Elliott celebrates Nationwide title at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) Chase Elliott could let Matt Kenseth take a spin with the checkered flag. Even without the win, Elliott had a championship celebration waiting for him in Victory Lane.
Elliott finally got to enjoy his Nationwide Series title after he finished 17th in the season finale Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He became the youngest champion in NASCAR history last week when he wrapped up the title at Phoenix International Raceway. All that was missing was the trophy presentation he got at Homestead.
''This week, more than anything, has allowed me to sit back and think, not only of all the people who have helped me this year, but there's a lot of great names who have helped me my entire career,'' Elliott said.
The 18-year-old rookie is the youngest driver to win a title in any of NASCAR's three national series. He broke the mark set by Brian Vickers, who was 20 when he won the Nationwide title in 2003.
Kenseth got the jump on the final restart in overtime to earn his first win of the season in any NASCAR series.
''It's been a long time since I've won a race in anything,'' Kenseth said. ''Kyle (Larson) got around me on the second to last restart, and when he chose the bottom and I had Kyle behind me, I knew we had a shot. I just had to get a better restart.''
It was the final race for NASCAR's second-tier series under the Nationwide banner. It will be renamed the Xfinity Series next season.
Kyle Busch was second, and Larson finished third.
''Almost had second, but Kyle was able to squeeze around me,'' Larson said. ''I probably could have shut the door on him, but we weren't going to win, so there was no point in maybe tearing up two cars.''
With six wins from five drivers, Roger Penske clinched the Nationwide owner's title to made it 2 for 2 in championships this season. Team Penske won the IndyCar championship with Will Power in September, and a victory by Joey Logano in Sunday's Sprint Cup season finale would make Penske the only team owner to complete the sweep of major American racing titles.
''I've got two boxes checked off now,'' Penske said. ''I get one more tomorrow.''
Chevy won the manufacturers' championship, the first for its Camaro brand that debuted in 2013.
Elliott, the first Nationwide champion to also win the rookie of the year award, made his biggest mistake of the season when he smacked the wall late in the race making a hard push for a top-10 finish. He couldn't take the checkered flag - but he came away with a pretty nice consolation prize.
He grabbed the championship flag and kicked up a cloud of yellow smoke off a burnout on the painted grass.
The first-time champ needs to work on his celebrations - he smacked the wall during the burnout, bringing a smile from team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.
''I know it was ugly. We didn't have a very good run, but we'll take it,'' Elliott said.
The Victory Lane bash capped a whirlwind year for Elliot, who didn't even have a ride last November. He turns 19 on Nov. 28.
He had three wins this season and 16 top-five finishes in 33 races. The son of Hall of Fame inductee and 1988 NASCAR champion Bill Elliott beat JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith for the title.
It was the first Nationwide title for the team owned by Earnhardt, his sister Kelley, and Rick Hendrick.
The Elliotts are the fifth father/son duo to win NASCAR national series championships. The others are Lee Petty and Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett, David Pearson and Larry Pearson, and Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Elliott proved he's a champion driver, leaving open the question if he will move up to the elite Sprint Cup series. Larson spent just one season in Nationwide last year before he was promoted to Cup, and Elliott could be on that same fast track.
Hendrick has indicated they'll keep him in the second-tier series for now. Hendrick Motorsports does not have an open seat next year, and many believe Elliott could be Jeff Gordon's successor whenever he chooses to retire.
Xfinity now becomes just the third title sponsor in series history. Anheuser-Busch spent 26 years as title sponsor and Nationwide has been sponsor the last 11 but is moving into team sponsorship next season.
''We have truly enjoyed our time as the series sponsor and are grateful for the relationships we've made with the drivers, teams, owners, and fans,'' said Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide Insurance.