One for the ages on a cloudy afternoon in the desert state of Arizona.
Nine months after the start of what would be a bizarre season of racing and on a day where a number of icons led by Jimmie Johnson made their final full-time starts in NASCAR’s premier series, Chase Elliott etched his name as a NASCAR Cup Series champion.
The Dawsonville, Georgia, native, who started at the rear of the field and methodically worked his way to the front, led seven times for a race-high 153 of 312 laps, took the lead for the final time with 42 laps remaining and pulled away from title rivals Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to claim his first title by winning the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway as he also claimed his fifth victory of the season and the 11th of his Cup career. Above all, Elliott was able to come back around and celebrate as the 2020 Cup Series champion.
The starting lineup was based on four stats: current owner’s standings, driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup race and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, the four championship finale contenders started first through fourth led by pole-sitter Chase Elliott and followed by Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.
Prior to the race, however, Elliott started at the rear of the field due to his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE failing pre-race inspection twice. Brennan Poole also dropped to the rear of the field due to his car failing pre-race inspection twice.
Moments before the race started and during the pace laps, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson moved to the front of the grid as he received a final salute from the fans and the NASCAR community before he moved back to start in 26th place.
When the final race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season commenced under green, Logano, who started at the front, jumped ahead with the lead and was followed by teammate Keselowski, Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as the field battled early for positions through the dogleg turn and entering Turns 1 and 2. The early start for Logano was enough for him to lead the first lap of the race.
The following lap, Keselowski and Hamlin battled dead even for the runner-up spot and in front of Blaney and Kurt Busch. Alex Bowman was in sixth followed by Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, teammate Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto. Elliott, meanwhile, was in 31st after starting at the rear of the field.
By the fifth lap, Logano was leading by nearly a second over teammate Keselowski while Hamlin was in third ahead of Blaney, Kurt Busch, Bowman and Kyle Busch. By then, Elliott moved up to 25th place.
Following the first 10 laps of the finale, Logano continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Keselowski, who had Hamlin pressuring on him for the runner-up spot.
The following lap, Hamlin went wide in Turn 2, which allowed Keselowski to make a crossover move and retain the runner-up spot as teammate Blaney joined the battle. By then, Elliott moved his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in the top 20. In addition, Ryan Preece, who made contact with the wall, pitted under green.
By Lap 15, Logano extended his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Keselowski, who had Hamlin closing in for position. Blaney and Kurt Busch continued to run in the top five followed by Bowman, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, DiBenedetto and Almirola. By then, Elliott made his way into the top 15.
Five laps later, on Lap 20, Logano stabilized his advantage in the race and in the title battle by more than two seconds over Keselowski with Hamlin still in third and Elliott in 13th behind Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Cole Custer.
Another five laps later, on Lap 25, Elliott was in 11th place and pressuring Almirola for a spot in the top 10 on the track. By then, Logano was still leading by more than a second and a half over teammate Keselowski and Hamlin, both of whom continued to battle one another for the runner-up spot.
Two laps later, Elliott made his way into the top 10 after passing Almirola, though he was more than 10 seconds behind race leader and title contender Logano and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 30, Logano was ahead by more than a second over teammate Keselowski and Hamlin, with Blaney and Kurt Busch in the top five. Bowman, DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Bowyer and Elliott were in the top 10. By then, Harvick was in 11th ahead of teammates Cole Custer and Almirola, Jimmie Johnson was in 16th behind Erik Jones and William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. was in 18th in between Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth was in 21st ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Newman and Bubba Wallace was in 24th. Christopher Bell, racing in Leavine Family Racing’s final race in NASCAR, was in 20th while Ty Dillon, racing in Germain Racing’s final race in NASCAR, was in 29th.
Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Logano retained the lead following the first round of pit stops. Hamlin exited in second place followed by Bowman, Kyle Busch, Bowyer and Blaney. During the pit stops, Keselowski dropped six spots in eighth place following a slow pit stop, where his jack man ran into the tire changer during the service. Elliott exited in 11th place behind Harvick. Following the pit stops, John Hunter Nemechek was assessed a speeding penalty.
The race restarted under green on Lap 36 with Logano and Hamlin on the front row. At the start, Logano retained the lead after driving through the dogleg turn to block Kyle Busch and entering Turns 1 and 2. Hamlin also retained the runner-up spot while Kyle Busch and Bowman battle for third ahead of Bowyer and Keselowski.
By Lap 40, Logano was ahead by nearly four-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by Bowman while Elliott, who made a bold three-wide move on Keselowski and Kyle Busch for positions earlier, battled Bowyer for additional spots in the top five.
A lap later, Elliott moved his No. 9 Chevrolet into fourth place over Bowyer. Another lap later, Keselowski overtook Bowyer and Kyle Busch to move into fifth place with the four final title contenders running in the top five. By then, Logano was still leading by nearly two-tenths of a second over Hamlin with Bowman trailing by two seconds.
Three laps later, on Lap 46, Elliott overtook teammate Bowman exiting the backstretch and entering Turn 3 to move into third place as he was three seconds behind title rivals Logano and Hamlin. By then, Keselowski also started to close in on Bowman’s No. 88 Truck Hero/ChevyGoods Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for fourth place.
By Lap 50, the final four title contenders were running first through fourth on the track, with Logano leading Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry by nearly eight-tenths of a second. Elliott was in third, trailing by more than three seconds, while Keselowski, racing in his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang, was in fourth place.
Behind, Bowman was in fifth followed by Kyle Busch, Blaney, Bowyer, Kurt Busch and DiBenedetto. Jimmie Johnson was in 12th in between Erik Jones and Byron while Kenseth was in 21st in between Bell and Bubba Wallace.
By Lap 60, Logano stabilized his advantage to more than half a second over Hamlin. Behind, Elliott, the fastest car on the circuit, remained in third place, trailing by more than three seconds, while Keselowski remained in fourth place. Meanwhile, Blaney moved into fifth place.
With five laps remaining in the first stage, the final four title contenders continued to run first through fourth on the track, with Logano leading by nearly three-tenths of a second over Hamlin, Elliott running in third and Keselowski settling in fourth. Blaney was the highest-running non-title contender in fifth while Bowman and Kyle Busch battled for sixth place. Bowyer, making his final start, was in eighth followed by Kurt Busch and DiBenedetto, both of whom were ahead of Johnson.
Down to the final laps of the first stage and with the leaders approaching lapped traffic, Hamlin started to close in on Logano’s No. 22 Ford for position as he was two-tenths of a second behind.
Despite being pressured for the lead, Logano was able to hold off Hamlin and win the first stage on Lap 75 by more than half a second as he collected his seventh stage victory of the 2020 Cup season. Hamlin settled in second followed by Elliott, Keselowski and Blaney while Kyle Busch, Bowman, Bowyer, Kurt Busch and DiBenedetto settled in the top 10. By then, Johnson was in 11th and Kenseth was in 24th.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Logano retained the lead over Hamlin following the pit service. Elliott and Keselowski followed behind along with Bowyer, who received a stellar stop from his No. 14 crew to move into the top five.
The second stage started on Lap 83 with Logano and Hamlin on the front row followed by Elliott, Keselowski, Bowyer and Blaney. At the start, Logano retained the lead while Kyle Busch made a low dive through the dogleg turn in an effort to move into the top five.
Entering Turns 1 and 2 and the backstretch, Hamlin and Elliott battled for second behind Logano while Keselowski was shuffled back to sixth behind Kyle Busch and Bowyer.
Shortly after, Elliott battled Hamlin for second, but the latter persevered as he went to work on challenging Logano for the lead. Elliott retained third place in front of Kyle Busch and Bowyer while Keselowski went to work on Bowyer for more. Keselowski would eventually take over fifth place and was followed by teammate Blaney, thus dropping Bowyer to seventh.
By Lap 90, Logano was leading by two-tenths of a second over Hamlin, who was closing in for the lead, while Elliott was trailing by approximately seven-tenths of a second. Though Logano caught a piece of debris on his front grille not long after, he continued to lead by nearly half a second over Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota with Elliott in third and Keselowski in fifth.
At the Lap 100 mark, Logano remained in the lead, but he had Hamlin closing in on him in another bid for the lead as the leaders started to catch lapped traffic. By then, Logano used the lapped car of Quin Houff to remove the debris off of his grille. Elliott was in third in front of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry while Keselowski was in fifth ahead of teammate Blaney. Bowyer and Johnson were in seventh and eighth while DiBenedetto and Kurt Busch settled in the top 10 ahead of Erik Jones, Truex, Byron, Bowman, Austin Dillon and Harvick.
Five laps later, the final four title contenders were running first through fourth on the track, with Logano leading by a narrow margin over Hamlin as Elliott continued to run in third ahead of Keselowski. Blaney overtook Kyle Busch for fifth place while Johnson overtook Bowyer for seventh place.
On Lap 110, Logano continued to lead by a narrow margin over Hamlin as he made another bid for the lead in the race and the championship battle while Logano radioed vibrating concerns on his car.
Shortly after, Elliott caught the top-two title contenders for the lead as he battled Hamlin for the runner-up spot. Eventually, Elliott prevailed for the runner-up spot, though he, Hamlin and Logano battled for the lead.
On Lap 115, Kyle Busch, who was running near the top five, made an unscheduled four-tire pit stop to address a vibrating concern on his No. 18 Toyota.
Five laps later, Elliott muscled his No. 9 Chevrolet into the lead following a hard on-track battle with Logano as Hamlin continued to linger behind the two leaders. Eventually, Hamlin overtook Logano for the runner-up spot with the latter losing ground on the lead. Keselowski, meanwhile, was more than three seconds behind in fourth place. Behind, Blaney was in fifth while Johnson was in sixth.
On Lap 128, Keselowski surrendered fourth place on the track to pit under green following vibrating concerns.
Past the Lap 130 mark, Elliott was leading by nearly a second over Hamlin with Logano, teammate Blaney and Jimmie Johnson in the top five. Bowyer and DiBenedetto battled for sixth while Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron were in the top 10.
Nearing the Lap 140 mark, pit stops under green started to occur as Blaney and Bowman pitted. Logano also pitted along with Custer, Harvick, Hamlin and Elliott, the race/title leader.
Back on the track, Jimmie Johnson, who had yet to pit, assumed the lead followed by DiBenedetto, Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Christopher Bell. By then, Bowyer and Byron pitted.
Three laps later, Johnson surrendered the lead to pit. DiBenedetto, who briefly took the lead, also pitted along with Kurt Busch and Bell while Aric Almirola took the lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Keselowski and Elliott.
By Lap 150 and with most of the leaders having completed a pit stop under green, Almirola was still at the front of the field and by four-tenths of a second over Elliott with Hamlin in third, Keselowski in fourth and Logano in sixth. A lap later, Elliott reassumed the top spot.
At the halfway mark on Lap 156, the final four title contenders were running first through fourth on the track, with Elliott leading by eight-tenths of a second over Hamlin with Keselowski in third and teammate Logano in fourth. Blaney was in fifth while Almirola, racing on old tires, was in sixth. Johnson was in seventh while Kenseth was mired outside the top 20.
Just past the Lap 160 mark, the caution flew when James Davison made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Kurt Busch exited in first following a two-tire pit stop. Elliott, the first car on four fresh tires, exited in second place followed by Austin Dillon, who pitted for two fresh tires. Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski exited in fourth through sixth. Following the pit stops, Austin Dillon was assessed a pit road speeding penalty as he dropped to the rear of the field.
Under caution, Bowman received the free pass while Christopher Bell, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Nemechek and Stenhouse took the wave around to return to the lead lap.
With 23 laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green. At the start, a majority of competitors racing on the inside lane made the low dive below the dogleg turn and entering Turns 1 and 2. At the front, Elliott reassumed the lead over Kurt Busch while Hamlin, who slipped entering Turns 1 and 2, fell back to fifth place as teammates Keselowski and Logano overtook him for position.
With 20 laps remaining in the second stage, Elliott was ahead by nearly four-tenths of a second over Keselowski while Logano was in third, though he had Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Johnson and Blaney pressuring him for more.
Three laps later, Keselowski assumed the lead, though he had Elliott pressuring him for the top spot. Though Elliott ran into the rear end of Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford entering Turns 1 and 2, Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet wiggled, which allowed Keselowski to retain the lead. By then, the final four title contenders were back running first through fourth on the track.
With 10 laps remaining in the second stage, Keselowski stretched his advantage to four-tenths of a second over Elliott with third-place Logano trailing by more than a second and fourth-place Hamlin trailing by more than two seconds. Blaney moved into fifth place followed by Johnson while Kurt Busch continued to hold strong on two fresh tires in seventh place. Kyle Busch rallied his way back into eighth place followed by William Byron, DiBenedetto, Harvick and Bowyer.
Two laps later, Elliott muscled his No. 9 Chevrolet into a heated battle for the lead against Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford Mustang. While Elliott led the following lap, Keselowski fought back, but the former prevailed by a narrow margin. By then, Logano was still behind by more than a second while Hamlin was behind by more than two seconds.
With three laps remaining in the second stage, the battle for the lead between Elliott and Keselowski continued to intensify as the latter made a charge on the former through the corners. Despite the challenge, Elliott continued to lead by a narrow margin as he also started the final lap of the stage.
On the final lap of the second stage, Keselowski gained a run on the backstretch to draw himself dead even beneath Elliott. In Turn 3, he emerged ahead and managed to move up and clear Elliott entering Turn 4 to win the second stage on Lap 190 and claim his eighth stage victory of the season. Logano settled in third followed by Hamlin, who emerged with the most stage victories of this season (11). Blaney was scored in fifth while Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, DiBenedetto and Byron settled in the top 10. Bowyer was in 11th behind teammate Kevin Harvick while Kenseth, meanwhile, was back in 27th behind Chris Buescher.
Under the stage break, Ryan Preece’s car, which stalled while trying to enter pit road, was pushed back to the garage. Not long after, the leaders pitted and Elliott reassumed the lead after beating Logano off of pit road in first place following a four-tire stop. Hamlin exited in third place followed by Blaney while Keselowski, who received a slow pit stop, lost four spots and fell back to fifth ahead of Harvick.
With 112 laps remaining, the final stage started with Elliott and Logano on the front row. At the start, Elliott and Logano battled dead even for the lead through the dogleg turn and through Turns 1 and 2 before Elliott prevailed on the backstretch. Logano retained second place over Hamlin while Keselowski moved up to fourth place.
Three laps later, Elliott was out in front by four-tenths of a second over Logano with Hamlin and Keselowski battling behind. Blaney settled behind in fifth while Byron moved up to sixth. Johnson and Harvick battled for seventh while the Busch brothers were scored in the top 10.
Down to the final 100 laps of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, the final four title contenders were running first through fourth on the track, with Elliott leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Logano as Hamlin and Keselowski trailed behind. Blaney was in fifth followed by Byron, Johnson, Harvick and the Busch brothers. Bowyer was in 13th behind Truex while Kenseth was in 24th behind McDowell.
With less than 90 laps remaining, Elliott continued to lead by nearly eight-tenths of a second over Logano. Meanwhile, Keselowski overtook Hamlin for third place, with the latter struggling with loose conditions and keeping pace with his title contenders.
With 80 laps remaining, Elliott stabilized his advantage in the overall race and the championship battle by more than seven-tenths of a second over Logano while Keselowski and Hamlin continued to run in third and fourth. Blaney remained in fifth place while Jimmie Johnson overtook teammate Byron for sixth place. Harvick, DiBenedetto and the Busch brothers were scored in the top 10. Bowyer was in 12th while Kenseth was in 24th.
Ten laps later, with 70 laps remaining, Elliott extended his advantage to more than a second over Logano with Keselowski and Hamlin trailing behind, though final pit stops were expected for the lead lap competitors to complete the race to its scheduled distance.
Another 10 laps later, with 60 laps remaining, Elliott remained in the lead by more than six-tenths of a second over Logano with Keselowski trailing by less than a second and Hamlin trailing by more than three seconds. Blaney continued to run as the highest-running non-title contender in fifth followed by Johnson, Harvick, DiBenedetto, Byron and Kurt Busch.
Not long after, pit stops under green occurred as Blaney pitted. Kurt Busch also pitted along with Kyle Busch, Byron, Hamlin, Harvick, Almirola, Johnson, Logano, Keselowski and Elliott, the leader.
Back on the track, Stenhouse, who has yet to pit, was the leader followed by Logano, Elliott, Hamlin and Keselowski.
With 50 laps remaining, Logano emerged with the lead in the overall race and the championship battle after Stenhouse pitted. Elliott trailed by one and a half seconds while Hamlin and Keselowski were in fourth and fifth, trailing by more than four seconds. Shortly after, Hamlin moved into third place over Keselowski, who suffered another slow pit stop.
Seven laps later, Elliott cut the deficit down to a tenth of a second behind Logano. In Turns 1 and 2, Elliott gained a run on Logano as they battled through the backstretch. Riding behind Logano’s rear bumper, Elliott made a move to the inside of Logano in Turn 3 and cleared him to reassume the lead in Turn 4 with 42 laps remaining.
With 40 laps remaining, Elliott was leading the overall race and the championship battle by nearly half a second over Logano. Hamlin was in third, trailing by nearly four seconds, while Keselowski was in fourth, trailing by more than four seconds. Blaney continued to run in fifth place followed by Jimmie Johnson, Harvick, DiBenedetto, Byron and Kyle Busch. By then, Bowyer was in 15th while Kenseth was in 23rd.
Ten laps later, with 30 laps remaining, Elliott stretched his lead in his No. 9 Chevrolet to more than a second over Logano’s No. 22 Ford. Keselowski muscled his No. 2 Ford into third place, trailing by less than four seconds, while Hamlin faded back to fourth place, trailing by nearly five seconds, in his No. 11 Toyota.
Another five laps later, with 25 laps remaining, Elliott continued to stretch his advantage to two and a half seconds over Logano. Keselowski and Hamlin remained in third and fourth, though both were slowly seeing their title hopes vanquish.
With 20 laps remaining, Elliott remained as the leader in the overall race and the championship battle by nearly three seconds over Logano with Keselowski and Hamlin running third and fourth. Behind the final four title contenders, Jimmie Johnson overtook Blaney to move into fifth place. Harvick was in seventh behind Blaney while DiBenedetto, Byron and Kyle Busch were in the top 10. Bowyer was in 14th while Kenseth was in 23rd behind Erik Jones and Ryan Newman.
Five laps later, with 15 laps remaining, Keselowski started to close in on teammate Logano for the runner-up spot. By then, Elliott was still leading by less than three seconds while Hamlin was behind by nearly eight seconds. Jimmie Johnson continued to run in fifth place in front of Blaney.
With 10 laps remaining and a championship within sight, Elliott was still leading by more than three seconds over Logano, who had teammate Keselowski challenging him for second place. Hamlin was in fourth while Johnson was in fifth. By then, 12 of the 39 competitors on the track were scored on the lead lap, with Harvick, DiBenedetto, Byron, the Busch brothers, and Truex running on the lead lap.
Shortly after, Keselowski overtook teammate Logano for second place. By then, Elliott was still leading the race and the title battle by more than three seconds. Hamlin was behind by more than eight seconds while Johnson remained in fifth, nearly 11 seconds behind.
With five laps remaining, Elliott remained in the lead by less than four seconds with a championship grower closer and closer towards his grasp. Keselowski continued to run in second place followed by teammate Logano and Hamlin while Johnson continued to run in fifth place ahead of Blaney.
Despite closing in on lapped traffic, Elliott continued to methodically lead the race by a comfortable margin over his title rivals. When the white flag waved, he was ahead by more than three seconds over Keselowski.
For one final lap, Elliott was able to navigate the turns and the straightaways at his own cautious pace as he came back to the finish line and claimed the checkered flag to win both the season finale and his first Cup title.
With his accomplishment, Elliott became the third-youngest Cup champion at age 24 years, 11 months and 11 days. He also became the 34th different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series title, fourth to do so while driving for Hendrick Motorsports and the eighth in the last 10 seasons. In addition, Elliott became the first Chevrolet competitor to win the Cup title since teammate Jimmie Johnson won his record-tying seventh title in 2016.
This marked the seventh consecutive year since the inception of the current Playoff-elimination format where the final Cup race of the season was won by the champion.
Elliott’s championship achievement was one that was well-received by the limited fans attending the race, his crew members, his family headlined by his father and NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bill Elliott, team owner Rick Hendrick, and his fellow competitors, many of whom drove alongside Elliott to congratulate him, including seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished fifth in his 686th and final race as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series competitor.
“I’m not sure that I still even know [what it means to win the championship],” Elliott said on the frontstretch while emotional. “I’m at a loss for words. This is unbelievable. Oh, my gosh. We did it. That’s all I’ve got to tell you. Unreal. Championship crew chief, Alan Gustafson, is now a NASCAR Cup Series champion, and very deserving. I just can’t say enough about our group. I felt like we took some really big strides this year, and last week [at Martinsville Speedway] was a huge one. To come out of that with a win and a shot to come here and have a chance to race is unbelievable.”
“All you can dream for is an opportunity, and I’ve been very fortunate to have that over the years,” Elliott added. “You know, and that’s all thanks to some great people. You know, my parents obviously have played a huge role. The past year has been tough. I lost my best friend about a year ago tonight. Lost my grandmother last year. And all those things bring families closer, so I really can’t thank them enough.”
During the final laps of the race, Elliott mentioned how he was anticipating a caution to fall and have his stable lead and road to the title nearly vanquished.
“Yeah, just waiting on the caution, as always,” Elliott said. “You know, I saw Joey was pretty loose there and felt like I needed to get to him while I could. I knew I’d been kind of tight on a longer run and he was probably going to get a little better. Just unbelievable. I mean, I just never would have though that this year would have gone like it has. I mean, NASCAR Cup Series champion. Are you kidding me? Unreal.”
Ironically, Elliott achieved his first NASCAR Cup championship the same season the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship, a feat both teams also made during the same year back in 1988 when Bill Elliott also won his first NASCAR Cup title.
Following the 2020 finale, Chase and Bill Elliott joined the Pettys (Lee and Richard) and the Jarretts (Ned and Dale) as the only father-son combo to win a Cup title.
“I couldn’t breathe during Martinsville [last weekend],” Bill Elliott, along with wife, Cindy, said. “Today was, I just said we’ve had a heck of a year and whatever Chase does today, we’re so proud of him. We’re gonna make the best of it. When [Logano] got ahead of us during that last stop, I didn’t think we’d ever do it…Chase dug it in and came by and was able to pull it off. Unbelievable. If it wasn’t for Rick Hendrick, we would not be here today.”
The 2020 Cup championship was the 13th for Hendrick Motorsports led by team owner Rick Hendrick and the first for veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson.
“It was a nail-biter,” Hendrick said. “You saw all the action when the race starts and you get swept up in a wreck. [Elliott] came through there like a champ…I’m excited about next year with our young guns. It’s just a roller coaster. You’re happy, sad, jubilant, teary. It’s all of that rolled up in one, but it couldn’t be any better other than Jimmie [Johnson] could’ve won the race and Chase won the championship. I’m so proud of Chase and I’m very thankful that Jimmie got to race with me his career and I look at all the championships and look at what a great guy he is off the track. That Chase is unbelievable. I don’t know how many he’s gonna win, but it’s gonna be a bunch…To finish [this season] with a championship, it’s just unbelievable. I don’t think it’s gonna sink in.”
“We’ve been close,” Gustafson added. “Man, a lot of good people have done a lot of good things for me. Got to thank all of them. Certainly, a great day. Sweet win here at Phoenix, which is a track I’ve won with three other guys with, so that’s cool, too. In the Playoffs, you’ve got to win. I think that’s the key. You got to win races. It’s different than the regular season. Everybody brings their best stuff and everybody’s on their A game. We knew we had to win. Last week was the big one. We knew we had to win to transfer. Winning when you have to like that when you’re back’s against the wall is a tough thing to do, but when you do it, it just brings a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence to the team. We knew coming here was a great track for us. We’re ready. We’ve been through a lot and we just knew it was our time.”
Behind Elliott, Keselowski finished in second place and emerged as the championship runner-up for his best points result since winning the 2012 Cup title. Teammate Logano finished in third place on the track and in the final standings despite leading 125 laps and displaying competitiveness on the track for his second Cup title.
“Man, just didn’t have the speed at the right time,” Logano said. “Early in the race, our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang was really fast and no one really did anything wrong. Our pit crew was on it. Our strategy got us out front there at the end. [Elliott] seemed like he really lit off pretty good there. That last run was able to go really fast. And got another vibration towards the end of the run and lost the turn. Still a little free. Yeah, we were close, and you know, everyone executed and did their job, and that’s what we should be most proud of. And also how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season until now as a team. A lot to be proud of. It stings not winning, I’m not going to lie, it hurts, but at the same time we’re stronger because we went through it…You either win or get stronger, and unfortunately we are the stronger ones today and we’ll get stronger, but we’ll be better for next year.”
“I would have liked to have had one of those late race yellows like we saw in the Truck and Xfinity race,” Keselowski said. “I thought we were pretty good there, just didn’t have the track position to make it show. I thought we had a shot at the end of the second stage and just couldn’t keep it up in spot to keep it where we could have a lead. Really proud of the speed we had. Just a solid day and just wish we had one more spot.”
Finally, Hamlin, who entered the finale while making his 15th attempt in winning his first Cup title, finished in fourth place on the track and in the final standings for the second year in a row after struggling with speed and keeping pace with his title rivals.
“We were a little off handling, but I think just overall car speed, just didn’t quite have enough,” Hamlin said. “We just, as an organization, got to get a little bit better, especially on the short tracks. It just seems like we were a little bit off all year and that was all I had, that’s for sure. I was pushing for everything I had. The FedEx Camry just didn’t quite have enough today. We ended up fourth…Pretty proud what this team’s doing and what we’re building forward. Proud of the effort. We’ll come back and do it again next year. Looking forward to it. We’ll win as many races as we possibly can to get ourselves back in Phoenix again with another shot. Proud of this whole Joe Gibbs FedEx team for giving me cars that are capable of winning every week.”
While Elliott celebrated a championship, Jimmie Johnson emerged with a smile upon exiting his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the final time as he wrapped up his 19-year illustrious career in NASCAR with seven championships, 83 career wins, 36 poles, 232 top-five results, 374 top-10 results and over 18,000 laps led, all while driving the No. 48 car for Hendrick Motorsports.
“Man, my heart’s full,” Johnson said. “I’m just so happy to have this wonderful career and so many great people behind me. First and foremost, my wife, Chandra, [she’s] been with me every step of the way. My kids. This has just been quite a journey for all of us. I’m very thankful for today. [I] Had a great run on the track. I just can’t go without congratulating Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports on another championship. It’s been a great run. I’ve had 19 years in the Cup Series, two years in the Xfinity Series. I’ve met so many wonderful people, I’ve worked for great people, with great people. I learned so many lessons inside and out of the car. I’m full. This has been a great journey. I’m ready to spend my time a little bit differently instead of 38 weeks a year being on the road, racing in the Cup Series. Just ready for it and very full…I’ll be around.”
Along with Johnson, Clint Bowyer finished 14th in his 541st and final Cup career race while Matt Kenseth finished 25th in his 697th and final scheduled race of his illustrious career. Bowyer will be succeeded by Chase Briscoe while Kenseth will be succeeded by Ross Chastain.
Seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus called his 708th and final NASCAR Cup Series race as he will step down from the No. 24 team driven by William Byron and serve as Vice President of Competition for Hendrick Motorsports, beginning next season. Veteran Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will take over as Byron’s crew chief next season.
Christopher Bell finished 17th in the final NASCAR race for Leavine Family Racing while Ty Dillon finished 21st in the final NASCAR race for Germain Racing.
Bubba Wallace finished 15th in his 112th and final Cup race in the Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Chevrolet, Alex Bowman finished 16th in his 118th and final race in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before he takes over the No. 48 HMS Chevrolet, Erik Jones finished 22nd in his 110th and final race in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Daniel Suarez finished 31st in his 35th and final race in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.
Cole Custer was officially named the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year in a year where he won his first Cup career race and made the Playoffs.
There were 19 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 27 laps.
1. Chase Elliott, 153 laps led
2. Brad Keselowski, Stage 2 winner, 16 laps led
3. Joey Logano, Stage 1 winner, 125 laps led
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Jimmie Johnson, four laps led
6. Ryan Blaney, one lap led
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap led
9. William Byron
10. Martin Truex Jr.
11. Kyle Busch
12. Kurt Busch, four laps led
13. Aric Almirola, one lap down, seven laps led
14. Clint Bowyer, one lap down
15. Bubba Wallace, one lap down
16. Alex Bowman, one lap down
17. Christopher Bell, one lap down
18. Austin Dillon, one lap down
19. Tyler Reddick, one lap down
20. Chris Buescher, one lap down
21. Ty Dillon, one lap down
22. Erik Jones, one lap down
23. Michael McDowell, one lap down
24. Ryan Newman, one lap down
25. Matt Kenseth, one lap down
26. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., two laps down, one lap led
28. Cole Custer, two laps down
29. Brennan Poole, three laps down
30. J.J. Yeley, six laps down
31. Daniel Suarez, six laps down
32. Joey Gase, 10 laps down
33. James Davison, 10 laps down
34. Ryan Preece, 13 laps down
35. Josh Bilicki, 16 laps down
36. Timmy Hill, 24 laps down
37. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Rear end
38. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Suspension
39. Quin Houff – OUT, Handling
1. Chase Elliott
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Joey Logano
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Alex Bowman
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Kyle Busch
9. Ryan Blaney
10. Kurt Busch
11. Austin Dillon
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Matt DiBenedetto
14. William Byron
15. Aric Almirola
16. Cole Custer
Bold indicates Championship finale contenders.
The NASCAR Cup Series enters its off-season period before returning for the 2021 Daytona Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, beginning on Tuesday, February 9, for the Busch Clash on the Daytona Road Course and leading up to the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 14.