All 4 Cup Series Championship 4 drivers feeling confident heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix, their thoughts and if past experience will play a role or not

Joey Logano and Chase Elliott have been here before. Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain haven’t. Only Logano feels like that’s an advantage while the other three feel like in this top finisher-take-all format for the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at the Phoenix Raceway that anything can happen.

“Racing for a championship, it’s bigger than any other race,” Logano says of the moment. “You have to learn to handle that pressure. The only way you know how to do that is going through it multiple times.

“I feel like that gives not just myself but my whole race team a clear advantage going into this race on top of some of the other things we already know.

“I feel great about where we’re at. I feel great that we’ve been here so many times and we can focus on doing our jobs. I’m in a different position than I’ve been here in the past. I like this position a lot more. It’s a lot more comfortable, I can promise you that. Just being here over and over again, right?

“You just know what’s coming around the corner next. You know how today goes. You know how the week before this is, then the weekend itself, race day. Race day is just chaotic the whole time. It’s not just another race. It’s not that. Everyone likes to say that. Everyone comes to championship Media Day, says it’s just another race, just act like it’s another race. That’s a bunch of BS. It’s not just another race. It’s bigger than any race you’ve ever been in, and it changes the way you approach it, for sure.”

Elliott would love to agree, but the 2020 series champion feels like there’s no true advantage for this race, this year.

“I would totally love to sit here and say yes, but I just feel like I would be lying, just from the standpoint of having experienced it firsthand, coming in here that first year, not knowing any better, us being able to win it, our first try,” he says. “If they had done it out here, it only had been once, or maybe that year was the first year, I can’t remember.

“So, yeah, I would love to say that it matters. When I think back through just that whole experience for myself and our team firsthand, I’m like, It doesn’t make a difference.

“What makes a difference is how you prepare this week and how you look ahead to the weekend, the decision-making, what you want to bring setup-wise, how you execute your practice on Friday, how you do in qualifying Saturday, giving yourself a good or a bad pit selection for your event on Sunday, executing a good 312 laps. That’s what makes a difference, in my opinion.”

For Chastain, he’s honored to be here in a moment no one expected them to be in. He says that he felt more pressure last season than he did now.

“I got to say the weight was a whole lot heavier last year not being in the Playoffs with CGR,” Chastain admits. “That was tough. Come into 42 car, you see what Kyle (Larson) has done in it, a lot of the same group together. Just couldn’t make it go.

“Some of the packages, high power, low downforce, we went a little better. Low power, high downforce last year, I could not go fast. I couldn’t race.

“That was a heavier, like, just kicking off the Playoffs on Playoff Media Day last year was a humbling day for me. It was my first points season, full-time season in Cup, I wasn’t there at the Playoff Media Day. I didn’t ever think about Final 4 Media Day. That was a lot heavier. Honestly the success this year, the way Justin and Ty have structured the team, I feel less pressure now than ever.

“I had a lot last year, a lot back at Johnny’s, going through all that. Winning races, getting DQ’d, starting parking the year before. That was a lot heavier burden to carry, not knowing what way is forward.

“I know now, like, I want to be a Trackhouse driver for a long time. I don’t have a burden to do anything different.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 13: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, gives a thumbs up to fans during the red carpet prior to the Ruoff Mortgage 500 during at Phoenix Raceway on March 13, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

While his boss Justin Marks says that they’re really playing with house money now, Chastain says he feels otherwise. He’s a competitor and now that he has a shot at a championship, he wants it as bad as ever.

“No, there’s a lot to lose,” he says.

“Look, I want to compete. So to beat 35 other drivers, these three especially, I need to go put forward the best race I can. It’s not like I can just go do whatever and fire it down the corner on lap 10 and hope it sticks, hope I run 2/10ths faster. Not going to be the way we’re going to do this. You’re not going to be successful that way.

“The competitor takes over in me. I want to beat these guys. At the end of the day I just want to beat them. That’s why we’re all here, why we all love this, is the competition.

“Yeah, I am doing it against some of my heroes. We’ve got everything we need to go beat ’em. No, it’s not just a happy to be here. It’s a race. I’m so dang driven and competitive to beat people that it’s all I want.”

He had to make a highlight reel move to get here to which overshadowed the fact that Christopher Bell had a second straight walkoff moment in an elimination race again.

“It was, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Bell said when asked if last weeks win was overshadowed by Chastain’s insane moment. “I’m completely okay with that. It means I had a way less busy week this week than he did.”

He can get the most attention Sunday though by winning the championship and if you ask him, he’s the favorite to do so.

“I mean, I think I’m in the best position to win the championship because our cars have been extremely fast week in and week out,” Bell says. “I feel like I’ve got the best team out of the four.

“I definitely like our chances.”

So does Elliott despite just two Top-10 finishes over the last 10 weeks.

“Yeah, I feel fine. I mean, honestly, I feel like we have as good of an opportunity as anybody,” he says. “Yes, our Playoffs has been up and down, probably more down than it has been up really for how we ran leading into it.

“But when I sit back and I look at this weekend, the way this format is, the way the Final 4 works, if you’re in, you have a shot, number one. Number two, we haven’t wrote the ending yet, right? The narrative is there for you to make it whatever you want to and however you execute your day into being.”

That’s just the nature of this format as I keep going back to, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, the fact that you made it here is a massive accomplishment and that it’s anyone’s game in a race that points don’t matter.

“There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s one race. Whoever performs the best for that one race is going to be a champion,” Bell says. He also notes that momentum isn’t something that will play too big of a role either.

“I should be the one that says no because my momentum has gone up and I have had no momentum, right? I was great through the round of 16, and then it all got taken away in one race at Texas when we had the two flat tires. Felt like I got momentum back at Charlotte road course, then we go to Vegas, 40 laps later, whatever it was, I get crashed out.

“I don’t really think momentum will play a key in it.”

Elliott naturally agreed.

“Somebody could dominate a race and not end up winning the race or the championship,” Elliott says.

“I think it all has to go your way, right? Yes, you want to have pace. Having pace in your car and being fast gives you a lot of opportunities in different ways. But there are other ways to win, and there are other ways to lose, too.

“I think it all has to go your way — good timing, good people. Not only in the sport, but everything I’ve ever seen.”

Logano says one other advantage is that he’s known for weeks now that he’ll be here when the other three didn’t have spots solidified until last Sunday.

“Well, it’s really nice because it’s even a bigger advantage than it was when we were racing in Miami because the car has to leave sooner now, right? We had to leave Wednesday noontime to get here on time,” Logano said.

“If you imagine, like, you got to be really prepared because if you race Sunday and you finally realize you’re in, then you have Monday, Tuesday. Wednesday you better be done with everything.

“In that time, the driver has to go do media, the driver has all these other things they got to do on top of that. There’s not time to prep the correct way, whereas our team, we’ve had a couple weeks to really focus in 100%, at least 95%, on Phoenix.

“We had a conversation about Miami. Yeah, sure, sounds good, let’s do it. What about Phoenix? That’s how our conversations were, as they should be. The only one that matters is Sunday.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s