Chase Elliott won’t pick a championship favorite

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 03: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, speaks to the media during the NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day at Phoenix Raceway on November 03, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Chase Elliott refused to select a favorite from among his Championship 4 colleagues during Thursday’s NASCAR Media Day press conference, insisting that after a 35-race season to date if you qualified for this weekend’s Championship Race. You could be the champion.

Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will compete against Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Team Penske’s Joey Logano for the season trophy Sunday. Both Elliott and Logano are racing for their second championship. Both Chastain and Bell are making their Championship 4 debut this weekend.

Elliott has a strong record at Phoenix – winning the 2020 title race from pole position to claim his first championship. He has scored eight top-10s in 13 starts and led 546 laps at the one-mile track. He comes into the championship finale with only a pair of top-10 finishes in the nine Playoff races – a win at Talladega, Ala. and a runner-up at Bristol, Tenn.

“Personally, being a part of it the last couple years and as this format has kind of progressed and changed, I think if you make it to that last race, I think you have a shot,” Elliott said. “If you’re in the Final Four, I think you have a chance.

“We’ve seen this, you don’t have to dominate all day to win [the title] . … What Jimmie did in 2016 is a great example of not necessarily being the best car all day but when it came time to execute at the end of the day, put together some good restarts, some good pit stops and make it happen, they did.

“Our Playoffs hasn’t been great but with this format, it really doesn’t matter now. If you’re part of the show, you’re part of the show. And if you have a shot this weekend, you have a shot to change the narrative and write the end of the story however you want.”

Both Logano (Las Vegas) and Bell (Martinsville, Va.) won races in the Playoffs’ Round of 8 to earn their title opportunity. Elliott and Chastain “pointed” their way into championship contention.

In a rather unusual twist, the Hendrick Motorsports team could capture both the driver and team championship but with different drivers. Elliott is racing for the driver’s title and Kyle Larson qualified the team’s No. 5 Chevrolet for the team owner’s championship.

“The best thing that could happen is one of us wins the race and the other runs second and you can check both boxes and we all go home happy,’’ Elliott said. “That would be choice number one for me, and I think that’s feasible.”