of the season was set at Miami for a little over a decade. It did so in front of 8,400 fans due to limited seating. Elliott faced trouble even before the start of the race as his number nine Chevrolet Camaro failed pre-race inspection and was forced to start from the back of the field. The rules were simple: Four drivers made it to the final, all he had to do was finish in front of all of them.
Slow and Steady
Joey Logan took the early lead after a clean start. Penske’s championship contender was put under pressure by Denny Hamlin who was also racing for Cup Series Glory. Nonetheless, Logano held the Toyota driver off and took the first stage win. By then, number 9 had already started to make ground on the leaders while the last of the championship contenders, Brad Keselowski lacked the pace of his fellow drivers.
A Dog Fight Begins
Stage 2 turned into a dog fight. The race remained fairly clean as only competition yellow flags had been shown in order to glue the pack together. Hamlin, Logano, and Elliott followed each other like a conga line, making for close racing and great entertainment. The key difference between Phoenix and Miami is length. A shorter track, such as Phoenix, makes for tighter spaces and more traffic. That could not have been truer for Keselowski as lapped traffic made for a tough Sunday, making his lack of pace even more evident. Lap 120 saw Elliott take the lead and lit up his path to his first championship.
A Final Stage for the Old Guy and the New Guy
The final stage saw a close battle come to conclusion. Before that, however, a great run by the retiring Jimmie Johnson went perhaps, overlooked. His number 48 Camaro ran in 7th place for most of the final stage before finally rounding the top five when things were set and done. Back at the front of the field things weren’t as smooth before the checkered flag. Hamlin was still chasing Elliott, his Toyota Camry proved good on the long runs, short runs nonetheless, it looked more like a rolling snail than a race car.
One final set of pitstop saw the four contenders stop for fuel and fresh tires. That gave Logano the lead, nevertheless, it was a short one as number nine came back at him in lap 270. 32 laps away from the championship. Elliott’s Napa Autoparts Corvette looked like a rocket ship as he was pretty much unstoppable in the final set of laps. He saw the checkered flag ahead of Keselowski and that was that. NASCAR’s most popular driver had won it all.
“At a Loss For Words”
The post-race celebrations saw a few highlights. Johnson took some time to salute the champion. Both cars met as they rolled on opposite ways of the track in what could be seen as the “Passing of the torch” from a great one to the next. Elliott finally took onto victory road. When asked about how he felt about winning the championship, the young driver said he was not sure how to feel. He was “At a loss for words”.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series kicks off on Sunday, February 14th with the Dayton 500.