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AP photo by Ralph Freso / Chase Elliott holds up the NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy for the 2020 season as he celebrates with his crew in victory lane at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday. Elliott won the race and the title despite going from pole position to the rear of the field when his car failed inspection before the finale.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — The new face of NASCAR circled Phoenix Raceway for a celebratory lap of his finest achievement.

Chase Elliott, NASCAR's most popular driver for two years running, was now a Cup Series champion, too.

He came upon Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who banged doors with their Chevrolet Camaros — his No. 48, Elliott's No. 9 — and then the seven-time champion, having concluded his final full NASCAR season, gave Elliott a fist bump.

The torch has officially been passed. This is NASCAR's Camelot.

Elliott, the 24-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia, did what Dale Earnhardt Jr. could not and parlayed the popularity gleamed off a father who drove his way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame into a championship at the highest level of stock car racing. The son of "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" solidified himself as the new face of Hendrick, Chevy and NASCAR on the day the greatest driver of this generation called it a career.

Elliott drove from the back of the field to victory lane at Phoenix to win for Hendrick and Chevrolet, which had been shut out of the title race since Johnson won his final crown in 2016.

"I just never would have thought that this year would have gone like it has," Elliott said. "I mean, NASCAR Cup Series champion, are you kidding me? Unreal."

He shared a long hug with Johnson, who joined Elliott for the victory celebration.

"Oh my gosh, I mean, to share a moment like that, Jimmie's last race, to win and lock the championship," Elliott said, "those are moments you can only dream, you know, and this is a dream. Just hoping I don't ever wake up."

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AP photo by Ralph Freso / Chase Elliott drives through the fourth turn at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday in Avondale, Ariz.

Elliott's car failed inspection before the race, and the penalty cost him the pole position as he was sent to the rear. He raced his way through traffic in the first stage, though, then took control with the championship on the line, leading seven times for a race-high 153 laps.

Johnson finished fifth, his best result since August and the best place for any driver not eligible for the title Sunday. Team Penske's Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano — each hoping for his second Cup Series title — were second and third in Fords, while Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who turns 40 on Nov. 18, was unable to drive the No. 11 Toyota to what would have been his first championship.

"My heart is full," said Johnson, who shares the record for most Cup Series titles with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. Johnson's 83 victories rank sixth on the all-time wins list for the top circuit, and his stretch of five consecutive titles (2006-2010) is a record.

Asked what he will remember about his 686th race, Johnson said it will be Elliott's breakthrough.

"I'm so happy for that guy," said Johnson, who compete in more than a dozen IndyCar races in 2021. "I can recall going snowboarding with Bill out in Colorado, and Chase was maybe 8 years old on skis, super quiet, wouldn't say much.

"To watch him grow up and to be around him and to give him some advice from time to time has really been meaningful for me. I think more about him winning a championship more than anything."

Elliott, who turns 25 on Nov. 28, has followed in his father's footsteps. Bill won the 1988 championship and 16 times was voted NASCAR's most popular driver by the fans.

Chase became the fan favorite in 2018 after Dale Jr. retired, and now he's the first most popular driver to win the championship since his father won his only title.

The Elliotts joined Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett as just the third father-son combination to win a Cup Series title. The Elliotts and Hall of Famer Tim Floc, are the only three drivers from Georgia to win the title.

Hendrick extended its NASCAR record with a 13th championship.

Elliott passed Logano with 42 laps remaining and pulled away in a race Elliott controlled even as the four title contenders ran 1-2-3-4 most of the afternoon.

It was Elliott's 11th career win and fifth this season, trailing only Kevin Harvick (nine) and Hamlin (seven). Elliott's victory one week earlier at Martinsville Speedway not only locked him into the final four but eliminated regular-season champion Harvick.

"I felt like we took some really big strides this year, and last week was a huge one," said Elliott, who also won this year's NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. "To come out of that with a win and a shot to come here and have a chance to race is unbelievable."

Hamlin, now 0-for-4 in the season finale when eligible for the title, is considered along with Hall of Famer Mark Martin the best driver without a Cup Series championship.

"No one has won more than we have over the last two years. Pretty proud what this team is doing," Hamlin said. "We'll come back and do it again next year."

He was the only driver among the final four not to lead a lap at Phoenix, where he won last November.

Logano led 125 laps, most of them early.

"It stings not winning, I'm not going to lie. It hurts," said Logano, who won the 2018 title.

Keselowski had been holding out hope for a late caution to set up a short sprint to the finish, which is how both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series titles were decided the previous two nights. The race had just four cautions, three of them scheduled breaks.

"I would have loved to have raced it out," the 2012 champion said. "We just didn't get any yellows."

The race completed NASCAR's frenzied 38-race schedule that was overhauled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was suspended five days after the circuit visited Phoenix in March, a race won by Logano, and the engines idled for 10 weeks.

Facing crippling financial losses to the teams and the industry, NASCAR was one of the first sports to resume competition, going racing again May 17 and using doubleheaders, midweek races and a massive scheduling shuffle to complete the season for all three of its national series.

For the finale, the first one at NASCAR's owned and remodeled Phoenix Raceway, the series loosened its "bubble" and allowed families and guests for the first time since the previous trip to the desert. Sunday night's celebration was the first time Johnson had seen Rick Hendrick, his boss of 20 years, since March.

"If you can get through a year like this and you're NASCAR, certainly it bodes well," Keselowski said. "I thought it was really amazing what the sport was able to achieve, that we were able to get all the races in. To be here today and have a great race for a championship, I think that's really impressive."

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