LAS VEGAS -- Chase Elliott's rookie season began with a Daytona 500 pole award and is now coming to a close with another award at champion's week.
Just days after celebrating his 21st birthday, Elliott was awarded the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title at the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers 2016 Awards Luncheon.
While accepting the award, Elliott recalled a special memory from his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 start.
"Last December I was preparing to join the No. 24 team but for me it hadn't really sunk in that I would be competing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which is something I've wanted to do for a long, long time," the rookie said. "When we got to Daytona, to me it finally felt real when we strapped in and started to go. One of my favorite moments that weekend was before the race started, Jeff (Gordon)'s son Leo came up and he gave me a high-five before the race which I thought was the coolest thing, it really put things in perspective for me and I realized how big of a deal this was for not just myself, but everybody involved."
Elliott -- under the instruction of crew chief Alan Gustafson and with the help of the No. 24 Chevrolet SS team -- led an impressive rookie campaign that resulted in a 10th-place finish in the season standings.
The driver logged 10 top-five finishes, 17 top-10s and led a total of 358 laps throughout the 36-race season.
The 21-year-old also claimed two pole positions at Daytona International Speedway in February and Talladega Superspeedway in May.
Elliott also became the second driver -- after Denny Hamlin in 2006 -- to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a rookie.
"I'm just so proud of everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for everything they do," Elliott said. "The Nos. 5 and 24 shops, those guys worked so hard throughout this season to give us the best race cars they could give so very proud of that. I truthfully feel at home after we have a year under our belts and racing with these guys, racing in the Cup Series, racing with the No. 24 team, I feel at home, which I think goes a long way."
Elliott concluded his acceptance speech by thanking everyone who made this season possible: his family, everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR and its partners, all the sponsors aboard the No. 24 Chevrolet SS -- his fellow rookie competitors, his No. 24 team including crew chief Gustafson, as well as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.