There were several times during the 2020 season when it seemed unlikely Chase Elliott would win his first career NASCAR Cup Series championship. He started the campaign with finishes of 17th and 25th at Daytona and Las Vegas. He had three DNFs over the course of the year and finished 20th or worse three times just in the Playoffs.
But Elliott showed remarkable resilience and also found a way to win three times in the postseason, including elimination races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and Martinsville Speedway. He then capped it off with the biggest win of all in the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway to capture the crown.
"I’m at a loss for words," Elliott said when he climbed from his car at Phoenix. "This is unbelievable. Oh my gosh, we did it. We did it. Unreal."
The 24-year-old Elliott is the third youngest to win the title in series history and joins his Hall of Fame father Bill as a champion.
The run to the title included three of the most clutch wins in recent NASCAR history with Elliott keeping his Playoff hopes alive in the march to the championship. He attributed a commitment to staying focused on the matter at hand as a major attribute to his successful run.
"You know, I feel like we just put a lot of emphasis on the things that matter and really just didn’t care about anything else," Elliott explained. "There’s just so much distraction in the world. Everybody is tied to their phones and you can get ahold of anybody at any time. There’s just so many things from the outside that can reach someone.
"That’s one thing that I felt like our whole team just did a better job of was just boiling it down to the things that matter. Ultimately it’s how good of a job did we do building that car, how prepared am I coming into a race weekend and how do we execute it. I feel like those three things we put more emphasis on than we ever have. I feel like I was mentally locked in better than I’ve ever been. And yeah, I think the results showed."
Chase Elliott’s Championship Season
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Bill Elliott’s 1988 Championship Season
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Like everyone Elliott also had to navigate his way through a world impacted by COVID-19 as the virus changed the way NASCAR completed the season. Adding that challenge to the mix gave Elliott reason to be even more proud of the accomplishment and his team being able to rise to the occasion when necessary.
"Yeah, I think for us it’s kind of been getting over the hump in those big moments, something that we’ve done an okay job of at times but not something we’ve been able to do with authority," he said. "I really thought performing like we did last week at Martinsville was a really big deal. And then performing like we did today I thought was a really big deal. Finding that groove and finding that comfort in those big moments I think is huge.
"That’s something that we can take this and grow from further. I’m really excited about that, and I’m really proud of my team for stepping up in big situations and getting it done."
There’s no reason to believe Elliott’s race and championship winning days will stop anytime soon. But now that he has at least the one Cup title under his belt, the younger Elliott has helped further cement his family’s name in the annals of NASCAR history.
"Like when I’m dead and gone and my dad is dead and gone, he and I will share a championship with the last name Elliott forever," he said of becoming a Cup champ like his father. "I don’t think it gets any cooler than that, in my opinion."