The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Phoenix for the final races of the season. After 35 races, a regular season with 16 different winners, controversy surrounding William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell; the final four will race to see who will walk away as the 2022 series champion. So, how do the drivers stack up going into the finale? Let’s see who is still alive and how they reached this point.
One of two former champions to make the championship four, Chase Elliott is probably the favorite to clinch the title. This is his third straight appearance in the Championship Four. Elliott leads the series in wins this year with five (although one was awarded due to the two drivers who finished in front of him being disqualified). He also recorded 12 Top 5s and 20 Top 10s, good enough to tie him for third and first, respectively, in those categories. And he won the regular season championship.
Elliott didn’t clinch a win in the Round of 8, but raced his way into the finale based on points. He has the best average finish (12.0) of any driver this season and has led the most laps (857). But he has the lowest average finish during the playoff races of the four championship drivers. Elliott does hold the distinction of winning the final race at Phoenix in 2020 clinching that title for him. He has his weaknesses, but will be tough to beat with everything on the line.
The other former champion in the final four is also the only Ford driver to make the Championship Four. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas in the Round of 8 to clinch a spot in the finale. The Connecticut native will be making his fifth appearance in the Championship Four. He has a knack for making it in even numbered years, qualifying for the finale in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022.
Logano, much like Elliott, won the finale in his Championship season in 2018. But that race was held at Homestead, not Phoenix. He has won at the track twice before, the only one of these drivers with multiple wins at the finale track. Logano won three races and recorded 10 Top 5s and 16 Top 10s, putting him worst of the Championship Four in those categories. But he has the second best average finish in the playoffs of these four drivers. Logano is good, but I don’t think he will win the championship.
The most surprising of the Championship Four, Christopher Bell had to win to get into the finale. Bell was the innocent victim of the dustup between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson at Las Vegas. When Wallace spun Larson, Bell was collected. From that point on, he was never going to make it on points. Bell came through with a win in the final race of the Round of 8 at Martinsville. This is his first Championship Four appearance.
Bell, like Logano, won three races this season, including two in the playoffs to keep his slim championship hopes alive. He recorded 12 Top 5s and 19 Tops 10s and has an average playoff finish of 13.33, good enough for third among these four drivers. In my opinion, Bell is the least likely champion of these four. He has moments of brilliance but comes up short a lot. He’s great on road courses, not so much on ovals, despite his win at Martinsville.
The final member of the Championship Four is the one who certainly made the most memorable impact in qualifying. On the last lap at Martinsville, Ross Chastain was sitting fifth in points and needed to get past Denny Hamlin to qualify. So, Chastain just rode the wall and refused to slow down passing five cars, including Hamlin, to clinch the final spot. It was a “video game” move that has led to a lot of praise for his ingenuity and a lot of drivers saying a rule needs to be made to prevent it from happening again.
Chastain is tied with Logano and Bell with three wins this season, but he has some strong stats when it comes to Top 5s and Top 10s. He is first in both categories with 14 Top 5s and 20 Top 10s. Chastain also has the best average finish of the Championship Four. But, he has the worst stats of the four at the finale track of Phoenix. He has only one Top 10 at the track in eight starts, but that was a second place finish earlier this year.
Who will the 2022 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Championship? If you’ve been reading my articles, you know that I had picked Denny Hamlin to win this year. I had a good feeling about that too, right up until Ross Chastain crashed into the wall and just kept going. Of these four, I like Christopher Bell’s story the best. I hope he wins. Given how close he was to not making it, due in large part to the actions of both Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace, it would be great to see him hoisting the trophy when the season is over. But, if you pressed me to make a pick, I would say Chase Elliott will be a two time champion by the end of the day Sunday.
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