Brad Keselowski took advantage of a late-race caution to edge Kyle Busch for a Nationwide Series victory at Phoenix International Raceway, but Chase Elliott was the day’s big winner at Saturday’s DAV 200 – Honoring America’s Veterans.
Elliott, the 18-year-old son of 1988 Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott, finished fifth to clinch the NASCAR Nationwide Series title, becoming the first rookie to accomplish the feat. The Elliott family joined the Pettys, Pearsons, Jarretts and Earnhardts in becoming families with father-son national touring series champions.
Elliott, who won races at Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland this season, did what he needed to, finishing ahead of JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, who entered the race 48 points behind Elliott in the series standings and ran 10th.
Elliott said he wasn’t sure how to celebrate his series triumph. “I wasn’t sure if it was OK to do a burnout lap or not,” he said. “But I did one anyway because I was too excited not to.
“I never would have even believed this was in my future. At the beginning of this season I had only run a couple of truck races. I feel lot of this is just due to the group of guys I was able to work with. Those guys were bringing me super-fast cars every week.”
Elliott’s NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet did what Busch’s Toyota could not do — survive a green-white-checkered finish after Alex Bowman was slow on the track, bringing out a race-changing caution flag with slightly more than a lap to go.
To that point, Busch had been dominant, seemingly on his way to his eighth win in 25 starts this season by leading 187 of the race’s 206 laps.
But Keselowski had other ideas, swooping to the inside and driving past Busch in Turn 1 of the final lap to prevent Busch from winning his fourth consecutive Nationwide start at Phoenix.
“We didn’t give up,” Keselowski said. “Kyle was really fast – probably a 10th (of a second) or two faster than everybody. Then, that yellow came out and I really don’t know what happened. I think we grabbed a gear and he slipped.
“It was a little bit surreal. I really didn’t even know the race was over. We were low on gas in that whole (end-of-race) situation.”
Busch was similarly at a loss for words.
“The Monster Energy Camry was faster than everyone else – just not at the right time,” said Busch, who said he knew he was in trouble when Keselowski’s car “cut better than mine in Turns 3 and 4.
“I tried to let him go into (Turn) 1 and cut back underneath, but my (car) wouldn’t turn,” Busch said. “(Right there) his stuff doesn’t turn but it still turned better than ours ‘cuz he still got me.”
Neither Keselowski nor Busch are eligible for the series title because they are full-time Sprint Cup Series drivers.
For much of the race, Smith appeared primed to put his teammate’s title hopes on hold. But Smith struggled after leaving the pits with 29 laps to go after taking left side tires on a yellow-flag pit stop. Elliott leaped from ninth to sixth in the running order and held serve the rest of the way.
Busch took fresh tires during that same caution and restarted fifth. The strategy seemed to pay off as he easily got around Keselowski, Elliott Sadler and Bowman, each of whom elected to forego the pits on that final stop.
But Keselowski made it happen in the final two laps of his Nationwide Series campaign.
“We have a great team,” said Keselowski, who did not finish worse than fourth in any of his 10 Nationwide starts this season. “I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s been a phenomenal year and I’m going to remember this one for a long time.”