And then there were 4. The Road Ends Here on Sunday afternoon at the Phoenix Raceway with four NASCAR Cup Series drivers vying for the 2020 championship. For Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, they’ve each been here before. Logano, won the 2018 title and Keselowski the 2012.
Their other two counterparts in Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin have never won a Cup championship before. Hamlin, has at least been to this point as this is his third final round appearance in seven years. The other two came in 2014 and just last year.
This is Logano’s fourth Championship 4 appearance (2014, 2016, 2018, 2020) while this being only Keselowski’s second (2017, 2020) though. He’s 0-for-1. Hamlin is 0-for-2 while Logano is 1-for-3. Elliott is 0-for-0.
Does that matter this weekend?
Depends on whom you ask.
The reason is this is the first time that the final race has taken place in Phoenix. The only season finale that these drivers have ever raced in was at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Plus, Keselowski’s lone title came before this format was introduced in 2014.
With none of these four drivers being necessarily great at Phoenix over the course of their Phoenix careers, this championship fight is wide open.
“All of us are pretty evenly matched going into Phoenix,” Keselowski said after stamping his name into the final round this past Sunday in Martinsville. Denny (Hamlin) has had some good runs there. Chase (Elliott) has had some good runs there. Joey (Logano) won last spring.
“We’ve been so good on that type of track this season. I think it’s about as evenly matched as it’s going to get.”
Keselowski is right. Three of his four wins have been on 750 horsepower tracks. No one else has more on these types of tracks on ovals. Elliott, has three wins on them, but two of which are on road courses.
Keselowski, is bringing the car that won at New Hampshire and Richmond, so he’s got to be feeling confident. So is Denny Hamlin though.
“Certainly I feel like when I go there, I’m going to roll off and hopefully have a race winner,” Hamlin said.
He led 143 laps in a win in the Fall Phoenix race last year. He has three top five finishes in his last five Phoenix starts. But, those are also his only top fives in his last eight Phoenix races too. He was only 20th this past March on a totally new aerodynamic package compared to the one that he won on last year.
Logano, won the spring race on this new package, but nobody has won the spring Phoenix race and the championship in the same season since Jeff Gordon in 1995. Can Logano be the first in 25 years? He may have two Phoenix wins over the last four years, but those are his only top five finishes on the Arizona oval since 2016. Keselowski, only has two top five finishes since 2015 too.
“We’ll believe what we want to believe and we’ll believe in ourselves first,” Logano said. “I’ll tell you again, we’re the favorites to win this thing. That’s how it is in my mind. I said that a couple weeks ago. Doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Logano, feels like the preparation of having won the Round of 8 opener at Kansas is a huge reason to why he’s the favorite.
“The past two weeks the advantage we earned was to be able to focus on our Phoenix car before everybody,” Logano said on Sunday. That’s the advantage we had. We got to go to these races not having our tongues hanging out trying to get in.
“Our batteries are charged up and we’re ready to go.”
He’s right in that sense too. The winner of the first race in the Round of 8 has won the championship in two of the last four years. Logano did it in 2018. They’ve finished second in the other two years. Stats show that the later you win in the Round of 8, the worse you do in the Championship 4.
Kevin Harvick won the second race last year and was third in the Championship 4. Hamlin won the last race of the round in 2019 and was fourth out of four in the final round. In 2018, Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch won the Round of 8 races in that order. They finished 1-2-4 in that order in the Championship 4.
Something is to be had by that.
Elliott, won last Sunday in Martinsville. Is that a disadvantage?
“I can see momentum playing a role,” Elliott said. I can see winning Martinsville being a big momentum booster for that team to propel them to doing a really good job the following week. I think it’s really about how you ride the wave if you’re that team that can win that last race of the Round of 8.”
Elliott, was that team. Can they now become the first team since Kevin Harvick’s in 2014 to win the final two races of the season?
“The worst thing we can do is to sit back and worry and watch everybody else,” Elliott said. “I just think we need to focus on ourselves this week and really think about what we struggled with there at the first race this year, what we might need to do to be better, put our best guess on that, go run the race.
“I think if we sit back, start worrying about who is the favorite, who is not, who is the underdog, getting everybody running their mouths deal, I’m just not about that. I think it’s unproductive.
“We’re going to worry about ourselves, try to give it our best shot to win.”
Elliott is going in with that mindset. The rest think they are going to win. Who wins out?