Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images via NASCAR

Chasing the Championship: NASCAR Xfinity Series at Phoenix

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Day two at Phoenix Raceway will be highlighted by NASCAR’s second highest division, as the NASCAR Xfinity Series wraps up its 2023 campaign by crowning its newest champion – all of which would be a first-time champion.

Twelve championship hopefuls started the six-week march to the Valley of the Sun, with only four drivers left standing to duel it out in the Arizona desert on Saturday night. It all comes down to a battle between the JR Motorsports duo of Justin Allgaier and Sam Mayer against the Joe Gibbs Racing ace John Hunter Nemechek and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer.

By the Numbers

What: NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship, Race No. 33 of 33

Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona

When: Saturday, November 4

TV/Radio: USA Network, 6:00 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: 200 laps, 200 miles

Stage Lengths: Stage One/Two – 45 laps each, Final stage – 110 laps

March 2023 Race Winner: Sammy Smith – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Started 11th, 92 laps led)

November 2022 Race Winner: Ty Gibbs – No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Started on pole, 125 laps led)

Tale of the Tape – How the Championship 4 Stacks Up:

Justin Allgaier – No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet

2023 Stats: Four wins (Charlotte, Daytona, Bristol, Martinsville), 14 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, four poles, 643 laps led, 10.9 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: 26 starts, two wins (2017, 2019), nine top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, 544 laps led, 9.5 average finish

Starting Position: 8th

Why Allgaier Can Win: The elder statesman of the Xfinity Series has been there and done that. Though he has yet to capture an elusive championship, Phoenix is one of Allgaier’s best tracks and if his history here is any indication, the bright red No. 7 Chevrolet could be leading the field to victory when the checkered flag flies on Saturday.

Despite being here and falling short all these times, Allgaier is never one to back down from a fight and once again he’s picked himself up from the mat and is ready for another round. Could it be that 2023 is finally his year? He certainly has the confidence to carry him through.

What the Driver Says: “Arguably from the very first time I had the opportunity to go to the final four, to today, every time I’ve had that opportunity and it hasn’t worked. I’ve gone to work even harder. 2023 has been the most effort, time, energy, more than I can say I’ve ever put into a season. And it still may not work and it still almost didn’t work outta Martinsville, right?

“Don’t give up on something just because it’s hard. Don’t give on something because it doesn’t succeed the first time. You know, there are people that have tried and tried and tried and tried and tried and may never win, but they never give up on it. And, um, to the other side of that, again, you can try and try and try and try and it weren’t in your favor, but if you gave up the first or second time that it failed, you’d never know that you were at your full potential.

“Every time I’ve worked harder, I’ve unlocked new, new items that I didn’t even know I had. It’s like, it’s like leveling up on a video game, right? Like I keep unlocking those new, those new features that I didn’t even know were built in.

“When I walk away from this sport, I want people to remember me for giving a hundred percent every time I go to the racetrack, never quitting. And even when it looks like all the chips are against you, you know, you keep persevering and try to go for it.”

Sam Mayer – No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet

2023 Stats: Four wins (Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, Charlotte ROVAL, Homestead), 12 top-five finishes, 18 top-10 finishes, one pole, 177 laps led, 13.5 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Four starts, best finish 11th (March 2023), 20.0 average finish

Starting Position: 16th

Why Mayer Can Win: In his second full-time season in the Xfinity Series, the young gun broke through with his first win during the summer and has been on a roll ever since, racking up additional wins en route to his first appearance in the Championship 4.

While many wouldn’t have penciled Mayer into their Championship 4 predictions at the start of the season, his tenacity behind the wheel has started to make the case for why it’ll be the No. 1 team delivering another Xfinity title to JRM.

What the Driver Says: “I’m looking forward to the Championship 4 race just because I don’t know what to expect. Like I’m happy to be here. It’s my first appearance. You only get one first appearance in the Championship 4. Being here, obviously I’m just super, super grateful and gonna soak up the opportunity as much as I can.

“Obviously I want to go out there and win a championship for JR Motorsports, but the opportunity to be in the spot to begin with is something I’m just so stoked about, because six months ago, if, if you would’ve said that I was in the Champ four, I, I don’t know if I would’ve believed you because I had no wins at that point. The last 13 weeks, 14 weeks have been absolutely unreal.

“The floodgates finally opened up and I’m looking forward to keeping it going through the offseason into next year too, because obviously racing for championships on Saturday is a big deal, but I wanna prove myself enough to where I can race on Sundays one day.”

John Hunter Nemechek – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

2023 Stats: Seven wins (Fontana, Martinsville, Atlanta, New Hampshire, Michigan, Kansas, Texas), 17 top-five finishes, 24 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1017 laps led, 8.9 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Six starts, two top-five finish, six top-10 finishes, one pole, 102 laps led, 6.5 average finish

Starting Position: 3rd

Why Nemechek Can Win: There is no doubt that Nemechek and his No. 20 Toyota will be fast on Saturday, with Nemechek being in the mix for race wins all season long with a series high seven victories on the year, so look for more of the same on Saturday.

What the Driver Says: “I’m having fun. That’s all that matters. When you’re having fun and love what you do it makes your job 10 times easier. I’m enjoying every aspect of it. I feel like there’s been times in my career where I’ve really enjoyed things and other times where I haven’t had fun at all.

“This year has definitely been fun with this 20 team and Joe Gibbs Racing. Hopefully we can cap off the year with one more race win. That would be huge for myself and this organization. All in all, if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. If not, it’s not meant to be. We’re here to race, here to compete, here to do what we love and fun doing it.”

Cole Custer – No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

2023 Stats: Two wins (Portland, Chicago), 13 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, six poles, 490 laps led, 11.1 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Seven starts, two top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, 44 laps led, 8.9 average finish

Starting Position: 7th

Why Custer Can Win: After a three-year stint in the Cup Series, Custer returned to the Xfinity Series in 2023 and has returned to his winning ways in his No. 00 machine. With a pair of wins on his resume this season and his confidence behind the wheel restored, Custer will certainly be a threat to bank his first championship in the Arizona desert.

What the Driver Says: “It’s been an extremely proud year for me because I think we’ve built something. I think we started the year off and we weren’t exactly where we wanted to be, but we were a young team with a lot of young guys and I think we were able to really build it through the year and make sure to just communicate well and through that we turned ourselves into a championship competing team.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.