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Chase Elliot Rolls to NASCAR Championship

Chase Elliott drove from the back of the field to victory lane at Phoenix to win for Hendrick Motor Sports and Chevrolet, which had been shut out of the title race since Jimmy Johnson won his seventh and final crown in 2016.

 

The new face of NASCAR circled Phoenix Raceway for a celebratory lap of his finest achievement. Chase Elliott, NASCAR's most popular driver, was now a Cup champion, too.

 

He came upon teammate Jimmie Johnson, who banged doors with Elliott. Then the seven-time champion, in his final race, gave Elliott a fist bump.

 

Elliott's car failed pre-race inspection and the penalty cost him the pole when he was sent to the rear. But he raced his way through traffic in the first stage and then took control of the championship. Elliott led seven times for a race-high 153 laps.

 

Johnson finished fifth — his best result since August — in his final ride in Hendrick’s No. 48 Chevrolet.

 

Elliott, who turns 25 later this month, has followed his father's footsteps. Bill Elliott won the 1988 championship and 16 times was voted by the fans NASCAR's most popular driver.

 

Chase Elliott became the fan favorite in 2018 after Earnhardt Jr. retired. He's the first most popular driver to win the championship since his father won his only title.

 

Hendrick Motorsports extended its NASCAR record with a 13th championship.

 

Elliott passed Joey Logano with 42 laps remaining and pulled away in a race Elliott controlled even as the four title contenders ran 1-2-3-4 most of the afternoon. Elliott had charged through the field during the first stage to clump the four contenders in the winner-take-all season finale.

 

It was Elliott's fifth win of the season, trailing only Kevin Harvick (nine) and Denny Hamlin (seven). Elliott's win at Martinsville last week not only locked him into the final four, but eliminated regular-season champion Harvick.

 

Elliott beat Brad Keselowski, who was followed by Team Penske teammate Logano and then Hamlin, who is now 0 for 4 in title races. Hamlin is considered along with Hall of Famer Mark Martin the best driver without a Cup title.

 

Hamlin was the only driver among the final four not to lead a lap at Phoenix, where he won last November.

 

Logano led 125 laps, but most of them early.

 

The race had just four total cautions, three of them scheduled breaks. It made Elliott's coronation look easy.

 

The race completed NASCAR's frenzied 38-race schedule that was overhauled because of the pandemic. The season was suspended five days after NASCAR raced at Phoenix in March, a race won by Logano, and the engines idled for 10 weeks.

 

But facing crippling financial losses to the teams and the industry, NASCAR was one of the first sports to resume competition. NASCAR went racing again May 17 and used doubleheaders, midweek races and a massive scheduling shuffle to complete the season for all three of its national series.

 

For the finale, the first one at NASCAR's owned and remodeled Phoenix Raceway, NASCAR loosened its “bubble” and allowed families and guests for the first time since, well, the last time they raced at Phoenix. The post-race celebration was the first time Johnson had seen Rick Hendrick, his boss of 20 years, since March.

 

The 2021 NASCAR season kicks off with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 14.

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