Everything is on the line for the Championship 4 at Phoenix

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 13: Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, crosses the finish line to win the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 13, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

In NASCAR, one race decides an entire season. Four drivers have survived Playoff pressure to make the Championship 4. Now only the NASCAR Cup Series Championship event at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) remains.

Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano are the four drivers in the title hunt. Two, Elliott and Logano, are former champions. Both Bell and Chastain are making their first-ever Championship 4 appearance.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 03: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, 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)

Christopher Bell, for one, knows how to perform under pressure. He’s won both of the last two Playoff elimination races to save himself from imminent elimination. But he feels like he’s stayed under the radar this season.

“It’s just kind of the way it’s unfolded over… I don’t really know how long,” he said. “That’s fine by me. I embrace that role. I guess I don’t do anything else to advocate myself or anything like that. Maybe I’ll be the least famous Cup champion one day.”

But Bell has a famous crew chief by his side. Adam Stevens has already won two championships with Kyle Busch – the only active driver who’s taken the season trophy more than once. But Bell thinks Stevens is being overlooked too.

“Any time it seems like people are teamed up with me, they’re off the radar,” Bell commented.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 03: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet, seen through the cell phone of a member of the press during the NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day at Phoenix Raceway on November 03, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

On the other hand, Ross Chastain embraces the spotlight. He’s certainly found it throughout the season, with his aggressive racing drawing fire from veteran drivers. But he’s found more of it than usual this week, especially from outside the NASCAR world, after his ‘video game move’ from Martinsville went viral, which has been a surreal experience.

“It’s wild, it really is,” Chastain said. “I’ve just tried to even grasp how far it’s went. Hearing from different people that are literally around the world, they’re like people that have never talked about NASCAR are talking to them about it. That’s Asia, Mexico, like everywhere. It’s wild.”

As for the Championship 4 spot it netted him, Chastain could only reflect on his career and the success he’s found at Trackhouse. He said years of being an underdog fuel him.

“Two years ago,” he recalled, “I went to the Southern 500, put sticker tires on the car to fight for 27th, seven laps down. Two years before that in 2018, I’m start-and-parking a truck at Gateway, and then a win later in 2018 in the Xfinity Series, then to come back and win in the truck in 2019 at Gateway. The progression… It’s a lot, and I owe it to the people that build me.”

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 knows what it takes to be crowned Champion. He’s the most recent driver to do it in NASCAR. But he knows it won’t be easy to do again, and he’s refused to call himself the favorite.

“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.”

Despite a strong regular season, though, the Hendrick Motorsports team has struggled in the Playoffs, but Elliott doesn’t think their lack of momentum impacts their chances at a title.

“Our Playoffs haven’t been great but with this format, it really doesn’t matter now,” he said. “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… We’ve seen this, you don’t have to dominate all day to win.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 03: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, 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)

Joey Logano is the cagey veteran of the Championship 4 field. He’s made the Championship 4 four times already himself in his fourteen years in the Cup Series. And Logano isn’t ready to rest on his laurels.

“I feel like we’re in a great spot right now,” Logano said. “I feel like our team is in a great spot for a lot of reasons. For one, we’re not happy to be here. We’re not just happy to be in the Championship 4. This isn’t enough for us.”

He has time on his side, too. Winning at Las Vegas in the opening race of the Round of 8 gave him extra time to turn his attention to Phoenix and prepare.

“I’ve never felt more solid in this position than I do right now,” Logano affirmed. “With that said, I’m ready to go racing and get out there, because we feel prepared. We’re ready to go to battle.”

Ultimately, the Championship race is unpredictable by nature, as Chase Elliott’s team owner Rick Hendrick acknowledged.

“I think Sunday could be… just like always, a pit stop, somebody hits the air pressures right, cautions fall at the right time,” Hendrick said. “You just have to run it and see how it ends up.”

“But there are four really, really good drivers in that race,” he continued. “You know, it’s just going to be hard to pick a winner in there. Of course, I hope our guys are the ones that win it. But it’s going to be a good show. It’s going to be a hard-fought show.”

It’s Gibbs against Junior in the Xfinity Series

It’s going to be all-but a Junior Motorsports show in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship event (6 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier and Josh Berry will be facing off against the lone contender of Ty Gibbs.

And they come in with momentum. Combined, Gragson, Allgaier, and Berry have scored fourteen wins this season. Gragson leads that charge with eight, several of which were picked up during the Playoffs.

Indeed, Gragson enters as the overall favorite. His team has performed consistently well all year, but seems to have especially embraced the Playoff pressure.

“Winning the championship has been our goal all year long, and we won at Phoenix in the spring,” Gragson said. “This weekend, it’s for all the marbles, and this team is at its best when something big is on the line.”

But Gibbs will be a formidable opponent. He’s scored plenty of wins himself this year, not least last week at Martinsville when he wrecked teammate Brandon Jones for the win. While Gibbs might not be making many friends, he’s already shown what he’s willing to do to put himself in contention to win the championship.

Truck Series will determine a champion under the lights

Every contender for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship has some momentum on their side heading into Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 title event at Phoenix Raceway (10 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Thorsport driver Ty Majeski, for instance, dominated the Round of 8 with two wins, at Bristol and Miami respectively. His teammate Ben Rhodes, on the other hand, only found victory lane once this year, but is the defending series champion and knows how to get the trophy. Majeski said he won’t hold back racing his teammate for the win, but he certainly won’t try to wreck Rhodes.

“It’s certainly every man for himself,” Majeski said. “If it comes to it is between Ben and I, I’m going to do what I need to do to win the championship, but I’m not going to put us in a position where neither of us would get it.”

Zane Smith and Chandler Smith – of no relation – have won three times each this year. Zane is looking to do one better this year after two runner-up finishes in the championship in a row. While Chandler wasn’t a Playoff contender at Phoenix last year, he actually won the pole and the race.

“I feel like last year, the last three quarters of last year, we showed what we were going to have in store for this year,” Chandler said. “We were really good at the end of last year—started getting wins and running up front every single week and were the truck to beat almost every other week—where the year before we were hit-or-miss.”

“We ended up getting our stuff together,” he added. “We were more consistent, winning races and I told the guys next year we are out for blood—we’re going to go get them next year. And look, we’re sitting here talking about running for a championship, and it has just been an amazing experience.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 12: Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series United Rentals 200 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Sunday, November 6
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $10,542,284
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles (312 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 185), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 312)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Saturday, November 5
The Time: 6 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,645,625
TV: USA, 5:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Lucas Oil 150
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Friday, November 4
The Time: 10 p.m. ET
The Purse: $817,025
TV: FS1, 9 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

Owen Johnson