Photo courtesy of NASCAR Creative Design
Joey Logano won pole position and first pit selection for the NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday. His final lap time in the second round of qualifying was 26.788 seconds.
He will start beside Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney on the front row.
Chase Briscoe, who won the spring race at Phoenix, will start Sunday’s race in third place after getting eliminated in the Round of 8.
While defending champion Kyle Larson cannot defend his NASCAR driver’s title, he will have the opportunity to win the owner’s championship on Sunday. He’ll roll out in fourth place.
Chase Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion, will begin his third-consecutive championship race at Phoenix in fifth place.
Rookie Harrison Burton will start sixth, his best qualifying result in his Cup Series career. Kevin Harvick, the track record holder for wins with nine, will roll out in seventh.
William Byron and Cole Custer will start eighth and ninth respectively.
Ty Gibbs, who won pole for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race, made it to the second round of qualifying and will round out the top 10 starters.
Ross Chastain, who earned his way into the Championship 4 at Phoenix after “The Hail Melon” move at Martinsville, had a poor showing in qualifying as within the first group of qualifying, he finished 13th out of 18 drivers, pushing him to a 25th-place start for Sunday’s championship race.
Christopher Bell won his way into the Championship 4 with a win at Martinsville last week. His championship aspirations took a small hit on Saturday as he finished 10th out of 18 drivers in the second group, resulting in a 17th-place start on Sunday.
Now that the starting lineup is set for the Cup Series championship race, it is time to introduce the four drivers that will be competing for the driver’s championship.
The 2018 Cup Series champion returns to Phoenix for the second time in three years with a shot at the championship. In 2020, he lost to Chase Elliott and finished in third place.
Logano’s specialty in NASCAR is winning debut and novelty races, a trend that has continued in 2022 after winning the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He also won the first-ever Cup Series race at the World Wide Technology Center at Gateway.
Two other aspects of Logano that have remained the same in 2022 are his aggressive style of racing and clutch victories. The Connecticut native has had a reputation for being aggressive on the track when racing other drivers throughout his 15-year Cup Series career and back in May, he bumped William Byron out of the way for the win at Darlington Raceway.
Also, Logano continues to find ways to put his No. 22 Team Penske car into victory lane when needed the most, gaining 13 positions in the final 22 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to win the Round of 8 opener, clinching his spot in the Championship 4 before anyone else.
He is still considered a villain by other drivers and teams in the Cup Series. However, he simply does not care. He will do whatever it takes to win and on Sunday, he has the chance to do what Zane Smith and Ty Gibbs did on Friday and Saturday respectively, win the championship after starting on pole.
The fan-favorite NASCAR driver has returned to the Championship 4 for the third year in a row, winning the title in 2020 at Phoenix after failing pre-race inspection and starting from the rear. Last year, he finished last among the Championship 4 drivers.
For a while in 2022, Elliott looked like the dominant driver in a season full of cinderella winners and excessive parity. In the summer, he won three races in a five-week stretch at Nashville Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway (awarded the win after Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch’s disqualification) and Atlanta Motor Speedway, his home race.
He struggled over the next two months with crashes at Daytona International Speedway, the Southern 500 and Texas Motor Speedway. But Elliott dazzled the crowd at Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 12 with an overtime win to clinch his spot in the Round of 8 in a Round of 12 that saw his teammate, Kyle Larson, get eliminated.
In a sport where contenders and pretenders seem to change on a dime throughout the season, Elliott has remained consistent at the top and on Sunday at Phoenix, is hoping to once again reclaim his spot at the top of the NASCAR mountain while winning Hendrick Motorsports’ third-consecutive title.
Coming into the season, who would have predicted that Christopher Bell, not Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, would be the lone representative in the Championship 4 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Cup Series?
Bell has been as clutch as they come in 2022, winning exactly the amount of races needed to earn a spot in his first Championship 4 in the Cup Series. In the regular season, he earned redemption at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after falling just short to Aric Almirola at the track last year to clinch a playoff spot in a regular season that saw 16 winners.
In the Round of 12, Bell was in a must-win scenario at the Charlotte Roval and took advantage of Elliott’s crash to gain the lead on the overtime restart. He dominated in overtime to lock himself into the Round of 8 after entering the race below the cutline.
He did the same thing last week at Martinsville Speedway where he entered the race below the cutline and came away with a massive victory to clinch his spot in the Championship 4. Bell’s pit crew gave him valuable track position and with five laps to go, he passed Briscoe for the lead, which he held for the victory.
Bell has gotten into the championship race the hard way and has knocked out some top drivers along the way (Larson and Hamlin). The Oklahoma native may not be the most popular driver in NASCAR, or even on his own team. But he likes it that way and on Sunday, he has a chance to show off his talent and clutch ability on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
In a season full of upsets and surprises, Ross Chastain might just be the biggest story of them all. When Chip Ganassi Racing merged into the brand new Trackhouse Racing for the 2022 season, Chastain, who was driving the No. 42 car for CGR in 2021, was retained and was paired with Daniel Suarez.
Chastain, a watermelon farmer from Florida, has been arguably the most consistent driver in the Cup Series this entire season with the most top-five finishes (14) and tied for the most top-10 finishes with Elliott (20). Early in the season at Circuit of the Americas, he bumped A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman out of the way on the final lap to pick up his first-career Cup Series victory.
A few weeks later, he won at Talladega in a clean finish, but over the course of the long season, he made a lot of enemies with aggressive and contact-heavy racing.
Despite this, Chastain kept up his consistency in a topsy-turvy postseason with six top-10 finishes and four top-five finishes, including runner-up finishes at Las Vegas and Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Round of 8.
The Florida native in the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville forever etched his name in NASCAR legends as he rode the wall in turns three and four and rocketed his way past five drivers to gain the two positions he needed to clinch the final Championship 4 spot on points.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Ross Chastain SENDS IT to advance to the Championship 4.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) October 30, 2022
While Chastain will start 25th at Phoenix in his Cup Series Championship 4 debut, he finished second during the spring race at the track and has clearly shown that he will do whatever it takes to win.