CHASE ELLIOT: Following his old man’s steps or making his own?
One lap to go. One more time around, one mile away.
Engines revving, tires melting on the cement, Number 9 is right on the rear bumper of Jimmie Johnson, the 7-time champion, which has been obstructing his way to the finish line. Looking for the right time to make his move, he finally made things happen at the last corner.
Winning the NASCAR 2020 Championship was just a matter of time for young Chase Elliot.
Every generation has a character that stands out amongst everyone else. NASCAR is no exception. Pretty much of Chase Elliot’s life since birth was peered upon by NASCAR’s spotlight. Son of none other than Hall-of-Famer and NASCAR legend, Bill Elliot, Chase’s eyes have always reflected the racetracks his father always carried him into.
During his peak, Bill Elliott won 44 races, the 1988 NASCAR title, and was voted Most Popular Driver an astonishing 16 times. Towards the close of Bill Elliott's career, we would see him transition as a racer to a father, oftentimes seeing young Chase Elliott along his side. Despite the "silver spoon" perception of many, Chase had to actually work extra harder as he is carrying the burden of either continuing his father’s legacy or making a name of his own. Not to mention the immense pressure of, “not letting people down.”
Bill Elliott knew he would need to allow Chase to start racing at a young age in order to gain an advantage over his competition. Starting him in Go-Karts at a young age began his racing career. As early as 2007, Chase Elliott was already racing bandoleros across the SouthEast finding success at a young age leading up into racing legends’ cars in the years after.
Continuing his racing dreams to the age of 13, Chase Elliott was listed in an exclusive class in 2009 when he was named as just one of 13 other athletes as potential future stars of the sports in the July 13, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated. With such an exclusive and high bar already established on his name, Chase Elliott would need to excel early on in his late-model driving career and he would do just that picking up 12 wins and 40 events across various racing series in 2010, with the support of his father and sponsors, Red Bull and Aaron's Home Furnishings.
By 2011, Chase Elliott agreed to a three-year driver development program with Hendrick Motorsports in February, 2011. In 2011 and 2012, Elliott would compete full-time in a NASCAR K&N East Series where he would finish 9th in 2011 and 4th in 2012, picking up his first victory at Iowa in 2012 as well.
After competing in six ARCA races in 2012, Chase Elliott would jump on to Hendrick Motorsports Number 9 car for five more races in 2013 in order to prepare 18-year-old Chase Elliott for competition on bigger courses. Doing this, Elliott would become the youngest winner in ARCA history when he won at Pocono in June of 2013.
On top of this, it was announced that Chase Elliott would compete in nine races for Rick Hendrick’s Number 94 in the Camping World Truck Series. Now during Chase’s time in the 94 truck, he would score seven Top 10s and five Top 5s as he made NASCAR history at Bristol Motor Speedway by qualifying on the polar wars from 2013 UNOH 200, which would make Chase Elliot the youngest NCWTS Pole Winner in Truck Series’ history.
After 2013, Chase Elliott did not have a deal lined up. Rick Hendrick wanted to keep young Chase Elliott in the Hendrick Motorsports program, a deal was put together for Chase Elliott to drive for Junior Motorsports in the Number 9 car which was his father's most famous number, and a number he carried for majority of his career to that point, wiith NAPA Auto Parts on board as a primary sponsor.
Now, what was cool about the 2014 Nationwide Series in the beginning was the fact that Chase Elliott had the unique opportunity to race on track with his father for the first time on a NASCAR track during spring testing at Daytona. Another fun fact about this season was the fact that Chase Elliott was still a high school student while competing full-time for Junior Motorsports in the early part of that year.
Fast forward at Texas 2014. In the 200-lap race, the Number 9 team found themselves in the lead and remained in the lead for 38 laps total as Chase Elliott would indeed go on to win his first Xfinity Series race in 2014 in Texas.
Now, Chase had followed us up by winning the next week at Darlington as well and then he would win again later in 2014 at Chicagoland.This would be Elliott's only three wins in 2014 but was so crucial to his season in 2014 was his 16 Top 5s and 26 Top 10s that year that would guide him to locking up the 2014 Nationwide Series championship by the time the fall race at Phoenix that arrived.
Following his Nationwide Series Championship in 2014, Chase Elliott returns in Number 9 of Junior Motorsports in 2015 in hopes of repeating his championship run the new rebranded NASCAR Xfinity Series.
While Chase Elliott was finishing his full-time Xfinity Series career, he and Hendrick Motorsports were beginning the process of transforming Chase Elliott into a NASCAR Cup Series regular.
The famous Number 24 would see new life in 2016. Partnering with crew chief Alan Gustafson, Chase Elliott would pilot Number 24 for his first two seasons of his career. Right off the bat, Elliott would make headlines by winning the Pole Award for the 2016 Daytona 500.
As 2016 would progress, Chase Elliott would find himself scoring yet another pole award this time at Talladega Superspeedway.
While Kyle Larson would finally establish himself as the Cup Series winner, this would be the true beginning of people knowing Chase Elliott could win races. But it would lead to a longer journey of wondering when he would find Victory Lane.
While Chase Elliott would become the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, his first two seasons would go by and he was still about a Cup Series win. But, he did win an Xfinity Series, Truck Series, and K&N Race during these years. In total, Chase Elliott would finish 2nd nine times from 2016 to 2018 hitting the round of 12 in the playoffs, 3 times from 2016 to 2018.
As 2018 would advance, Chase Elliott would come shy at the victory lane more and more until one day in upper New York at Watkins Glen. The battle came down between Chase Elliott and 2017 champion, Martin Truex, Jr. Many sat on the edge of their seat hoping that Chase Elliott would hit all of his corners correctly and not run out of fuel. On the white flag, many got scared when Chase Elliott took turn one too hard but were relieved when Truex was also fighting to correct his lap midway through the final lap. Martin Truex, Jr. did run out of fuel but Elliott had just enough to coast into his first career victory at Watkins Glen.
It would take Chase Elliott 3 years to finally create a winning season. And so far, in 2019, he's continuing to back this up getting three more victories - one at Talladega, the second at the side of his first win at Watkins Glen just one year later, and the third just very recently at the Charlotte Roval.
Sunday evening at Phoenix Raceway, Chase Elliot finally grabbed the Cup, after holding off a late charge from Joey Logano to earn his 11th career race win and first championship. He was just 20 days shy away from his 25th birthday making him the third youngest NASCAR champion.
"Nobody in that front half-dozen is hungrier for the win than Chase Elliot."
Winning the Most Popular Driver for two years in a row since 2018, he finally put a stamp on his name by winning the 2020 Cup Series Championship 3 years after. Both one step into his father’s footsteps and a good start for his own legacy.
"I just think about all of the people who worked so hard to get me to this point today, I think about my family, all of the crew members who built all of those race cars for me, Rick Hendrick for hiring me. Jimmie Johnson, who ran his last race tonight, and Jeff Gordon, both of whom took me under their wings as teammates and mentors. There were a lot of people who supported me. Even when there were a lot of people who didn't."
With tears in his eyes, he got out of his car unbelieving while his big old man Elliot, along with his crew, was whooping and jumping up and down on pit road.
As Bobby Allison, a NASCAR Hall of Famer who competed against Chase's father, had once asked, "You know who teaches someone how to drive like that?" in which someone answered, "His dad?" "Hell no," Bobby Allison had laughed. "Only God can teach you how to drive like that. When you're born, you can either do that or you can't. One day that kid will be a champion."
That day was that day.