It began nine months ago with “The Great American Race” – the Daytona 500. The NASCAR Cup Series concludes this coming Sunday with the most important race of year, the Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway.
At least it’s the most important race of the year for four of the drivers. But you do not need to be one of the four drivers racing for the championship to win this race. But it has worked out that way in each of the last three years that this has been the final and deciding race.
In 2020 Chase Elliott won this race, and the Championship. In 2021 Kyle Larson did the double. Last year it was Joey Logano.
Odds to Win Cup Series Championship
- Kyle Larson (+150)
- William Byron (+250)
- Ryan Blaney (+250)
- Christopher Bell (+300)
The last three weeks for Ryan Blaney has been on quite the ride. He was disqualified three races ago in Las Vegas, dropping him well below the cutoff line for the Championship 4. But then the qualification was overturned, he finished as the runner-up at Miami two races ago, and he won at Martinsville in this race to punch his ticket to the final.
Blaney finished last season in eight place, and has a Cup Series-high finish of seventh in 2021.
William Byron was the other new qualifier at Martinsville, advancing as the highest ranked non-winner. He was the Cup Series sixth place finisher in 2022, his personal best finish. Denny Hamlin led for 156 laps, but his third place finish left him six points behind Byron, and out of the Championship 4. When Hamlin won here in 2019 it was not yet the final race of the season, and he did not win the Championship.
Kyle Larson is the favorite to emerge from next Sunday. He qualified for the Championship 4 with a win at Las Vegas in the Round of 8 opener. In the last three seasons, beginning with his championship-winning run in 2021, Larson has won 17 races and he has 57 top-five finishes. He finished fourth at Phoenix Raceway earlier this season.
Christopher Bell won at Homestead, putting him into the Championship 4. He finished the season in third place last year with three race wins. This season he has just two wins, but he’s been in the top-10 a total of 19 times, including the race at Phoenix in March.
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