Chase Elliott sat on the open window of his car, his legs still inside, and put his head in his hands on the roof of his No. 9 Chevrolet — the car he drove to victory lane in NASCAR's season finale and championship race.
He couldn't believe it. He had just won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, and he did it in dominating fashion at just 24 years old, the third-youngest to win it all.
He climbed out, stood on the window and raised his hands triumphantly in the air before leaping into the arms of his crew members.
"This is a moment that, heck, I've only dreamt about," said Elliott, who won his fifth race of the season and 11th career checkered flag. He led a race-high 153 of 312 total laps, including the final 43.
"I'm still not sure I completely realize what has exactly happened," he continued. "I don't feel like I'm a crier in these situations, but dang, I feel like there's going to come a time where I'm probably going to break down and really lose it."
After his crew, he then he found his father, Bill Elliott, the NASCAR Hall of Famer, the 1988 champion and one of the sport's most beloved drivers. They tightly wrapped their arms around each other for a touching embrace.
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The 1988 and 2020 @NASCAR champions, father and son, hug it out. #NASCAR#Championship4pic.twitter.com/VIKmWpxV5P
"When I'm dead and gone and my dad is dead and gone, he and I will share a championship with the last name Elliott forever," Chase said. "I don't think it gets any cooler than that, in my opinion."
Elliott has qualified for the playoffs in each of his five full-time Cup seasons, but this was his first Championship 4 berth. This season, he won at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s oval, Daytona International Speedway's road course, Charlotte's Roval and Martinsville Speedway last weekend to lock himself into the title race.
"I'm not sure I could have sat down and drawn it up any better," Chase said about his last two races.
Chase Elliott celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship. (Photo: Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports)
Despite initially planning to start on the pole, Elliott's car failed pre-race inspection twice, and he had to start from the rear. But by the time the competition caution came out on Lap 30, Elliott was running 10th before eventually making his way to the front.
With the championship, Chase and Bill Elliott are now the third father-son duo to be NASCAR champions, joining Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett in that exclusive club.
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"What's so exciting today is to see how excited Bill was and Cindy [Elliott, Chase's mom]," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "You don't see Bill get excited very much. Man, he was pumped. I thought that was super special. …
"Bill and Cindy did a great job with Chase. He's a racer, smart. He's just so much like his dad. He understands the chassis, understands the car, super laid‑back. When I say laid‑back, not driving the car, but they let their actions on the track do the talking for them, which I'm impressed with the way Chase is. He doesn't let it get to his head."
Initially, Chase was nearly speechless, repeatedly describing the moment as "unreal." Bill called it "unbelievable" and told NBC Sports afterward about how he had been pumping his son up all week to take on the other title contenders, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin.
Chase Elliott celebrates with his parents Cindy Elliott and NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Bill Elliott in victory lane after winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway. (Photo: Chris Graythen, Getty Images)
"All you gotta do is beat three cars. Well, three of the best," Bill joked about his fatherly advice. "I just said we’ve had a heck of a year, and whatever Chase does today, we’re so proud of him."
"I’ve had just a peace about this all week long," Cindy Elliott added. "I just knew that this was going to be our fairytale ending today."
It took fans almost no time to latch onto Chase the way they did Bill, especially when former Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired after the 2017 season. Since Earnhardt's departure, Chase has been voted NASCAR's most popular driver. Should he win it for a third straight year, it will mark the first time since Bill Elliott in 1988 that the most popular driver is also the NASCAR Cup champion.
Last weekend when Elliott won his way into the championship race, he said that was the biggest victory of his career. Well, second-biggest now.
"This is the dream," he said. "I just hope I never wake up."
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