Elliott storms to victory to capture first Cup championship

Matthew Thacker / Motorsport Images

Elliott storms to victory to capture first Cup championship

NASCAR

Elliott storms to victory to capture first Cup championship

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Chase Elliott won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday afternoon with a dominating drive at Phoenix Raceway.

Elliott led a race-high 153 laps in the Season Finale 500, besting fellow title contenders Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin. All four finished in the top four positions.

The pass for the win and the championship came with 42 laps to go. Logano had cycled to the race lead after green-flag pit stops by pitting one lap before Elliott and Hamlin. But lapped traffic quickly negated his advantage, and Elliott closed and made easy work of Logano.

Elliott was 2.7 seconds ahead of Keselowski at the checkered flag. Logano was 4.8 seconds behind at the finish and Hamlin over eight seconds back.

“I’m at a loss for words; this is unbelievable,” said Elliott of his fifth win to clinch the title. “Oh my gosh. We did it. We did it. That’s all I got to tell you. Unreal. Alan Gustafson is now a NASCAR Cup Series champion and very deserving. I just can’t say enough about our group; I feel like we took some really big strides this year and last week was a huge one, and to come out of that with a win and a shot to come here and have a chance to race is unbelievable. Heck, I don’t even know. This is unreal.”

Jimmie Johnson finished fifth in his final race as a full-time NASCAR competitor. Ryan Blaney finished sixth, Kevin Harvick finished seventh, Matt DiBenedetto finished eighth, William Byron was ninth, and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.

The feat for Elliott comes in his fifth full season in the Cup Series and in his first Championship 4 appearance. He is the first driver since Kevin Harvick in 2014, the first year of the winner-take-all format, to win the final race in the Round of 8 and then the championship race.

It is the first championship for Gustafson in his 16th season as a crew chief. Gustafson finished second with Mark Martin in 2009 and third with Jeff Gordon in 2015.

For team owner Rick Hendrick, he is now a 13-time championship car owner. Hendrick last won a championship with Jimmie Johnson in 2016.

“Just waiting on the caution, as always,” Elliott said of the final laps. “I saw Joey was pretty loose and felt like I needed to get to him while I could and knew I had been kind of tight on the longer run, and I knew he was probably was going to get a little better. Just unbelievable. I just never would have thought that this year would have gone like it has. NASCAR Cup Series champion, are you kidding me? Unreal.”

Elliott started from the rear after his car failed pre-race inspection twice. By lap 16, Elliott had cracked the top 15 and was 10th by lap 26.

Logano was the strongest championship contender early in the day, leading 117 of the first 120 laps and winning the first stage. He led a total of 125 laps.

Keselowski won the second stage and led 16 laps. However, the No. 2 team struggled on pit road throughout the day and cost Keselowski spots on multiple pit stops.

Hamlin was the only championship eligible driver who did not lead a lap in the race. He ran as high as second during parts of the afternoon and hounded Logano for the lead at certain points, but Hamlin was never as strong as his fellow contenders.

Clint Bowyer finished 14th in his final race. Christopher Bell finished 17th in the last race for Leavine Family Racing, while Ty Dillon finished 21st in the final race for Germain Racing. Matt Kenseth wound up 25th in what could be his final NASCAR start, and Corey LaJoie finished 38th in the last start for Go Fas Racing as a full-time team.

There were 19 lead changes among nine drivers at Phoenix and four caution flags.

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