NASCAR season like no other crowns a champion on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway

Driving down Avondale Boulevard, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement emanating from NASCAR’s Mecca, Phoenix Raceway.

The world-class facility emulates a Super Bowl vibe in part thanks to its vibrant sky-blue walls accompanied by thousands of grandstand seats that will be filled for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race.

This is the third NASCAR championship weekend in Phoenix, by all accounts the house that Julie Giese rebuilt. The pioneer, who played a big role in transforming the one-mile track into the prestigious venue it is today, will see her term as track president come to an end once the checkered flag is waved. But not before giving fans the experience of a lifetime.

Looks like just yesterday, Kyle Larson made one of the most memorable comebacks in NASCAR history, thanks to a lightning-fast pit stop that won him the 2021 title. But that was yesteryear. .

Thirty-five races and nine months of mayhem gave racing fans one of the most competitive and unpredictable seasons to date, producing a Championship 4 of epic proportions.

Championship 4:Capsules on the drivers competing for the Cup Series title on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway

Two former champions, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano, and two new contenders in Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell, will battle it out for the 2022 Cup title. Between the quartet of competitors there will be 312 miles of non-stop attrition, as they maneuver NASCAR’s seventh iteration of the stock car around Zoomtown USA.

Although points won’t be counted, teams will have some leeway with built-in stage breaks after 60 and 185 of the 312 laps. But all that matters is which of the championship contenders 4 finishes with the best classification — this driver will win the Bill France Cup.

NASCAR Cup Series No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet driver Ross Chastain speaks to the media during NASCAR Media Day at the Phoenix Convention Center Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, ahead of championship races at Phoenix International Raceway.

Chastain’s #1 movement topic all week

By now almost everyone in the world knows who Chastain is. Riding on the momentum of the video game movement heard around the world to qualify for the final four, the eighth-generation watermelon farmer was the feel-good story of 2022.

Although Chastain’s on-track etiquette may be questioned all over the garage, his unwavering desire to be the best without sacrificing who he is is what makes him so easy to bear. If the Melon Man did it in Phoenix, those champagne showers would undoubtedly be sweeter than ever.

Christopher Bell, NASCAR Cup Series driver #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota speaks to the media during NASCAR Media Day at the Phoenix Convention Center Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, ahead of championship races at Phoenix International Raceway.

Ring the Bell: Ride the Mojo

As has been the case throughout the playoffs, Bell enters the Cup final with his back against the ropes after all sorts of trouble with the #20 Toyota Camry. Luckily, the 27-year-old has already occupied that position twice, and in that time he battled his way to two wins to get to this point.

Although this is only Bell’s third full-time season in the Cup, he enters the final as the only driver in the history of the sport to qualify for the 4 championship in all three national series. On top of that, team leader Adam Stevens has the most appearances in the last four over other quarterbacks in his position, which includes two titles won in 2015 and 2019 with Kyle Busch. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the 27-year-old, it’s that it’s not over until the bell rings; even if he ends up looking battered and battered like Rocky Balboa.

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NASCAR Cup Series Team #22 Penske Ford driver Joey Logano speaks to the media during NASCAR media day at the Phoenix Convention Center Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, ahead of championship races at Phoenix International Raceway.

Logano looking to close ’22 in 22

In typical Logano fashion, the 2018 champ was all smiles throughout the week, maybe even more so than usual. He had the luxury of preparing for the title race for three weeks after his victory in Las Vegas, while his competitors did not know they were racing for the Cup until last weekend in Martinsville.

At 32, Logano has the most experience in every sense of the word. He has nine playoff appearances and has qualified for the Championship 4 five times, in addition to having two wins in Phoenix.

Logano started the year pioneering the first win in the Next Gen car, and now hopes to end the season the same way, but with a much bigger prize. “22 in ’22” has been the all-season motto for Team Penske and the #22 Ford Mustang driver, and the veteran is making a compelling case as a favorite entering the championship.

NASCAR Cup Series No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott speaks to the media during NASCAR Media Day at the Phoenix Convention Center Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, ahead of championship races at Phoenix International Raceway.

Lucky No. 9 class of the field?

Elliott has been the class of the pack all season. With a series-best five wins and 20 top-10s, a date with a second title in Phoenix seemed imminent for the 2020 champion. After a tough playoff campaign, his chance for supremacy is in question, which is why the team seek some help from an old friend.

When Elliott won the championship in Phoenix two years ago, his number 9 was dressed in neon yellow to honor the full-time retirement of teammate Jimmie Johnson. After failing to repeat in last year’s finale, #9 neon lights were added to the front and rear bumpers of his Chevy Camaro this weekend to instill some good fortune. As a bonus Johnson, who joins Petty GMS Racing next yearwill be there for this race, as he was in 2020, which should also provide an inspiring spark.

Lots of running for the rest of the field

Throughout the season parity has been the name of the game in the Cup Series after there have been a record 19 different winners. Although Championship 4 usually finds its way to the top in these final races, nothing is taken for granted, especially in 2022.

Five non-playoff contenders went on the road to playoff victory, sowing a lot of uncertainty for the four championship hopefuls, so why not Phoenix? Defending champion Larson has as much to run as the four title contenders as he chases the Owner’s Championship for Hendrick Motorsports.

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Additionally, Phoenix King Kevin Harvick will be aiming for an incredible 19 straight top 10 in his 40th start in the desert. Kyle Busch is hoping to win his last race with Joe Gibbs Racing and M&M’s last lap as a sponsor in NASCAR.

Finally, Arizona’s Alex Bowman returns to action after being sidelined with a concussion for the past five weeks.

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