NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Championship 4 Trends for Phoenix

TRACK: Phoenix Raceway (1 mile oval) DISTANCE: 312 Laps – STAGE 1: 75 Laps, Stage 2: 115 Laps, FINAL STAGE 122 LAPS, 312 Miles)

Key Trends:

  • Starting position matters in Phoenix. 7 of the last 8 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 11 of the last 14 have started in the first 5 Rows including 5 of the last 6 from the top 6 at that.
  • We’ve only seen 1 overtime finish in the last 8 races. We went green for the final 112 laps in this race last year without a yellow in the final stage. In the spring race this year, the final 25 laps went green.
  • 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). That may not bode well for Martin Truex Jr.
  • All 7 years of this format, a Championship 4 driver won.
  • Championship 4 drivers likely all will finish in the top 4. They’ve done so in 2 of the last 3 years.
    • 2020: 1-2-3-4 (1st year at Phoenix)
    • 2019: 1-2-4-10 (last year at Homestead)
    • 2018: 1-2-3-4 (Homestead)
    • 2017: 1-2-4-7 (Homestead)
    • 2016: 1-4-6-34 (Homestead)
    • 2015: 1-2-6-12 (Homestead)
    • 2014: 1-2-7-16 (Homestead)
  • The champion only won the final race once in the previous 10 years of the playoff format (2011 Tony Stewart).
  • In fact, if you go back to the start of the Modern Era (1972) and go through the 2003 season on the traditional points format, the season champion won the season finale just two times in 42 years. Jeff Gordon (1998 in Atlanta) and Tony Stewart (2011 in Homestead). They’re 7-for-7 since.
  • Repeat Champ? Not likely — Jimmie Johnson was the last driver to repeat as a Cup Series champion. He did so in his five year reign from 2006 through 2010. Since, no one has repeated as a champion. Jeff Gordon was the last before Johnson to do so as he did it in 1997 and 1998. Since 1995, those are the only two instances where a driver won consecutive titles? Can Elliott accomplish this feat in 2021? Just 3 of the 6 years prior has the defending champion made it back to the Championship 4 the following season. The last 2 were bounced in the Round of 8 and Round of 12.
  • The driver to finish 2nd in the points the previous season made it to the Championship 4 in 2 of the last 3 years and at least to the Round of 8 4 of the last 5. Twice though they missed the playoffs all together but that’s not the case for Brad Keselowski.
  • The driver to finish third in the Championship 4 has made it to at least the Round of 8 in each of the last 4 years with 3 of the 4 being in the Championship 4. That’s good news for Joey Logano.
  • Playoff points during the regular season matter – 3 of the top 4 in playoff points entering the 2017 season made the Championship 4. In 2018, it was the top 3 making it to the final round. For 2019, all four in the top four of playoff points accumulated entering the playoffs made it to the Championship 4 while last year saw 4 of the top five.
  • Ranks of Championship 4 drivers in playoff points entering the postseason:
    • 2017: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th
    • 2018: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th
    • 2019: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th
    • 2020: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
    • 2021: 1st,
  • Just twice since 2016 did the #1 seed entering the playoffs win the championship. It happened in 2017 and 2019. Does that odd season streak continue? 2017, 2019…2021?
  • Parity – We’ve had this playoff format since 2014. In the seven years of this, we’ve seen six different champions. They were – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Chase Elliott.
  • Champion likely won’t have won most races during the season — 5 of the 7 champions in this era has won five times during the season that they were crowned. One of them won just three times. Only twice in seven years did a driver that won the most races during the course of a season actually win the title itself.
  • Eventual champion has actually started each season off slow – It actually pays to have a slower start to a season for some reason. Just last year, Chase Elliott had just one win through the first 22 races. He won the title. In 2018, Joey Logano had one win in the first 32 races but won the championship. Martin Truex Jr. had one trip to victory lane in the first 17 races of the 2017 campaign. He won the championship still. Jimmie Johnson in 2016 was 2-for-29 in 2016 and Harvick 1-for-30 in 2014. They both were champions in those seasons.

Track Comparison

The best comparison to Phoenix is likely Richmond. While Richmond is .25 miles shorter than Phoenix, they’re pretty close in shape and have similar corners. New Hampshire is another track that you can use past notes or data on with that being a 1 mile flat track. Each of Richmond and Loudon produce similar results each year to that of Phoenix.

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