JGR/Hendrick facing Championship 4 showdown, is there a rivalry now between them heading to Phoenix?

The Championship 4 is now set in the NASCAR Cup Series. It’s Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Hendrick Motorsports in the Arizona desert for a shot at this year’s championship. Combined, they’ve won 17 races between the Championship 4 foursome alone including the teams in general accounting for 71% (25-for-35) of all race victories in 2021 if you count in Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell (JGR) as well as William Byron and Alex Bowman (HMS). They’ve also won each of the last two championships as well as five of the last six if you count Martin Truex Jr’s in 2017 for JGR’s satellite team in Furniture Row Racing.

In terms of Phoenix, the site of this year’s championship, these two teams have combined to win on the 1-mile race track in five of the last six tries too.

Now, each team has two cars vying for the title with each in a similar position with possibly some beef between the two sides too.

Bowman, got into Hamlin for the win on Sunday at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. Hamlin, showed his displeasures afterwards in calling Bowman a hack.

“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of the race winner. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.

“Obviously, he’s got the fast car of the week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the race track to give him all the room I could—he still can’t drive.”

The led a chorus of boos to ring from the grandstands. As far as why the hate for the home state driver?

“It’s just Chase Elliott fans, man. They don’t think straightly,” Hamlin said.

As far as if it bothers him?

“No, not at all. They’re going to boo the shit out of me next week, I can tell you that.”

The war of the words have begun. Chase Elliott didn’t take the bait saying that he’s not going to lose much sleep over it.

“I might not sleep at all, that’s how concerned I am,” he said. “My fans don’t care either, by the way.”

Elliott, is no stranger to controversy. He and Hamlin had a run-in here back in 2017. He’s also had his run-in with Kevin Harvick twice this postseason too.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, reacts after the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Do these war of words carry over to the race track on Sunday now? We’ve seen mind games played heading to a championship in the past so do both sides carry this forward to try to get in each others heads?

Larson and Truex seem to be saying out of it for now.

The opportunity for a new rivalry is there though because these two teams honestly enter on equal ground.

You get the two best drivers all season in Larson and Hamlin as they enter as the co favorites. Larson, has nine wins, 19 top five finishes, 25 top 10’s and 2,474 laps led through 35 races. Hamlin meanwhile, has two wins, 18 top five finishes, 24 top 10’s and 1,502 laps led.

The duo combined for six of the nine playoff wins (67%), 56% of the stage wins this postseason (10-for-18) and 56% (1,589-for-2,862) of all laps led during this nine race pursuit for a championship.

“I mean, I’ve said for many, many weeks now that it would be a disservice if someone other than the two of us didn’t win,” said Hamlin. “I mean, he’s obviously probably the most deserving over the course of the year that he’s had from start to finish.

“But, yeah, the format, you just never know. Nearly it all ended right there in turn three for silly reasons. That’s why I always preach about wish the sample size was bigger. You don’t have somebody else’s mistakes that can take you out of what you’ve done for the whole season.

“Certainly I think when you look at the four that are in it, I think it’s the best four that you could possibly put in that race. I think all of them would be deserving champions. Obviously Kyle would make the most sense.”

Larson agreed.

“I just hope we can, “Larson said. “It’s like hard for me to think if people will really remember if you don’t win the championship now at this point.

“Not that it adds pressure but you can read into it adding pressure that I want to win the championship even more to cap off what’s been a great season.

“I try not to think about it. And I think the more wins you get, hopefully we’re winning the championship in Phoenix, but I feel like the more wins we’ve gotten will make that feeling if I happen to not win, make it easier to swallow I think just because it has been a great year.

“It comes down to one race there in Phoenix. It’s a different style track than we’ve been winning on. But I don’t know. Like I said I try not to think about it. We’ll see how the feeling is. Hopefully we’re celebrating after Phoenix and I don’t have to accept the fact that we didn’t win a championship.

“But either way, yes, it’s been a good season but I want to cap it off with what we all want. So that’s my goal. And I hope we can finish it off with being mentioned in one of the top five greatest seasons ever.”

The thing is, while there should be a large chance of them winning the championship now on Sunday at the Phoenix Raceway, the aspirations are only 50-50.

Elliott and Truex Jr. though won the last two races at Phoenix respectively. They’ve not had it as easy as their teammates to get here to this point to even fight for a championship.

Elliott, has just two wins all season and none since July 4. In fact, he’s not won on an oval since this very race a year ago. Five of his nine playoff races have seen him finish 12th or worse including four of those five outside of the top 15 at that.

Truex Jr. has just one win in his last 23 starts and three of his last five races being 12th or worse and just six top fives in his last 18 starts in general. He’s now playing with house money as the pressure rounds are behind him.

“No, I mean, it’s just eight guys,’ Truex said on if the Round of 8 causes more anxiety than the final four. “It’s the eight best guys of the year trying to whittle it down to four. You know it’s going to be tight, close, every spot is going to matter. Unless you’re Kyle Larson, you won 30 races this year, it’s going to be close. 29, sorry (laughter). I mean, you know it’s going to be close. You come down to Martinsville, you know it’s going to be a nail-biter, which it was.

“Next week it’s an honor and pleasure to get to race for championships. Only four of us get to do it. It’s a fun week. It’s definitely a lot less pressure than trying to go eight to four.”

Do these two have the speed that it takes to hang with Larson and Hamlin in a winner-take all format this weekend? Also, with Hendrick leading 375 of the 501 laps at Martinsville on Sunday, did that show that they have found the speed on 750 tracks when JGR had been the clear best on them all year?

“I mean, I’m not surprised as fast as they’ve been all year,” Truex said. “They’ve typically been pretty good here. 9 has always been strong here. The 24 has been pretty good the last few trips. Now the 48 is really, really fast. The 5 was really fast as well, which is not surprising. They’ve all been super fast all year. We had our hands full with them today.

“Hopefully next weekend we can find a little bit of something, give them a run for their money”

Hamlin though says that no matter how HMS has fared, JGR has been right there with them too.

“No matter how far we’re down in horsepower, how much better Hendrick cars are in general, we’re fighting and we’re clawing and we’re still finding ourselves with a shot to win each week,” Hamlin said.

“I knew that our 750 program in general has just been a lot better than the 550 this year. Some of the advantages that the Chevys have, it’s not as big, it doesn’t show up as much on tracks like this. You’re able to just kind of finesse your way around the track.”

Here we are. A showdown for the ages on Sunday in Phoenix with two rival teams going head-to-head with a championship on the line.

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