Dawsonville, Georgia’s Chase Elliott went from worst to first to capture his first win at Phoenix Raceway and his second consecutive win, earning him his first NASCAR Cup Series championship six years after clinching his first NASCAR national title at the same race track six years ago.
Elliott led 153 of the race’s 312 laps en route to his fifth win of the 2020 season and the 11th of his young, five-year career.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Elliott said. “This is unbelievable.”
In his first championship four appearance, Elliott beat out former NASCAR Cup Series champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, as well as Denny Hamlin, to claim the Bill France Cup.
“All you can dream for is an opportunity, and I’ve been very fortunate to have that over the years,” Elliott said emotionally. “You know, and that’s all thanks to some great people.”
Additionally, Elliott’s championship makes him and his father, Bill Elliott, one of three father-son pairs to have won championships in NASCAR’s premiere division.
While Elliott soaked in his championship, his teammate, seven-time-champion Jimmie Johnson, was soaking in his last NASCAR start as a full-time driver.
Johnson, who scored 83 wins and seven championships over the course of his 19-year NASCAR Cup Series career, was the first non-championship eligible driver to finish, placing fifth in his no. 48 car.
Championship contender Chase Elliott was slated to start on the pole, but after the no. 9 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection twice, Elliott had to start from the rear of the field. The rest of the championship-eligible group — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin — led the 39-car field to the green flag. Logano took the lead from the outside line on lap one and held it through the lap 30 competition caution. Elliott managed to race his way into the top 10 in the 30-lap stint, showing strength on the bottom of the race track.
Under the caution, lead lap drivers pitted for new Goodyear tires and Sunoco race fuel. Logano’s team was able to put together a fast stop, allowing the no. 22 Ford to maintain the lead off pit road. Logano wasn’t able to drive out to as large of a lead after the caution, though. Denny Hamlin was able to stay within a second, putting pressure on Logano for the first time in the race. Simultaneously, Elliott and Keselowski were able to race up to third and fourth, respectively, putting the championship four in the top four by lap 50.
The remainder of the stage was calm, and Joey Logano was able to capture the green-and-white-checkered flag to end stage one. The rest of the top 10 finishers in the stage were Hamlin, Elliott, Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto. Jimmie Johnson finished the stage just short of a points-paying position, ending the segment in 11th.
Before the green flag to start stage two flew, teams made pit stops under the stage-break caution. The four championship-eligible drivers came out in the same positions that they came onto pit road in.
When the green flag was displayed over stage two on lap 84, Joey Loagno was able to retain the lead. Chase Elliott challenged Denny Hamlin for second for two laps before settling into the third position. As drivers began to settle in, Jimmie Johnson began to find grip in his no. 48 Chevrolet as he worked his way into seventh, and Kyle Busch found the outside wall in turns one and two, adding to the struggles his no. 18 team has had in 2020.
On lap 108, race leader Joey Logano began to report a vibration. Logano’s pace slowed, and allowed Chase Elliott to close in on the top two in a matter of laps. Elliott was able to pass Hamlin for second. On lap 120, Chase Elliott took the lead with a slide job on Logano in turn one. Hamlin passed Logano for second two laps later as Elliott pulled away to a one-second lead.
Brad Keselowski was the first to hit pit road for new tires after he began to feel a vibration on lap 128. Most drivers waited an additional ten laps before making their pit stops, including Keselowski’s championship competitors. Keselowski, who was 5.6 seconds back of leader Chase Elliott when he made his green flag stop, cycled out to over two seconds ahead of Elliott after their stops were complete, but Elliott, with newer tires, was able to pass Keselowski with 43 laps left in the stage.
The no. 53 of James Davison hit the wall with 29 laps remaining in the stage, bringing out the race’s first caution for an on-track incident, prompting another cycle of pit stops. Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon each opted to take just two tires, moving them up to first and third, respectively, but Dillion was tagged with a pit-road speeding penalty, sending him to the back of the field.
Chase Elliott drove past Kurt Busch to take the lead back after the restart, but Brad Keselowski passed Elliott with 17 laps left in the stage, but ten laps later, Elliott traded the lead with Keselowski again, but “Bad” Brad Keselowski sailed his no. 2 Ford into turn three and slid up the race track, making a last-lap pass on Elliott to win the second stage. Behind Elliott, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five, while Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron rounded out the top 10.
Race to the Finish
Elliott’s pit crew put the no. 9 car back out front to start the final stage, with Logano and Hamlin following close behind.
The race restarted on lap 200 of 312, and once again, the top four in the race were the championship four drivers. The race was calm and uneventful as the laps began to wind down, but another pit stop was still needed to reach the end of the race. At the lap 250 mark, drivers began to make pit stops under green, but it wasn’t until lap 259 that the first of the championship four drivers came to pit. Joey Logano came down pit road with Denny Hamlin behind, and just one lap later, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski came for their final green flag stops. Logano, who was just half-a-second behind Elliott before the stops, cycled out to a two-second lead over Elliott after the stops. Keselowski had another slow stop and dropped to fourth behind Hamlin.
Joey Logano began to enter congested areas of lapped traffic, and Elliott was able to close in on the leader, making a pass for the lead with just 43 laps left in the race.
With 10 laps left in the race, Elliott had a 3.3 second lead over Keselowski, who had just passed Logano for second, but without a caution to let the field regroup, Elliott sailed away to win the race and capture his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
To view the full race results, click here.