NASCAR pulled off something pretty incredible this 2020 season. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, it managed to put on a full season, making the most of this historic year. And Chase Elliott from Hendrick Motorsports can walk away as 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, winning the first championship race at Phoenix International Raceway and the first championship of his career.
With the NASCAR Cup Series using the playoff system, four drivers had a shot to win the last race of the year: Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano from Team Penske, Chase Elliott from Hendrick Motorsports, and Denny Hamlin from Joe Gibbs Racing.
As you’d expect in 2020, the drama kicked off before the race even started. Elliott failed tech twice and was forced to start from the rear of the grid after being slated to start from pole position. His competition was to start from the first two rows, giving him a massive deficit to overcome. That said, during the first 30 laps, Elliott was able to make up plenty of positions, joining the top 10.
As the race wound down, Elliott had managed to lead, followed by Keselowski and Logano. Keselowski lost spots in the pit stop, coming out in fifth. Logano took the lead with 50 laps to go, but Elliott came in quickly and made the pass with 43 to go, almost putting the No. 22 into the wall in the process.
It was the move that stuck. Elliott crossed the line as 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
“I’m not sure that I still even know,” Elliott said when asked about what his championship meant to him. “I’m at a loss for words. This is unbelievable. We did it. That’s all I’ve got to tell you.
“I felt like we took some really big strides this year, and last week was a huge one. To come out of that with a win and have a shot here... heck, I don’t know. This is unreal.”
When asked about his final move around Logano, Elliot had the following to say:
“I was just waiting on the caution, as always. I saw Joey was pretty loose, and I felt like I needed to get to him while I could. I knew I’d been tight on the longer run and knew he was probably going to get a little better. I just never would have thought that this year would have gone like it has.
“NASCAR Cup Series Champion, are you kidding me? Unreal."
This weekend didn’t just mark the NASCAR Cup Series championship—titles were also decided in the Truck and Xfinity Series.
During Friday’s Truck Series race, Sheldon Creed stole the race win from his teammate Brett Moffitt, the latter of whom led 78 laps. But a yellow flag coming out two laps before the end allowed Creed the chance to pit and really put the heat on his teammate. He restarted eighth but led the field by the white flag. By crossing the line, he became the 2020 Truck Series champion.
“The caution came out, and me and [crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz] were taking and I’m like, ‘we got nothing to lose, and the worst we were going to run was fourth,’” Creed said. “We put tires on it. I pride myself on restarts week in and week out and we just nailed it.”
Over in Saturday evening’s Xfinity Series race, Team Penske’s Austin Cindric secured both a race win and his championship. Cindric dominated the race right from the outset, but late-race restarts saw him taking the green further back in the field. It was his season to lose, and Cindric proved why he signed an extension with Team Penske and will be making his Cup Series debut in 2022.
“This car came to life lap 1,” Cindric said in a post-race interview. “Talk about a relationship between driver and crew chief. I can ask him exactly—we were terrible here in the spring race, and I told him exactly what I needed, and he gave it to me. And look where we are. It’s amazing.”
This final race marks the end of an era. Seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson is stepping back from full-time competition in stock car racing, instead turning to a part-time program in IndyCar. He scored five championships in a row from 2006 through 2010, plus an additional two in 2013 and 2016.
Countless drivers paid tribute to Johnson and his legendary career, both via interviews and on social media.
It will also be the final race before retirement for No. 14 driver Clint Bowyer. He’ll be stepping back from full-time Cup Series competition and picking up the microphone in the FOX reporting booth to call races in 2021.