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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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.