Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, and Christopher Bell will duel in the desert for a championship this weekend on NBC.
After 35 races and more than 12,500 miles, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season hits the white flag lap this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Four drivers remain eligible for the championship, all with their own strengths and weaknesses that could help or hinder them in their quest for a title. You can watch the action go down this Sunday at 3pm ET on NBC.
Here’s how the four championship contenders stack up:
The Obvious Choice
Top 5’s: 12
Top 10’s: 20
Laps Lead: 857
2020 champion Chase Elliott has had a really solid season – he’s won the most races, lead the most laps, and he’s tied for the most top-10 finishes. Yet, despite the subdued dominance, the #9 team doesn’t appear to be carrying momentum into the final race of the season, and that’s a problem.
The playoffs have not been easy for Elliott and crew, and the only reason they’re racing for a championship is because of the 40+ playoff points the team accumulated over the course of the season by winning races and stages. That points cushion saved Elliott from tumbling out of contention in a terrible Round-of-8 after he finished 21st at Las Vegas, 14th at Homestead, and 10th at Martinsville. By the hair of his chinny-chin-chin, Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson return to Phoenix this weekend with a shot to win another title. They’ll have to pull off a gutsy performance similar to his 2020 campaign if they want to hoist another championship trophy.
The Quiet One
Top 5’s: 10
Top 10’s: 16
Laps Lead: 597
Joey Logano’s mantra and hashtag this season? #The22in22. The driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang for Team Penske punched his ticket to the Championship 4 two weeks ago at Las Vegas when he put his car in victory lane and automatically advanced to the final race of the season. Since then, Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe have put together respectable finishes of 18th and 6th in races where they just had to keep their nose clean. But the time of patient, reserved racing is over.
Logano’s first and only championship came in 2018, a season dominated by “The Big Three” – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr. won more than half of the races that year. The Middletown, Connecticut racer shocked them all by winning the final race of the year, and with it, the title. There are a lot of similarities between Logano’s 2018 and 2022 seasons, and all signs point to a 22-karat feast at Phoenix on Sunday. Hashtags come and go, but #The22in22 just seems right.
The One With All The Momentum
Top 5’s: 14
Top 10’s: 20
Laps Lead: 692
Do yourself a favor and watch the video above. And then watch it a few more times. Does it even look real? Of course not! Ross Chastain pulled an all-time video game move at the end of last week’s Martinsville race to earn enough points to beat Denny Hamlin for the final position in the Championship 4. ‘Epic’ is nowhere near an appropriate word to describe Chastain’s crazy commitment to throw his car purposefully against the outside wall and floor it around the final two turns to pass 5 cars on the last lap. That video will be replayed for generations to come as one of the most brilliant and gutsy moves in all of NASCAR history.
Chastain did what he had to do to make it to Phoenix, but is he a real contender for the championship? The watermelon farmer-turned-racer has ruffled some feathers in his first year at Trackhouse Racing – it’s pretty amazing he made it all the way through the playoffs without someone paying him back for his rough driving earlier in the year. Chastain’s biggest hindrance is probably his lack of experience going for a title in any series. Chase Elliott and Joey Logano are former Cup champs, and Christopher Bell chased titles in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity feeder series. All those drivers know the pressure and intensity they are about to be faced with this week, but the same can’t be said for Ross. Still, if the Melon Man somehow pulls off the improbable, we may have witnessed one of the greatest championship runs in the history of sports.
The Dark Horse
Top 5’s: 12
Top 10’s: 19
Laps Lead: 573
After nearly two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Christopher Bell is finally looking comfortable in the seat of the #20 DeWalt Toyota Camry. To be fair, Bell has never performed poorly since he came to Cup in 2020, but he definitely didn’t display the dominance he showed in years past on his way to NASCAR’s top level. Now, after winning two must-win races at both the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville, Bell is in prime position to steal a championship away from veterans who arguably deserve it more.
Bell’s biggest advantage is veteran crew chief Adam Stevens, who won two championships with Kyle Busch in 2015 and 2019 and knows the pressure that awaits his team when the green flag drops on Sunday. He can coach his young driver through the jitters and adrenaline that will inevitably follow when you’re racing for the biggest win of your life. Does the #20 team have another improbable victory up its sleeve? It seems unlikely, but Bell walking it off for the third time in a row on the sport’s biggest stage would put quite the exclamation point on a wild 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.