HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- The two Most Popular Drivers were absolutely suited for NASCAR's big awards. Second-generation NASCAR mega-talents, both Chase Elliott ( XFINITY Series) and John Hunter Nemechek ( Camping World Truck Series) absolutely earned the distinction and the nod in Monday awards presentation. Elliott , who will drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevy next year in the Sprint Cup Series -- replacing the retiring Jeff Gordon -- was typically low-key and humble about the whole NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series awards evening. But he was eager to get going in his Cup career after a championship and second place finish (2015) in the XFINITY Series. Earning the Most Popular Driver Award for the recent season must have felt very appropriate for the son of Bill Elliott , who took the Cup Series vote a record 16 times. Dale Earnhardt Jr . has won it the past 12 years. "I think we have definitely a lot of work to do to catch Dale in that sense," a smiling Elliott said. "But I'm very appreciative of the support I've had, especially the past two years and I've noticed it. I don't think people realize how much that means to a driver when they see you wearing their T-shirt. It goes a long way for me. Seeing them do that means a lot." Elliott conceded he and his father, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, haven't discussed this honor's impact even though he is touched to receive it. "We really haven't talked about that," Elliott said. "Fortunately he (his dad) had a big following and some of those people are following me. Can't look past that. Dale has an obviously great following and I'm a Dale fan too." Nemechek, 18, was equally as excited to be recognized on the Camping World Truck Series side. A second-generation racer who won his first major race this season, Nemechek was obviously moved by the honor. "It definitely can't hurt to win the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, " Nemechek said. "It's definitely an honor for me and my family, but more importantly, hopefully it'll help us gain some reputation on selling some sponsorship for the seasons tocome. Can't thank all of the supporters enough that voted, and all the friends and family as well." Nemechek is the second family member to be honored with the award. His father, Joe Nemecheck -- a former XFINITY Series champion and four-time Cup winner. "Yeah, he won I think in 1992 and '93, so it's awesome to be able to win an award that he's won," Nemechek said. "I beat him to something. "I wish he wouldn't have won most popular so I could've beat him to that. We're very competitive, but to get my first truck win when he didn't was very special as well. He wants one bad." With Elliott moving into the Cup series and Nemechek hoping to continue his rise in the NASCAR ranks in 2016. "It definitely is special to hear how good you're doing with the equipment that you have," Nemechek said. "We utilize our resources to the absolute max that we possibly can. We try and get our trucks as good as we can. There's a lot of late nights and hard work put in with just a few people. Finding the funding to get a few more people and not have to work as late and getting some free time to work on some other projects could even make us better, but it was definitely a good year. Getting our first win and finishing in the top five so many times, all the hard work did pay off. "We're still working on trying to find funding. Nothing is set in stone yet. It's all kind of up in the air right now, so still trying to find those possible partners to sit down, sign a deal with, hopefully for years to come."
RELATED: Full results " Final standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Three contenders with outside chances at winning the season-long NASCAR XFINITY Series fight had their brush with taking the trophy away from eventual champ Chris Buescher . Unfortunately, the trio had another brush -- with the Homestead-Miami Speedway wall during Saturday's season finale. The latter brushes aside, title hopefuls Ty Dillon , Chase Elliott and Regan Smith finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectfully, coming up short in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 . The results -- combined with Buescher's 11th-place effort Saturday -- left Elliott second (15 points back), Dillon third (-18) and Smith fourth (-22) in the final standings. All three emerged from scraped Chevrolets with wishes of what might've been. Elliott came closest, but was unable to take a repeat XFINITY championship with him as he moves to the Sprint Cup Series next year as Jeff Gordon 's replacement with Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott ranked either second or third for the majority of the season, closing the year with seven consecutive top-10 finishes. The 19-year-old notched one win (in September at Richmond), but said those opportunities were fleeting over the course of the 33-race season. "Yeah, chalk it up to we got beat and didn't win enough races. That's the bottom line," said Elliott , who won three times as a championship-winning rookie in 2014. "… The most important thing in this sport is being able to win and give yourself chances to win a race every weekend. We race from February to November, and we didn't give ourselves enough chances. I didn't do a good enough job to put ourselves in position to go and try to win races. "That's the most important thing, and like I said, that's what I chalk it up to is just not being in contention enough." Dillon led the standings for the majority of the spring and soldiered ahead after a midseason crew chief change. His biggest lament came in October at Dover International Speedway , where a blown tire and slap of the outside wall with his Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet left him with a costly 28th-place finish. Dillon righted the ship slightly, closing out the year with five straight top-10 finishes to take third place away from Smith down the stretch. "It's a good year," Dillon said. "It's always a good thing to be disappointed with not winning the championship but having an opportunity, I feel like. Just proud of my guys' effort. We really turned it around the second half of the year and were a championship team. If Dover wouldn't have happened, there's always ifs and buts, but if Dover wouldn't have happened, we would've probably would've won this championship by about 15 points. So, I'm proud of what we did in the second half. … "We'll be back next year and we won't be sitting here third in points. Hopefully, we'll be lifting that trophy." Smith had the best closing kick of the four title hopefuls, coming in the face of job uncertainty as his three-year tenure at JR Motorsports drew to a close. The 32-year-old veteran won twice, with his first victory of the season at Mid-Ohio touching off a streak of 13 consecutive top-10 finishes to round out the year. The steady streak didn't unseat any of the three drivers ahead of him, but Smith said he hoped it was enough to draw interest from a prospective team owner for 2016. "I'm glad we were in the conversation," Smith said of his title campaign. "There's a couple points in the air that probably shouldn't have been and probably really weren't just because of common mistakes or other people's mistakes on the race track. So that's good. I'm frustrated today. I guess that's the only thing you focus on is how your night went tonight and we really struggled. … "We'll see how things play out for next year. I know what I'm capable of in a race car and I've still got some championships left in me, and we need to go get one."
Chase Elliott , Ty Dillon and Regan Smith talk about coming up short in the championship battle in the NASCAR XFINITY Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
RELATED: Updated series standings " Full race results AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Track position was king, cautions were few and when it all shook out, Chase Elliott departed Phoenix International Raceway six points closer to Chris Buescher . Elliott , who clinched the 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series title here at the 1-mile track a year ago, finished seventh in Saturday's DAV 200 Honoring America's Veterans. Buescher finished 13th, leaving the deficit between the two at 18 points. With only one race remaining, next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway , 18 points is a lot. But it's not impossible, Elliott said. "Certainly we still have a chance," Elliott noted. "18 points really isn't that much. That's one little mistake from being right back in it." Mistakes were few and far between in the series' penultimate event, there were only three cautions for 18 laps, and that had a big impact on the outcome, according to Elliott and crew chief Ernie Cope. In a race that was dominated by Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch , Elliott said his team "gained on it all day." "Definitely made it better on the long run," he said, "Other guys did, too. "Track position was important as always; this race had green flag written all over it so it was hard to gain a big chunk of ground unless you could get it on pit road somehow. The guys had a really good pit stop that last one, and got us a couple of spots. It just took me too long to gain them on the race track." Elliott had qualified 12th earlier, and while not terrible, it didn't help according to Cope. "We just needed track position," Cope said. "We didn't qualify good; we had a little trouble getting out of the box and lost some positions on the first stop. He passed cars but it just took so long, the next one (in line) would be so far out. We had a top-five car we just never could get the track position." Buescher described his day as an "OK" one, but "not a good one." It was his worst finish since Iowa, 13 races ago, and only the fifth result of 10th or worse during that stretch. The gains made by others were slight -- Ty Dillon and Regan Smith , third and fourth in points, finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Buescher needs only to finish 13th or higher at Homestead to clinch the title, regardless of how others fare. "We've just got to go race," Cope said of the season-ending event. "The 60 (of Buescher) got to have (a problem). We can't make up 18 points or whatever we are behind … Even if we win he's going to run good enough to where we can't beat him unless he has an issue. "We're just going to go try and do our best, that's all we can do. You can't force bad luck, you don't want to wish them bad luck, you just want to go run the best you can, try to win the race. Wherever it falls, it falls." Elliott hasn't led the points at any time this season, but he's been third or higher since the year's fifth race. He's won only once, at Richmond. "The way I look at this year is it's definitely had its ups and downs and we've given it our best effort and I think that's all you can ask for," Elliott said. "There have been a lot of mistakes made by me that I wish I could go back and fix. "Like I said … just one small mistake can gain you a chunk of points just like that. Hopefully we're not the one; hopefully we don't make any mistakes so we can give ourselves a chance. That's all you can ask for."
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- One night after Kyle Busch took a bow as a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, he helped to toast the youngster who brought him his first driver's title as a team owner. With milk. On a night for honoring new champions, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher took center stage at the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series Awards at the Diplomat Resort and Spa. For Buescher, it marked the 23-year-old's first national series championship in just his second full year in the series. For Jones, the title march coincided with a Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign. Busch was missing from Monday night's awards, occupied with the media duties and obligations that came with winning his first premier series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway . His wife, Samantha, attended on behalf of Kyle Busch Motorsports, which claimed the team owners' title for the third straight year. With Busch making the rounds with the Sprint Cup trophy, Ed Laukes, Toyota's vice president of marketing communications and motorsports, provided an assist in toasting Jones' stellar season. But the raised glass for the 19-year-old was full of milk, a half-joking homage to Dale Earnhardt's toast of first-time champion Jeff Gordon in 1995. "I wish Kyle would've been there to see his creation come to life, I guess you'd say," said Jones, who won three races and five pole positions in his first full season. "I think he had a good excuse to miss it, but that was funny. That's definitely a Kyle thing he would do, especially to me." Buescher's coronation on the XFINITY tour came after a two-win season with hallmark consistency -- 20 top-10s in 33 races. Monday night, he took his place with his Roush Fenway Racing team at the head table, saying that he showed a slight case of nerves in the Great Hall's gala setting. Jitters notwithstanding, the experience capped a stellar 48-hour period full of well-wishes from his peers. "The coolest thing is just having so many different people come up and say congratulations and we've seen what you've done to work for this and it's awesome to see you here," Buescher said. "Stuff like that means that all those years working up to this point were well worth it. It's been countless hours, many all-nighters to make sure we could get to the next ARCA race at night. We've done so many things to try and get to this point, and to finally be here, it's special. It's very humbling." Chase Elliott , the driver who preceded Buescher as series champion, took Most Popular Driver honors with him as he transitions to the Sprint Cup Series next year, replacing Jeff Gordon in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet. NASCAR Next driver John Hunter Nemechek was voted Most Popular Driver in the Camping World Truck Series. Daniel Suarez , another product of the NASCAR Next program, was named Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the XFINITY Series.
Chase Elliott reflects on some missed opportunities to gain points in the DAV 200, while Ty Dillon was proud of a gamble that paid off in the championship picture.
RELATED: Shop: Elliott die-casts " Chase's driver page "Next February will be quite the feeling," said Chase Elliott on the night of his paint scheme unveil for the 2016 season. Elliott is set to take over for the almost-retiree Jeff Gordon and will sit behind the wheel of the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in just a few months, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 . But the famed No. 24 car will have a new look next season, which Elliott and team owner Rick Hendrick revealed on Monday via FS1's NASCAR Race Hub. Feast your on @chaseelliott ’s 2016 @NAPARacing Chevy SS! #NAPAKnowHow pic.twitter.com/uFku6mwCAe — NAPA Racing (@NAPARacing) October 19, 2015 The duo discussed the redesigned No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet and what to expect from the 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. "We are just so excited about this young man," Hendrick said. Elliott couldn't be more excited either. "(The) 24 team in particular has a lot of great guys," Elliott said, referring especially to crew chief Alan Gustafson, who is returning for next year's season. "If I can do my job we have shot there (in next year's Chase )." Strapping into the No. 24 car with Hendrick-high expectations is a daunting task for the young racer, but not out of Elliott's grasp, according to the man himself. "(Jeff) thinks the world about this guy," Hendrick said, continuing on to say that Gordon would undoubtedly serve as a mentor for Elliott , along with the other three Hendrick drivers. In the meantime, Elliott still has three more XFINITY races to finish of 2015's season and to defend his title. He currently sits in second place in the standings, 27 points behind Chris Buescher .
HAMPTON, Ga. -- Chase Elliott as the weakest link? It's hard to imagine that being the case for the reigning XFINITY Series champion, but Elliott was upfront with this feeling that will indeed be the case in 2016 when he embarks on his first full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. "I know for a fact going to the 24 team next year, I'm going to be by far the weakest link in the chain," Elliott said during a media availability at Atlanta Motor Speedway during a NASCAR open team test. “I just really feel like that's a good group and I feel like if I can step up and do my job, there's no reason why we can't give ourselves a chance to compete for a win. I think that would be great but I just have a real long ways to go myself, personally to get to that point right now." Elliott was at Atlanta to test the 2016 rules package that will see reduced downforce as a prevalent part of the package. He also tested the package at Michigan International Speedway last week. In a race he admitted he'd "like to forget" due to a 41st-place finish, Elliott drove with the reduced downforce package over Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway . Elliott made five starts this season in the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (Martinsville in March, Richmond in April, Charlotte in May, Indianapolis in July and Darlington in September). His best finish was a 16th-place result at Richmond. "Those five races that we ran this year were not where I wanted to be by any means," Elliott said. "I didn't feel like I did a very good job at all to be completely honest with you. I thought I did very, very poorly, personally in the Cup races that we ran this year. The 19-year-old doesn't believe he is being hard on himself, just honest. "I just like to be honest with myself and the situation," Elliott explained. "When you show up to the racetrack like we have this year, for those Cup races, showing up in really good equipment, there's no excuse to go and not run better for me. I look at that across the board. I just try to be honest with myself and if I don't feel like I did the job I need to do, I like to just be upfront with my mind and myself personally first." And while he is his toughest critic at times, his dream of becoming a full-time driver in the sport's top series is moving closer and closer. Prior to the start of the 2015 season after four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon had already announced that 2015 would be his final full-time season, Hendrick tapped Elliott to drive the No. 24 Chevrolet starting in 2016. “I'm really looking forward to next season," Elliott said. "The more days we spend doing tests like this I think it starts to set in for me that the next time we come to this track will be next year in the 24 car we'll be racing Sprint Cup , full-time. All those things are things I've dreamed of doing for a very long time. … "I just hope to make the most of a great opportunity that's in front of me."
Chase Elliott gets loose and spins in the final round of XFINITY Series qualifying forcing him to a backup car for the Kansas Lottery 300.
Photo credit -- Chase Elliott 's Instagram @chaseelliott9 RELATED: Series standings At only 19 years old, Chase Elliott already has a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship, is currently contending for a second one and has a pretty sweet job lined up next year taking over the iconic No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for retiring four-time Sprint Cup Series champ Jeff Gordon . Not only has Elliott's racing career taken off, he has too -- literally -- having just earned his private pilot license on July 23. And the view from above is something he's wanted his whole life. It seems Elliott got more than the racing gene from his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott , as he has inherited the flying bug from his dad, an accomplished and avid aviator. "He's been flying a long time so I've always been around it since I was little," Elliott said of his father. "I've watched him fly for years and years and been fortunate enough to have access to his planes and sit up front and watch him fly them so I've always definitely interested in it. "It's one of those things where the more you do it, the more you become interested in it. And the more you get into it, the more intriguing it becomes. I learn something new every time I fly. "It's definitely tough to (master all the necessary lessons). A lot of things come along with it. But flying is a privilege and something you can't take lightly ever." A lot of the same traits -- discipline, smarts and dedication -- Elliott put into his burgeoning racing career he used to earn the pilot license. He actually started taking lessons while still in high school but it was such a busy time between school, racing and flying lessons that Elliott put off finishing his license until a few months ago with the support of his dad. "It's something you work hard for to achieve," Bill Elliott said. "I see so many people who have gone through a lot of the flying part and the learning curve but never went on and got their pilot licenses and they always regretted it. I told Chase , 'You need to go on and get this done.' "I'm glad he did. That's something he'll carry with him regardless of where racing takes him." The Elliotts join an impressive list of NASCAR drivers who have secured private pilot licenses including Carl Edwards , Greg Biffle , Matt Kenseth and retired drivers Mark Martin , Rusty Wallace, Cale Yarborough and Ricky Rudd. Ryan Newman 's wife Krissie flies helicopters. Similarly, Elliott figures having the ability to pilot an airplane can be as much a practicality as it is a luxury. His father helped secure him a Cessna 182 single-engine, four-seater to use and Elliott is eager to start flying to races closer than home. Last week, he flew to Bristol. He has also posted a photo of himself practicing grass landings on Instagram. "Absolutely, it's a major convenience if you need to go somewhere, you can turn a four-hour drive into an hour-and-a-half flight," Elliott said. "Time is valuable for anybody and any chance to make up time like that is great." Elliott wasn't sure if he would fly himself to this weekend's XFINITY Series race at Road America , but he is looking forward to the stand-alone road race regardless. It's the third road course race in the last four weeks for the series and Elliott is one of the series regulars who embraces the opportunity to turn right. He is on a six-race run of top-10 finishes in his No. 9 NAPA Chevy and currently trails championship leader Chris Buescher by 23 points in the standings. He has finishes of seventh (Watkins Glen) and fifth (Mid-Ohio) in the two road races this year and finished fourth at Road America last season. "I thought last year was a good learning experience," Elliott said. "I was really pleased with Watkins Glen. I'm still learning on my end, but thought we had good cars this year and that's a big step in right direction." For Elliott , that direction is up.