Chase Elliott becomes youngest NASCAR champion, captures final Nationwide Series crown

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If he’s this good at 18, what will Chase Elliott be like 10 years from now?

Elliott became the youngest champion in NASCAR history Saturday, finishing fifth in the DAV 200 – Honoring America’s Veterans at Phoenix International Raceway, to win the 2014 and final Nationwide Series championship (the series will become known as the Xfinity Series starting in 2015).

“Honestly, I’m just in disbelief,” Chase Elliott told ESPN. “I don’t know what to think.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this. Just to have the opportunity to work with a group of guys like we’ve had this year has just been a blessing for me to be here. I really don’t know how to think or what to feel right now.”

The younger Elliott joins his father, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee-elect Bill, as a national champion. Bill, of course, won the 1988 Sprint Cup championship.

The younger Elliott wasn’t even born when his father won his championship. But in typical like father, like son response, the younger Elliott isn’t quite done yet.

“This has been just a heck of a year,” Chase Elliott said. “We’d like to have another win next week at Homestead. We’ll give it our best shot.”

The Elliott’s become the fifth father-son champions in NASCAR history:

* Ned Jarrett won two Sprint Cup championships, while son Dale won one title.

* Lee Petty won three Cup titles, son Richard won a record-tying seven.

* David Pearson won three Cup crowns, son Larry two Nationwide Series titles.

* The late Dale Earnhardt won a record-tying seven Cup titles, son Dale Jr. won two NNS crowns.

And now the Elliotts join the illustrious list.

“To come into this season and have the incredible year this kid has been totally beyond belief,” proud papa Bill said of his son. “I just hope he keeps his head screwed on good and straight.

“He’s a very smart driver and individual and he really knows what he wants out of a race car. That’s 90 percent of the game. If he can keep going in that direction, he’ll be as good as they come.”

Mother Cindy called her son’s title “unbelievable.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Cindy Elliott said. “I asked Bill this morning did he ever imagine in his wildest dreams that we’d be going to the racetrack today and your son could win a NASCAR championship?

“He said, ‘No, never in my wildest dreams.’ For his dreams to have come true today, it’s just indescribable.”

When father and son Elliott decided to try their hand at racing in the Nationwide Series at the end of last season, they started with nothing.

But at the same time, they were in the right place at the right time in several instances.

First, NAPA had just left Michael Waltrip Racing after a scandal at MWR and was looking for a new, hot young driver.

Next, Rick Hendrick wanted to work with his driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to bring the young and relatively untested Chase to Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports.

With the team and sponsor in place, and with crew chief Greg Ives on board, the team came into the 2014 season with a lot of unknowns.

It ends the season with one VERY big known factor, though, that a team that didn’t even exist a year ago came all the way up through the ranks to win the championship.

“I’m so in disbelief,” Chase Elliott said. “I don’t know how to feel right now. I cannot believe it. I really cannot. I’m just in disbelief. This is a testament to the guys on this team. They bring their A game every week.”

To his credit, Chase also singled out teammate Regan Smith, who was his closest challenger for the championship.

“I really appreciate Regan with the way he raced me all year,” Chase said. “Just a super classy guy and it’s been a lot of fun racing him this season.”

Hendrick probably summed up Elliott’s rise to the championship the best:

“A year ago, we were just trying to figure out what to do,” Hendrick said after Saturday’s race. “… Man, what a young man. What a racer he is. It’s just really neat to be a part of history.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.