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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