Chase Elliott, the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, ran a flawless championship race, leading 153 of 312 laps at Phoenix Raceway and held off fellow title contender Brad Keselowski by more than 2.7 seconds at the finish.
“I’m at a loss of words, this is unbelievable. We did it. I mean, we did it. That’s all I’ve got to tell you. Unreal,” Elliott said.
“I just can’t say enough about our group. I feel like we took some really big strides this year, last week was a huge one. To come out of there with a win and have a shot to race for a championship is unbelievable. I don’t even know … unreal.”
Asked what he was thinking about as the final stage drew to a close caution-free, Elliott said: “Just waiting on the caution, as always. I saw Joey (Logano) was pretty loose there and felt like I needed to get to him while I could.
“I had been kind of tight on the long run, was afraid he’d get a little better. I just never thought this year would go like it has.”
Elliott, 24, has three or more wins in three consecutive seasons now and has advanced to the playoffs every year he has been a fulltime driver in the Cup Series.
Sunday’s win is his fifth this year – the most of his career – and 11th of his career.
Elliott only had a chance to compete for the championship this season by winning last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, which he also did in impressive fashion.
Elliott’s win was also a changing of the guard as well.
After Elliott took the checkered flag, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson – who is stepping away from fulltime NASCAR competition after this year – rode side-by-side with Elliott around the track.
Johnson ended up fifth, his best finish since he was third at Dover, Del., in August.
“I’ve learned so many lessons inside and out of the car. I’m full,” Johnsons said. “I’m ready to spend my time a little differently … 38 weeks a year on the road racing Cup Series, I’m just ready for something else.”
Keselowski ended up second in the race (and championship), Logano was third (and in the championship standings), Denny Hamlin was fourth (and in the championship standings) and Johnson was fifth.
Completing the top-10 were Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, the lead-lap cars pit with Elliott the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 201, Elliott was followed by Logano, Hamlin and Blaney.
With 90 laps to go in the race, Elliott maintained about a half-second lead over Logano, followed by Hamlin, Keselowski and Blaney.
By Lap 225, Keselowski got around Hamlin and took over third.
With 60 laps remaining, Elliott maintained almost a 1-second lead over Logano. Some teams had made their final green-flag pit stop but the title contenders stayed on the track.
Logano was the first to pit among the title contenders on Lap 260. Hamlin was next. Elliott and Keselowski pit on Lap 261.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 262, Logano came out the leader followed by Elliott, Hamlin and Keselowski.
Elliott went to the inside of Logano off Turn 3, gave him a nudge and reclaimed the lead on Lap 270 as Hamlin remained in third, more than 3 seconds behind the leader.
With 20 laps remaining, Elliott had moved out to a 2.7-second lead over Logano and appeared to be in excellent position to win his second consecutive race and first series title.
Keselowski got around Logano to take the runner-up spot with 10 laps to go but he was still more than 3 seconds behind the leader.
Keselowski passes Elliott on the final turn of the final lap and claimed the Stage 2 victory.
Logano was third, Hamlin fourth and Blaney rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, all lead-lap cars pit with Logano once again the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 84, Logano was followed by Hamlin, Elliott and Keselowski.
On Lap 106, Logano reported a vibration in his brake pedal while he was still leading the race.
Elliott got around Hamlin on Lap 114 to move into the runner-up position as Logano remained out front.
On Lap 120, Elliott moved past Logano off Turn 2 to take the lead for the first time in the race.
Keselowski was the first of the Championship 4 to make his green-flag pit stop on Lap 128. Logano pit on Lap 137. Elliott and Hamlin followed on Lap 140.
Once the cycle of stops was completed on Lap 151, Elliott moved into the lead followed by Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Keselowski.
James Davison wrecked off Turn 2 on Lap 161 to bring out a caution. The lead-lap cars pit with Kurt Busch the first off pit road thanks to a two-tire pit stop.
On the restart on Lap 168, Kurt Busch was followed by Elliott, Hamlin and Logano.
After racing side-by-side with Kurt Busch, Elliott cleared for the lead entering Turn 3 after the restart.
Keselowski got around Elliott on Lap 173 to move into the lead.
With eight laps remaining in the stage, Elliott was able to get back by Keselowski to reclaim the lead.
Logano held off Hamlin to take the Stage 1 win as all four title contenders finished in the top-four.
Elliott was third, Keselowski fourth and Blaney rounded out the top-five.
Logano started on the pole when Elliott was forced to start the race from the rear of the field after his No. 9 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection twice.
By Lap 9, Elliott had worked his way into the Top 20 as Logano continued to lead. By Lap 26, Elliott entered the top-10.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 31 to allow teams to check tire wear. All lead-lap cars pit with Logano the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 37, Logano was followed by Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch.
By Lap 42, Elliott was up to fourth while Logano continued to try to hold off Hamlin.
With 25 laps remaining in the stage, Logano maintained a nearly 1-second lead over Hamlin while Elliott ran third and Keselowski fourth.
With 10 laps to go, Logano held a small but steady lead over Hamlin while Elliott remained in third, 3 seconds behind the leader.