NASCAR Pre-Race Media: Championship 4 Track Trends, favs, sleepers, fades 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)

Sunday will mark the 53rd time the NASCAR Cup Series has raced at the Phoenix Raceway. They first started coming to the Arizona desert in the fall of 1988. The spring race though wasn’t added until 2005. The 2020 season was the first that Phoenix hosted the championship round and they’ll do so yet again this weekend.

  • Starting position matters in Phoenix. 9 of the last 10 Phoenix winners have come from a top 10 starting spot. In fact, 13 of the last 16 have started in the first 5 Rows including 7 of the last 8 from the top 6 at that.
  • We’ve only seen 1 overtime finish in the last 10 races.
    • The final green flag run was just 3 laps this past spring.
    • In the spring race of 2021, the final 25 laps went green while the final 24 laps in the playoff race went green to checkered.
    • We went green for the final 112 laps in the 2020 playoff race without a yellow in the final stage.
    • For 2019, the spring race went 74 laps from green to checkered over the final run but only three in the playoff event.
    • In 2018, it was 114 laps (spring) and 12 laps (Fall) over the final green flag run to the distance.
  • Martin Truex Jr. last spring was the only driver since the 2017 Fall race to not score stage points in both stages and to win at Phoenix.
    • In fact, since the stages were introduced in 2017, he’s the only driver not to score stage points in Stage 1 and win in the end.
  • 6 of the last 7 Phoenix races saw the eventual race winner get a top five in the opening stage. Chase Briscoe finished 2nd in Stage 1 back in March.
  • Furthermore, 6 of the last 8 race winners had a top 2 in Stage 2. Briscoe was 8th in March.
  • Basically, a driver in the top five in Stage 1 and top 2 in Stage 2 is your winner on Sunday.4
  • 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 Chase Briscoe.
  • All 8 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 4 years. They’ve finished 1-2-3 in 3 of the last 4 years at that.
    • 2021: 1-2-3-5 (2nd year at Phoenix)
    • 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.
  • Parity – We’ve had this playoff format since 2014. In the 8 years of this, we’ve seen 7 different champions. They were – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.
  • Champion likely won’t have won most races during the season — 5 of the 8 champions in this era has won five times during the season that they were crowned. One of them won just three times. Only three times in eight years did a driver that won the most races during the course of a season actually win the title itself.

Favorites

Chase Elliott (+200)

Elliott enters Phoenix having won the Fall race in 2020, was fifth in both races a year ago and has six Top-7s in his last 10 on this track. If not for pit road, he had a Top-5 car in the spring race after finishing third and second in both stages. At Richmond, Elliott 14th and fifth respectively while also coming home runner-up at Loudon too. The only drawback is that he’s had just 2 top 10 finishes over the last 11 races of the season too.

Christopher Bell (+400)

He was ninth in both races last year, won Loudon and was sixth and second respectively at Richmond too. He’s also won the last two elimination races of the playoffs, so he’s battle tested and entering on the heels of a win.

Joey Logano (+400)

Logano didn’t used to be among the ones to beat at Phoenix but over his last six starts, he has five Top-10 finishes including a win in the spring race in 2020, a third in that year’s playoff race as well as a runner-up in the 2021 spring race too in race that he led the most laps (143) too. On like tracks this time around, Logano was 17th and sixth at Richmond and 28th at Loudon however. The thing is, he’s had the most time to massage his car to the best of its ability in winning the Round of 8 opener. He did so in 2018 and took home the title that year.

Ross Chastain (+400)

Runner-up in the spring race but only 19th and 18th in Richmond and eighth in Loudon make me leery. However, he’s in the Championship 4 and has six Top-7 finishes in the last eight weeks including his last three finishes being second, second and fourth respectively.


Sleepers

Kyle Larson (+1400)

This didn’t use to be one of his better tracks. Now it’s become one. Larson, has three Top-5’s in his last five there including being seventh and first respectively in 2021. He was however 34th this past spring after an engine went down. He was though seventh and fifth in the 2 stages. On like tracks this season, Larson was fifth and 14th at Richmond as well as 14th at Loudon. He’s also fighting for a championship on the owners side and enters with finishes of first and second the last two weeks respectively.

Denny Hamlin (+1600)

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has 10 Top-10 finishes in his last 13 starts in the desert including five Top-5 finishes in his last seven Phoenix starts in general. At Richmond, he was first and fourth respectively while finishing sixth also at Loudon. He led 203 laps a week ago in Martinsville and if not for his pit crew, a win was likely.

Ryan Blaney (+1600)

One of the top Penske drivers at this track. Blaney, has six Top-10’s in his last seven at Phoenix starts including a pair of third place runs in 2019, 10th and sixth in 2020 and 10th (35 laps led) and fourth last year and fourth again this past spring. He led 143 laps and won Stage 2 but pit road on his final stop kept him from victory lane. He was seventh and 10th at Richmond this year and only 18th at Loudon though. Blaney was third last week in Martinsville too.

Kevin Harvick 

The proverbial “king of the desert” has been astounding in Phoenix. Since 2012, Harvick has seven wins alone to go along with 11 top two finishes (21 tries). Furthermore, Harvick has finished worse than seventh just three in those 21 starts too. He was 6th in the spring race but restarted third in the end. He just didn’t have the launch to contend for the win and got eaten alive.

He was 2nd and 1st respectively at Richmond and finished 5th at Loudon too.

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 WinnersNo. of TracksTracks With 10 or More Wins
Richard Petty5Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)
Darrell Waltrip3Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)
Jimmie Johnson1Dover (11)
David Pearson1Darlington (10)
Dale Earnhardt1Talladega (10)

In saying that, his only deterrent is, he hasn’t won with this new configuration.

Harvick hasn’t exactly been like the Harvick of old at Phoenix lately. While he does have seven wins to go along with nine top two finishes in his last 21 starts, to go along with finishing worse than sixth just three times since 2012, he’s not won since the track was reconfigured. He’s 0-for-7.

This change has been his kryptonite you could say. It’s kind of like we all saying if Kyle Larson could ever get to the Championship 4 when the final race was held at Homestead, then just give him the trophy in prerace. Well, we all thought that about Harvick when the final round was moved to Phoenix for 2020 and beyond. Harvick, was eliminated in the Round of 8 in 2 of the last 3 years and in the opening round this one.

7 of his last 8 Phoenix results have seen him finish fifth or worse. 10 of his previous 13 on the old configuration saw him finish fourth or better.

Brad Keselowski (+6600)

He was second and 10th in his last two Fall race starts there and fourth in the spring of 2021. Roush used to be really good at Phoenix. Can Keselowski put them back on top?

Aric Almirola (+8000)

Since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola has been stout in Phoenix. The Florida native has finished in the Top-10 in six of his last nine starts including being eighth, 11th and 12th in his last three March starts as well as being sixth last Fall.

Chris Buescher (+15000)

He won Bristol, was third last time out in Richmond and had a Top-10 here in the spring.


Who To Fade?

Martin Truex Jr. (+2200)

He finally won at Phoenix in the 2021 spring race and was runner-up last Fall. It was a huge load off of his shoulders because quite 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 the spring race of 2019. On like tracks, he finished fourth and seventh at Richmond and fourth at Loudon. The thing is, he’s not finished better than 4th all season which is why I don’t necessarily think he’s just going to magically win on Sunday.

Kyle Busch (+3000)

“Rowdy” enters Phoenix with 12 top-7 finishes including nine of them being in the Top-4 in his last 14 tries. In 2018 and again in 2019, he was first or second in both events. He finished third in the spring race of 2020 but 11th, 25th, seventh and seventh since though too. At Richmond, Busch finished ninth and 25th while also being 12th at Loudon. This is his final race with JGR and it seems like after last week, they’ve already packed it in.

William Byron (+3000)

He has a quiet three top 10’s in his last five starts in Phoenix. At Richmond, he was third and 11th while being 11th at Loudon. The thing is, Byron has just one Top-5 finish in his last 26 starts on the season.

Tyler Reddick (+3000)

He was 33rd, 19th, 29th and 19th in his first four Phoenix starts in Cup before a third place run this past March. However, he was 12th and 31st in Richmond and 21st this year in Loudon too.

Alex Bowman (+6600)

He has never scored a Top-10 in nine Phoenix starts with HMS. He was eighth and 20th at Richmond and 35th in Loudon.

Daniel Suarez (+8000)

He did pick up a Top-10 in the spring race and was also fifth at Loudon too but at Richmond, he finished 16th and 19th respectively as well.

Austin Cindric (+15000)

He was 24th in the spring race, 20th and 12th at Richmond as well as being 13th at Loudon.

Austin Dillon (+15000)

In 19 career starts in Cup at Phoenix, Dillon has no Top-5s and just two Top-10s.

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