Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

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 2022 campaign by crowning its newest 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 three JR Motorsports drivers in Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, and Josh Berry against the lone Toyota driver in Ty Gibbs.

By the Numbers

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

Where: Phoenix Raceway – Avondale, Arizona

When: Saturday, November 5

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 2022 Race Winner: Noah Gragson – No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet (Started second, 114 laps led)

November 2021 Race Winner: Daniel Hemric – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Started fourth, 48 laps led)

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

Noah Gragson – No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet

2022 Stats: Eight wins (Phoenix, Talladega, Pocono, Darlington, Kansas, Bristol, Texas, Homestead), 20 top-five finishes, 25 top-10 finishes, two poles, 975 laps led, 8.3 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Seven starts, one win (2022), two top-five finishes, four top-10 finishes, 146 laps led, 11.7 average finish

Practice Result: 13th

Why Gragson Can Win: The Las Vegas native has turned it up a notch in 2022, more than doubling his win total from a year ago and rounding into form late in the season to send a message to everyone that the championship will have to go through him. As part of the three-headed JR Motorsports monster at Phoenix, there is no doubt that the No. 9 Chevy will be at the front of the field early and often.

And should he win the title in his final season with the team before moving up to the Cup Series in 2023, the celebration is sure to be legendary.

What the Driver Says: “Winning the championship has been our goal all year long, and we won at Phoenix in the spring. This weekend, it’s for all the marbles, and this Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee team is at its best when something big is on the line. It’s been a great season for all of us on the No. 9 and for JR Motorsports, so the way to close it out is to win and bring a championship home with us.”

Justin Allgaier – No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet

2022 Stats: Three wins (Darlington, Nashville, New Hampshire), 15 top-five finishes, 22 top-10 finishes, one pole, 737 laps led, 10.8 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: 24 starts, two wins, eight top-five finishes, 16 top-10 finishes, 498 laps led, 8.7 average finish

Practice Result: 12th

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.

What the Driver Says: “We worked hard all year long to get ourselves in this position, and that is a testament to all of the hard work that not only Jason (Burdett, crew chief) and all the guys on this No. 7 team did, but to everyone at JR Motorsports as a whole. To have three cars in the Championship 4 with a chance at winning the title is truly remarkable.

“We all know what lies ahead of us now. We just need to have a smooth weekend and do all we can to make sure we are in the right place at the right time to bring home this championship. I know we are going to have a BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet capable of getting it done, we just need to go out and execute. We are ready.”

Josh Berry – No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet

2022 Stats: Three wins (Dover, Charlotte, Las Vegas), 11 top-five finishes, 20 top-10 finishes, one pole, 356 laps led, 10.7 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Two starts, one top-five finish, one top-10 finish, 19.5 average finish

Practice Result: 14th

Why Berry Can Win: In his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series, the journeyman driver has shown that Dale Earnhardt Jr. made the right call in putting him behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet. Berry has been

What the Driver Says: “Phoenix is a fun track and it’s one of my favorites that we race at each year. We’ve had strong races the couple of times we have been there and I know this Tire Pros team is doing everything they can to make sure we unload with that same speed on Friday. I have all the confidence in the world in this group. Hopefully we’re lifting that trophy and celebrating in Victory Lane Saturday evening.”

Ty Gibbs – No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

2022 Stats: Six wins (Las Vegas, Atlanta, Richmond, Road America, Michigan, Martinsville), 15 top-five finishes, 22 top-10 finishes, four poles, 865 laps led, 9.4 average finish

Phoenix Specific Stats: Two starts, one top-five finish, two top-10 finishes, one lap led, 4.0 average finish

Practice Result: Third

Why Gibbs Can Win: There is no doubt that Gibbs and his No. 54 Toyota will be fast on Saturday, but will his actions on track last weekend at Martinsville overshadow his run for a championship. For him to come out as the newly minted champion this weekend, he’ll have to contend with not only the three JRM cars in the Championship 4, but others in the race that may want some payback.

If he can overcome the odds stacked against him, another Xfinity championship for Joe Gibbs Racing certainly isn’t out of the question.

What the Driver Says: “I put myself in this position so I have to deal with it,” Gibbs said of the fallout from last weekend lingering into the championship.

“And you know, I own up to all of it and like you said, going back to how do I change my mindset from this to racing? There’s a lot and I have a good amount of time out here to spend to make sure I’m looking at all the data I need to look at and all the film and watch all the things I need to look at to get better for this weekend.

“I think this is my seventh race here so I really enjoy Phoenix too. It’s one of those tracks that I really enjoy racing at. So I’m excited for it too. So you just have to transition your mindset to that.”

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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.