NASCAR Cup Series championship outlook: What each driver faces in Phoenix
The NASCAR Cup Series championship contenders know what they have to do Sunday to win the title at Phoenix Raceway.
They don't necessarily need to win — although every Cup champion since the elimination format was instituted in 2014 has won the finale — as the top finisher among the four finalists is crowned the champion.
With the parity and unpredictability of NASCAR's new-for-this-season Next Gen car, drivers don't know exactly what to expect. They raced at the one-mile Phoenix track in March in the fourth race of the year. Now nearly nine months and 32 races later, they will vie for the championship.
Here's the outlook for each of the championship drivers:
Joey Logano (fifth championship appearance): The Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the 2018 Cup title. He ran in the back half of the top 10 for most of the Phoenix race in April before finishing eighth. A quirky note: Logano's Champ 4 appearances came in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022. Logano has two career wins at Phoenix, with the most recent in March 2020.
Logano says: "I feel great. We're ready. I feel confident that we've been working on this thing the last three weeks. The pit stops were our weak link but now it's not."
Chase Elliott (third championship appearance): Elliott won the title in 2020 in his first Champ 4 appearance, then was fourth last year. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was third in the first stage, second in the second stage but 11th in the race after he spun with 10 laps to go. Elliott's one victory at Phoenix came when he won the 2020 championship.
Elliott says: "We have a shot at it. That's a big deal. ... I feel really good. We're ready to go."
Ross Chastain (first championship appearance): Maybe the most unlikely championship contender considering he had six total national series wins (four in trucks, two in Xfinity) before this season. But the Trackhouse driver has two wins this year and an impressive series-high 14 top-five finishes. He was second at Phoenix, which was his first top-10 finish at the track in eight starts. Chastain will take momentum from his incredible move just to advance at Martinsville, where he took a car that wasn't great and earned spots by literally riding the wall to pass five cars in the final turns.
Chastain says: "I don't know what to think about it yet. I have to digest this [from Martinsville]. ... We need to be a little better next week."
Christopher Bell (first championship appearance): Bell knows how to perform in championship situations, as he has won the last two elimination races — races he had to win to advance. He finished two laps down in 26th in April at Phoenix but started fourth before his issues. He also won during the summer at New Hampshire, a track similar to Phoenix. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver's best career finish at Phoenix is ninth.
Bell says: "I wasn't great. I was a 10th-ish place car [at Phoenix]. ... I know that we've learned a lot from Phoenix and I believe we will have a shot at it."
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.