By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. — 35 races down, one to go.
Sunday afternoon, the NASCAR Cup Series will hit the track at Phoenix Raceway for the 2022 season finale, bringing this season to a close and crowning a champion.
Heading into this year’s championship race, it will be a battle between two former champions and two drivers making their first appearance in the Championship 4 to see who will be hoisting the Bill France Cup when the checkered flag falls.
Whittled down from the 16 original title contenders to the final four, defending Cup champion Chase Elliott will look to capture his second title in the past three years, with Joey Logano hoping to snag his second championship as well. Then come the Championship 4 rookies in Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain that will be gunning for the veterans to add their name to the record books on Sunday.
By the Numbers
What: NASCAR Cup Series Championship, Race No. 36 of 36
Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona (Opened: 1964, first NASCAR Cup event was 1988)
When: Sunday, November 6
TV/Radio: NBC, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.0-mile oval
Banking: Eight to nine degrees in Turns 1-2, 10 to 11 degrees in Turns 3-4 and frontstretch dogleg
Race Length: 312 laps, 312 miles (500 km)
Stage Lengths: Stage One – 75 laps each, Stage Two – 115 laps, Final stage – 122 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
Fuel Window: 85 to 90 laps
March 2022 Race Winner: Chase Briscoe – No. 14 Ford (Started 13th, 60 laps led)
November 2021 Race Winner: Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started third, 143 laps led)
Tale of the Tape – How the Championship 4 Stack Up:
Ross Chastain – No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet
2022 Stats: Two wins (Austin, Talladega), 14 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, 692 laps led, 13.6 average finish
Phoenix Specific Stats: Eight starts, no wins, one top-five finish, one top-10 finish, 20.5 average finish
Practice Result: First
Starting Position: 25th
Why Chastain Can Win: After pulling off a move that will forever live in NASCAR lore, Chastain is riding a wave of momentum into Phoenix as he looks to cap off his best season to date in the Cup Series with a championship. Week in and week out, both Chastain and Trackhouse have been forging their own path with their aggressive style. Expect more of the same on Sunday.
If the other three title contenders are looking for a fight, Chastain will be game to give it to them.
What the Driver Says: “Look, I want to compete. So, to beat 35 other drivers, these three especially, I need to go put forward the best race I can. It’s not like I can just go do whatever and fire it down the corner on lap 10 and hope it sticks, hope I run 2/10ths faster. Not going to be the way we’re going to do this. You’re not going to be successful that way.
“I want to beat these guys. At the end of the day, I just want to beat them. That’s why we’re all here, why we all love this, is the competition.
“Yeah, I am doing it against some of my heroes. We’ve got everything we need to go beat ’em. No, it’s not just a happy to be here. It’s a race. I’m so dang driven and competitive to beat people that it’s all I want.”
Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2022 Stats: Five wins (Dover, Nashville, Atlanta, Pocono, Talladega), 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, three poles, 857 laps led, 12.1 average finish
Phoenix Specific Stats: 13 starts, one win (November 2020), five top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, two poles, 546 laps led, 10.7 average finish
Practice Result: 10th
Starting Position: Fifth
Why Elliott Can Win: Two years ago, Elliott came into Phoenix looking for his first championship and now he returns hoping to add another to his trophy case. Though the Playoffs haven’t quite gone to plan for the Hendrick Motorsports driver, Championship Sunday could be the time he and the team flip the switch and get back in the game.
What the Driver Says: “I feel fine. I mean, honestly, I feel like we have as good of an opportunity as anybody. Yes, our Playoffs has been up and down, probably more down than it has been up really for how we ran leading into it.
“But when I sit back and I look at this weekend, the way this format is, the way the Final 4 works, if you’re in, you have a shot, number one. Number two, we haven’t wrote the ending yet, right? The narrative is there for you to make it whatever you want to and however you execute your day into being.”
Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2022 Stats: Three wins (New Hampshire, Charlotte ROVAL, Martinsville), 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, four poles, 573 laps led, 13.9 average finish
Phoenix Specific Stats: Five starts, two top-10 finishes, 17.0 average finish
Practice Result: 20th
Starting Position: 17th
Why Bell Can Win: If any of the four drivers are flying under the radar, it’s Bell. Even after winning walk-off races at Charlotte and Martinsville to keep his championship hopes alive, the focus is certainly more on the other title contenders instead of Bell and he is just fine with that.
Bell has shown that when his back is against the wall, his team steps up to the plate and Sunday is the ultimate win or go home race. Should the trend continue, it very well may be Bell that is the newest Cup Series champion.
What the Driver Says: “I think I’m in the best position to win the championship because our cars have been extremely fast week in and week out. I feel like I’ve got the best team out of the four.
“I definitely like our chances.
“I think that I am capable, just as capable, as the other three of winning. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s one race. Whoever performs the best for that one race is going to be a champion.”
Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
2022 Stats: Three wins (Darlington, Gateway, Las Vegas), 10 top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, three poles, 597 laps led, 13.9 average finish
Phoenix Specific Stats: 27 starts, two wins (November 2016, March 2020), seven top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, one pole, 721 laps led, 13.1 average finish
Practice Result: Seventh
Starting Position: Pole
Why Logano Can Win: Much like Elliott, Logano comes into Sunday hoping to add a second championship to his resume and with the experience of a championship under his belt, the Team Penske driver is that much more knowledgeable this time around.
Having won at Las Vegas to punch an early ticket to Phoenix, his team has been able to focus on this race for two weeks longer than his competitors, which could be the difference when all is said and done on Sunday.
What the Driver Says: “I’m in a different position than I’ve been here in the past. I like this position a lot more. It’s a lot more comfortable, I can promise you that. Just being here over and over again, right?
“I was saying earlier, you just know what’s coming around the corner next. You know how today goes. You know how the week before this is, then the weekend itself, race day. Race day is just chaotic the whole time.
“Like I was saying earlier, it’s not just another race. It’s not that. Everyone likes to say that. Everyone comes to championship Media Day, says it’s just another race, just act like it’s another race. That’s a bunch of BS. It’s not just another race. It’s bigger than any race you’ve ever been in, and it changes the way you approach it, for sure.”