NASCAR’s Championship Weekend at Phoenix Race Preview (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)

Who Will Win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race?

The preview for this is simple. One of the four drivers that’s left in the NASCAR Cup Series championship is likely to win Sunday’s race. Since this Championship 4 format was added in 2014, all six years have seen the race winner win the championship too. While this is an entirely different track now with Sunday’s finale being at Phoenix and every other year it being at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, let’s call a spade a spade, the race winner will still likely be among the Championship 4 drivers.

So, let’s just make this preview short and simple – how do the four drivers that can win the championship this weekend at the Phoenix Raceway fare on the 1-mile tracks.

Joey Logano

He won this race this past March for his second win at Phoenix. He also has four straight top 10’s on the season including three of which being in the top three. He’s also had five top three finishes in nine playoff races thus far as well. He won the opening race of the Round of 8 and the last time he did that (2018), he won the championship too.

Brad Keselowski

He enters with three straight top six finishes on the season and three wins on 750 horsepower tracks this season. He’s bringing the car that has won on two of them at that. He finished runner-up in this race two years ago and led over 80 laps this past spring.

Denny Hamlin

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has seven top 10 finishes in his last 10 starts in the desert. He was fifth and first respectively on this track last year but 20th in March.

Chase Elliott 

This is a tough one, but for his odds, why not? Elliott, enters Phoenix with three finishes in the desert of 14th or worse in his last four tries. But, in four of his previous five starts, the Georgia native had a top 10 including a third in this race in 2018. He was also seventh back in March too.

Non Playoff Winner?

Martin Truex Jr.

He’s never won at Phoenix before and frankly, until he joined Joe Gibbs Racing, he never was much of a threat there either. But, Truex, has since finished third in the Fall of 2017, fifth in the spring race of 2018, runner-up in last year’s spring race and sixth in November to make himself a viable “favorite” for this weekend.

Kevin Harvick

The proverbial “king of the desert” has been astounding in Phoenix. Since 2012, Harvick has seven wins alone to go along with 10 top two finishes (17 tries). Furthermore, Harvick has finished worse than sixth just twice in those 17 starts too. He was runner-up this past spring after leading 67 laps.

Harvick canbecame the ninth different driver to have won nine or more times at a single track when he won in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway. Now he can attempt to become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track with a win this weekend:

Drivers with 10 or More NASCAR Cup Series Wins at a Single Track

Race Winners No. of Tracks Tracks With 10 or More Wins
Richard Petty 5 Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)
Darrell Waltrip 3 Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)
Jimmie Johnson 1 Dover (11)
David Pearson 1 Darlington (10)
Dale Earnhardt 1 Talladega (10)

Kyle Busch

This may be his best track now. “Rowdy” enters Phoenix with 10 consecutive top seven finishes including seven of them being in the top four. Furthermore, Busch has finished either first, second or third in each of the last two years (5 starts) on the 1-mile track including seven top three results in his last eight tries. He was third back in March.

Ryan Blaney 

Arguably the top Penske driver at this track. Blaney, may have only scored two top five finishes in nine Phoenix starts but two of which were both third place efforts last year.

Aric Almirola 

Since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has been stout in Phoenix. The Florida native has finished in the top 10 in five of his last six starts including an eighth place run back in March too.

Key Trends

Starting position matters here. Five of the last six Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, nine of the last 12 have started in the first 5 Rows including six of those nine from the top four starting spots.

Also, Joe Gibbs Racing has won three of the last four races in Phoenix including four of the last six too. Watch out for their foursome on Sunday with Hamlin needing a win for the championship.

The driver to win the spring race in Phoenix has only went on to win the series championship just three times – Terry Labonte (1984), Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Jeff Gordon (1995). Can Logano change that course?

Also, expect a late race caution. Six of the last 10 races have seen a finale green flag stretch to the finish of three or less laps.

Non Playoff Winner?

With dwindling championship eligible drivers left, Phoenix is a spot that you can see a non playoff driver reach victory lane in fact. It’s never happened in the Championship 4 era that a non championship eligible driver has won the season finale, but those last six years have been at a different track (Homestead-Miami Speedway) too. While it’s still rare to occur, don’t count this out from not happening on Sunday afternoon. Since 2015, a non playoff driver has won this race twice in the last five years. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did so in 2015 while Matt Kenseth did it in 2017.

2015, 2017…2020?

If so, who will steal a win?

Among the playoff drivers who can still win and gain a spot to the Championship 4, Kyle Busch hasn’t won since June 2 and Joey Logano hasn’t won since June 10. Both though have won at Phoenix in the past.

The other four left have won in this year’s playoffs. but only one has won at Phoenix before.

That opens the door up for a non playoff winner then.

Jimmie Johnson went 16 of his 18 starts at Phoenix between 2005 and 2011 with a top five finish. He had four wins from 2007 though 2009 and was fourth in his other start that he didn’t win at. He’s a factor.

Aric Almirola will be too. His last five Phoenix finishes are ninth, seventh, fourth, fourth and eighth respectively.

Erik Jones could be a factor as well. Jones, has three top 10 finishes in six Phoenix tries.

You can’t leave out Kurt Busch. He won the spring race at Phoenix in 2015 and has eight top 10 finishes in his last 11 starts in the desert including a sixth place run in the spring race.

Not One Of Penske’s Best Tracks, Until The Spring

The Phoenix Raceway has not in the past been one of Team Penske’s strongest race tracks. In the 15 years of the spring race being in existence, Penske had never visited victory lane in it. Until this past March.

Joey Logano picked up the victory for his second career Phoenix win. Brad Keselowski led 82 laps himself. Now, can they pick up where they left off?

Past trends say, no.

The driver to win the spring race in Phoenix has only went on to win the series championship just three times – Terry Labonte (1984), Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Jeff Gordon (1995). Can Logano change that course?

Logano, has just three top 10 finishes in his last seven Phoenix starts. He’s had just two top fives in his last nine Phoenix tries overall, both of which being wins though.

Keselowski, has just two top five finishes at Phoenix since 2015 and was only 19th and 10th respectively last year and despite leading 82 laps in March, finished 11th.

Blaney is their only saving grace as he’s only had three top five finishes in eight career Phoenix starts but two of them were third place finishes in each race last year.

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