Getty Images
Getty Images

Championship Weekend Preview


Four drivers in each of NASCAR’s national series will have the chance to win a title at Phoenix Raceway as the track is set to host Championship Weekend for the first time.

Phoenix takes over the final race of the Playoffs from Homestead-Miami, which held the spot since 2004. The 1-mile track has been part of the postseason every year and was previously the penultimate race since 2005.

Motor Racing Network will have live radio coverage of each championship deciding race, that also includes the ARCA Menards Series West, starting with Friday’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at 7:30 p.m. ET. A doubleheader is on tap for Saturday with the ARCA Series Arizona Lottery 100 (MRN, 2 p.m. ET) followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert Diamond West Valley 200 (MRN, 5 p.m. ET). The weekend will culminate with the Championship Race on Sunday for the NASCAR Cup Series with MRN’s coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET.

See Also – Phoenix Schedule

The Cup Series Championship 4 consists of Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Logano, who won at Phoenix in the spring, leads the quartet with four Championship 4 appearances with one resulting in a title in 2018.

"Honestly I feel like this year feels a lot like 2018," Logano said. "It’s actually kind of funny because I think about 2018 where we had not the best summer months, then we kind of picked it up as the Playoffs started. Won Martinsville, the first race of the third round, which set us up to race for a championship in Miami that year."

See Also – Championship 4: Joey Logano

Elliott is the only among the group that is making his debut in the championship race, but is coming in with the momentum of his big win last weekend at Martinsville. Elliott will start from the pole for the second straight race at Phoenix. He led 93 laps and finished seventh in March.

"This is a big opportunity – it’s not an easy thing to make the final four, it’s not something you should ever take for granted, may not ever be here again, so I recognize that and I recognize that we have a very solid team," said Elliott, who has a runner-up finish at Phoenix in this event in 2017. "As the No. 9 team in general, I think we are very capable of going and contending this weekend and I believe that and I think we just have to make the most of a great opportunity and enjoy it and try to thrive in the moment and hope for the best."

See Also – Championship 4: Chase Elliott

The championship race will feature the 750 horsepower, reduced downforce rules package that has been used at nine oval tracks this season starting at Phoenix in the spring. Each of the Championship 4 have at least a victory at those tracks, but Brad Keselowski leads the way with three. Keselowski hopes that plays to his favor in his quest for his second Cup Series championship as two of the tracks he won at – New Hampshire and Richmond – had the same tire combination that will be used this weekend.

"There’s nothing guaranteed, but I’m very confident we’re going to go there and be very competitive and have a great shot to win the race," Keselowski said. "That’s what I can guarantee is that we’ll be there, we’ll be focused, my team is going to bring a great car, and the chips will fall where they will from there, but our preparation and all that will it’s already at a very high level, and I feel good about that."

See Also – Championship 4: Brad Keselowski

This year marks Hamlin’s 14th postseason appearance and third in the Championship 4. He leads the four drivers in wins this season, with seven, and is tied with Logano with two Phoenix victories. Hamlin is the defending race winner, but that came with the previous rules package. His 9.5 average finish in the 35 races this season ranks second to nine-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick (7.3), who was eliminated from championship contention last weekend.

One of Hamlin’s six finishes of 20th or worse this season came at Phoenix in March.

"I got in a wreck so early in the spring that I tore up the car and we didn’t get any good data to base a setup off of, so we’re going to have to go from scratch there, where my competitors ran pretty much all the race and got some good information," Hamlin said.

"We can’t lean on last year’s success. Last year the aerodynamic package was completely different on the car, so you can’t take any past results and apply them to this weekend whatsoever in my mind. I think it’s just it would be naïve to do that."

See Also – Championship 4: Denny Hamlin

Sunday’s season finale will also mark the final race as full-time drivers for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer, who will be joining FOX Sports in 2021. Johnson, an 83-time winner, will be making his 686th start before transitioning to Chip Ganassi Racing where he’s scheduled to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series at road and street courses.

"It’s been an amazing journey and one that I could have never dreamed of," Johnson said. "To be here at the end of what has been a crazy year, going out on my terms, is really special."

Chad Knaus, who won seven championships as Johnson’s crew chief, will also be calling his final race for William Byron as he will move to vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports.

"I’m sure that when we get to the end of the race Sunday that it’s going to be a tough moment for me and for my brother Jimmie (Johnson)," Knaus said. "Obviously, it’s going to be tough to walk away from this full time on the crew chief level, but it will be a good thing. It’s a good opportunity for me and it’s a great opportunity for the No. 24 team and for Rudy (Fugle) to really get started on their future."

Harvick, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman are the non-Playoff drivers that have visited Victory Lane at Phoenix.

See Also – Phoenix Driver Averages | Starting Lineups

The Xfinity Series will see a first-time champion this season as non of the four drivers have scored a title. The Championship 4 have combined for 20 wins this season led by Chase Briscoe’s nine. Briscoe, who finished fifth in the standings in 2019, saw two of those wins come at tracks 1-mile or less in length – Dover and Bristol.

"I felt like we made some good gains the last time we were there," Briscoe said about Phoenix. "I feel like the results didn’t necessarily show the speed that we had. We had a miscue on pit road towards the end of the race and had to go to the back and got back to sixth, so I felt speed-wise we were pretty good."

Justin Allgaier’s three wins in 2020 all came at tracks 1-mile or less in length. Allgaier is a two-time winner at Phoenix, including a win in the fall race last season. He by far has the most experience among the Championship 4 with 338 career series starts with three third-place championship finishes in the standings.

"When NASCAR announced last year that Phoenix was going to be the season finale, I think I may have been the most excited guy out there," Allgaier said. "That track is just one that this BRANDT Professional Agriculture team seems to perform really well at and we had a great race there last fall."

Justin Haley – a three-time winner on superspeedways this season – was the highest finisher at Phoenix in the spring among the Championship 4 drivers, finishing fifth. His previous best championship finish was 12th last season.

Austin Cindric, who won five races in the regular season, has posted four straight finishes of eighth or better at Phoenix.

In the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series it will be GMS Racing versus ThorSport Racing for the championship.

GMS has Sheldon Creed, Brett Moffitt and Zane Smith while ThorSport has Grant Enfinger in the Championship 4. Only Moffitt, the 2018 champion, has made the Championship 4 prior with this being his third consecutive trip. Moffit is also the only one of the group with a win at Phoenix.

"Friday night is all about winning and taking home that second championship," Moffitt said. "I won here in 2018 so I know what it takes to do make it to Victory Lane at Phoenix Raceway. This team has worked hard all year to be consistent and make it to this point, now we’ve just got to go out finish the job with another win."

Creed and Enfinger are currently tied for the most wins this season with four. Enfinger scored the victory last weekend at Martinsville to advance to the Championship Race.

"We’re going against three GMS trucks. I understand all that and I feel like Phoenix is a good style track for us this year," Enfinger said. "I feel like we’ve excelled at the short tracks, so I don’t actually feel like we’re going into this as an underdog at all."

Zane Smith, who claimed Rookie of the Year honors after winning two races, is looking to become the second youngest series champion. Friday will mark his first Gander Truck start at Phoenix.

"It’s so cool to be able to compete for a championship in my rookie season," Smith said. "We’ve known all year that we need to work together as a team, and that’s what’s gotten us to this point with three GMS trucks in the final four. Phoenix is one of my favorite racetracks and I had a strong finish in Xfinity last year and ARCA this year. Friday night is going to be competitive, but I’m ready to go chase a win and my first championship."