Chase Elliott won the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship and shared the celebration with his dad, Bill (the 1988 champion), and his mom, Cindy. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

NASCAR In 2020 — The 75 Years Edition

Editor’s Note: NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary. SPEED SPORT was founded in 1934 and was already on its way to becoming America’s Motorsports Authority when NASCAR was formed. As a result, we will bring you Part 73 of a 75-part series on the history NASCAR.

From a frightening finish to the season-opening Daytona 500 that saw Ryan Newman escape serious injury in a vicious crash at the checkered flag to a thrilling conclusion with Chase Elliott capturing the championship, the NASCAR Cup Series season was one of remarkable achievement.

Like all sports, the NASCAR campaign was dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASCAR shut down its season prior to events at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 13 and did not return to the track until May 17 when it became the first major sports league to resume with an event at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway — without fans in attendance.

With a fluid schedule of events that included doubleheaders and midweek events, and thanks to its lucrative television contracts, NASCAR steadily made up the races that had been postponed, completed its regular season on schedule and began the 10-week playoff run Labor Day weekend at Darlington.

After winning the return to racing at Darlington in May, Kevin Harvick went on a hot streak that saw him win seven times through the conclusion of the 26-race regular season. Harvick continued to ride the wave by winning the playoff-opening Southern 500 at Darlington.

He added his ninth victory of the season two weeks later at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

But in NASCAR’s unique playoff system, a driver must successfully advance through three elimination rounds in order to battle for the title during the final race of the season. Elliott, the 25-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, excelled when the pressure was the greatest.

He advanced into the Round of 8 by winning the cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Oct. 11.

Still, Elliott found himself in a must-win situation heading into the Nov. 1 race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway that concluded the Round of 8. The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet rose to the occasion and drove to a dominant victory on the .525-mile track.

The victory secured an opportunity to race for the championship during the Phoenix season finale against Team Penske Ford drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wheelman Denny Hamlin.

The best finisher of the four would win the championship and every year since 2014 the champion had also won the race. Elliott kept that streak alive in dramatic fashion. After the No. 9 car twice failed inspection, Elliott, who was scheduled to start from the pole, was penalized to the rear of the field.

While Logano led early, Elliott put on a show by blasting through the field. Once up front, the challengers had little for Elliott.

He went on to win the race and the championship as the title contenders finished in the first four spots.

While Elliott claimed the victory, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, finished fifth in his final race as a full-time driver.

Elliott was literally born into the sport. His father, Bill, was one of NASCAR’s most accomplished and popular drivers. He was a two-time Daytona 500 winner and won the 1988 Cup Series championship, helping him earn induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Now, the Elliotts are the third father-and-son duo to have won the NASCAR Cup Series title.

The others are Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett.

“When I’m dead and gone and my dad is dead and gone, he and I will share a championship with the last name Elliott forever,” Chase said. “I don’t think it gets any cooler than that, in my opinion.”

Keselowski, with four victories, was second in the standings, with Logano, who won three times third.

Hamlin won his third Daytona 500 to open the season and won seven races on his way to fourth in the championship. With the unique playoff format, Harvick, who won a series-best nine races, was eliminated after the Martinsville round and wound up fifth in the standings.

Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, William Byron and Cole Custer all won single races.