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."
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.
RELATED: Complete race results " Updated series standings ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- All the positives -- the determined late-race comeback, leading the most laps, moving up a rung in the standings -- meant little to Chase Elliott in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's matinee at Road America . His own harshest critic, Elliott didn't hold back in giving his performance a scathing review. "Absolutely terrible job on my part," Elliott said after a fourth-place finish in the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville. "That was the worst race, just beyond way too many mistakes. Just absolutely screwed that up, so terrible day for me. I hate it for my guys. I had such a good car and I let 'em down." The clouds that hung over the 4.048-mile road course were missing the silver linings, according to the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, who guided the JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet from 11th place over the final four-lap stretch to the checkered flag in the 45-lap event. That span was part of an even bigger rally, from 23rd place after his final pit stop on Lap 30, just two laps after an off-course excursion at Turn 11 that cost him plenty of momentum. Both comebacks left him with little consolation. "Top five's not a win," Elliott said. "Have to be honest with yourself. I screwed it up." The negative side of Elliott's day didn't resonate as strongly with crew chief Ernie Cope, who discussed the race at length with the 19-year-old driver in the XFINITY garage. "He is hard on himself. He expects to win and he doesn't want to let us down, which he didn't," Cope said. "He came back in three laps and went from (11th) to fourth, so I look at that. I mean, we were pinned back there and then passing about seven cars in three laps. I mean, you're going to have altercations during it." The ending was a sharp contrast to how Elliott's day started. The youngster started on the front row after Coors Light Pole Qualifying was scratched by rain, then jumped out to lead the opening 12 laps. After briefly giving up the top spot on an early exchange of pit stops for fuel strategy, Elliott reassumed the lead, stretching it to more than 12 seconds during the dominant first half. "It was as good as it looked and by far I feel like the best road race car I've ever had," said Elliott , who led 23 of the 45 laps. "I was beyond pleased with the race car. It wasn't the race car's fault, I can tell you that." Elliott pitted after putting all four tires into the grass off the 14-turn circuit's kink, apologizing to his JRM crew over the radio after leaving pit road back in the pack. From there, though, his comeback trail began, only to be stemmed by a six-lap caution period -- a seeming eternity on the lengthy course -- after multiple breakages and fluid leaks in the pack delayed the final restart. "They're going caution after caution after caution, but I still feel like we would've had time to get back up there and have a shot at winning as good as the car was," Cope said. "You just don't know how they're going to fall. It was just a bad storm." Once the clouds lifted, Cope took solace in the big-picture plusses. With 10 races left in the season, Elliott now sits in second place in the standings, supplanting Ty Dillon , who took 10th Saturday. Elliott's top-five result, combined with series leader Chris Buescher 's ninth-place run, chopped his deficit to just 16 points heading to next weekend's event at Darlington Raceway . "Looking at the positives, we gained seven, but it was a day we could've gotten 15," Cope said of the points tally. "But it's all good. We're right where we need to be. That puts us back (to) second, we're only 16 out of it and we're going to go stomp their asses at Darlington."
RELATED: Full race results " Final season standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- As it turned out, the final step in Chris Buescher 's march to the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship was almost pedestrian. None of his closest pursuers could mount a serious challenge for the victory in Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . In fact, Buescher, title runner-up Chase Elliott and fellow contenders Ty Dillon and Regan Smith all went a lap down to race winner Kyle Larson during a long green-flag run in the middle of the race. Ultimately, Buescher got a free pass back to the lead lap and finished 11th, leaving him with a 15-point edge in the standings over Elliott , the defending series champion, and 18 over third-place Dillon, who finished seventh on Saturday. With no real pressure from his competition, and with 18 points in hand entering the race, Buescher's primary task was to keep his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford out of trouble, and the 23-year-old Texan did exactly that. RELATED: Buescher's path to becoming a champion If the pressure of an impending first NASCAR national series championship was weighing on him, Buescher didn't show it. "I did a good job masking it didn't I?" Buescher said after the race. "I was a little nervous. All things considered, that was exactly what we needed to do, and we knew that and knew we were capable of doing it. "I'm glad we could pull it off for all the people that were on board all year, AdvoCare, Roush Performance, Cheez-It and all the fans. I know the weather wasn't ideal today (rain caused the fourth caution), but they hung in there with us and we made it through this thing and get to celebrate." More than seven years earlier, Buescher left home to pursue a racing career, despite the reservations of his parents. "I'm glad (my mother) let me," Buescher said. "I think she's OK with it now. I have to thank my parents so much for the opportunity to be here and leave home and do this. That was such an amazing race, just being careful. "Our Fastenal Mustang had good speed in it. We just had to be careful out there… It's pretty amazing to be in this position." Keeping his desire to race for victories in check, however, has been a difficult proposition for the young champion. "I am not a points racer," Buescher said. "I don't like it. It's not the most fun way to run the last 10 races of the season, but it is important. "This is what we have been fighting for since February at Daytona, and these guys (the team) have done such a great job and stuck in there with us all year and had no mechanical failures or DNFs. It's a huge accomplishment for our team." Austin Dillon , who finished second to Larson on Saturday, wasn't surprised Buescher and his team exhibited that sort of race management. "Chris is a smart race car driver," Dillon said. I think that's what won him a championship. I noticed it earlier on in the year. I've noticed it from when he was driving ARCA against Ty (Dillon, Austin's brother). Him and Ty had good battles then, and Chris is always smart with his equipment. "I think he knows the ability of the equipment, uses it to its ability every time, and finishes races well. So I think Chris is going to be good. He's smart. He doesn't tear up stuff. He's raced with less before, and it teaches you what you have in the car, so I think he's very good at managing his equipment and getting the best out of it." Interestingly, even with a championship to his credit, Buescher hasn't settled his plans for next season. "I'm optimistic about it," Buescher said. "I feel like we'll have something ... I just don't have anything right now. We don't have everything planned out at the moment. It will be a couple weeks, I'm sure, before we get everything lined up and get a little bit closer – not that I'm worried about it. "I feel pretty confident that the guys back at the shop are doing everything they can to get sponsors on board and to try to put together a 2016 season, wherever that may be." Team owner Jack Roush indicated Buescher would run some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races next season. What's unknown is how many. "We're still not sure what his arrangement is going to be next year," Roush said. "He will be involved in a Cup car to some extent, but whether it's a part-time program or a full program, we're still in the midst of finalizing the conditions. "We've got a number of possibilities, but we're not ready to announce that today."