Chase Elliott became the first driver since 2014 to win the final two races of the Cup Series season.
The first win came at Martinsville on Nov. 1. That victory made Elliott a part of the final four for the championship. And then Elliott got his first championship on Sunday as he drove away from the field over the final laps to win at Phoenix.
Elliott had to get that win at Martinsville to race for the title. Had Elliott not won at the half-mile track he would have been eliminated in the third round of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
Instead, Elliott went out and got his first Martinsville win. Growing up, Elliott said he always looked up to drivers who thrived in pressure situations. And he said his team’s success at Martinsville was a huge accomplishment, a boost that led up to the triumph at Phoenix.
“I look at the guys who have achieved this honor as guys who perform in the toughest of situations,” Elliott said after the race. “I felt like that's been an area that we haven't done a great job of over my first five years, really up until last week. We had a tough situation, a perform‑or‑go‑home type night there at Martinsville and was able to step up and really get the job done. I thought that was the piece of the puzzle that we haven't had. I really felt like we had everything else that we needed, and I really believed that.”
Elliott had three wins during the 26 races of the regular season. It was a total that wasn’t anything to sneeze at. But it was also an accomplishment that was overshadowed by the success that Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, had as the duo won half of the regular season’s races.
He entered the playoffs as a driver on the edge of the final four and fifth in the standings. Hamlin and Harvick were two of the drivers ahead of him.
But they both performed significantly worse than Elliott did in the postseason. While Elliott is the first NASCAR champion since the playoffs began in 2004 to have three finishes of 20th or worse in the final 10 races of the season, he also had the most points per race of any driver in the playoffs.
Elliott scored over 42 points per race in the postseason. That was an eight-point improvement on his regular season performance. As Elliott improved, none of the other title contenders did.
Harvick’s performance fell off over six points per race while Hamlin and Keselowski scored points at essentially the same rate they did in the regular season. Elliott’s team surged.
“That's one thing that I felt like our whole team just did a better job of was just boiling it down to the things that matter,” Elliott said of his team. “Ultimately it's how good of a job did we do building that car, how prepared am I coming into a race weekend and how do we execute it.”
“I feel like those three things we put more emphasis on than we ever have. I feel like I was mentally locked in better than I've ever been. And yeah, I think the results showed.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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