Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Five drivers, not just four, are battling for a NASCAR Cup Series championship in this Sunday afternoon’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
The NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 is set following Sunday afternoon’s round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell won the race to lock up his spot, and both Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott locked up their spots on points.
Team Penske’s Joey Logano had already locked up his spot by winning the round of 8 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks prior.
However, there are five drivers, not four drivers, who are set to compete for a championship in this coming Sunday afternoon’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
One of them — obviously — cannot be crowned 2022 Cup Series champion, otherwise it would be a Championship 5. But that one driver has his team in the owner Championship 4.
That driver is Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson.
The reason for this goes all the way back to Kurt Busch’s decision to withdraw himself from the playoffs when it became clear that he would not be able to return in time.
The 23XI Racing driver won the May race at Kansas Speedway to secure his playoff spot, but he was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms after a single-car qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway in July.
Busch withdrawing himself from the playoffs meant that Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, the highest finishing non-winner in the regular season standings, ended up claiming the 16th and final playoff spot.
However, because Busch’s win was tied to his #45 team, the #45 team still qualified for the owner playoffs. Blaney’s #12 team did not.
The #45 team advanced to the round of 12 when Bubba Wallace, whom 23XI Racing moved from the #23 Toyota to the #45 Toyota in an effort to bolster the #45 team’s owner championship chances, won the round of 16 race at Kansas Speedway. Blaney advanced to the round of 12 on points.
The #45 team was eliminated in the round of 12, however, while Blaney moved on to the round of 8. Again, because Blaney’s #12 team had never qualified for the playoffs to begin with, this meant that there was still a round of 8 spot open in the owner playoffs for a team whose driver had been eliminated.
That team happened to be the reigning champion’s #5 team. Larson finished the round of 12 as the highest driver below the round of 8 cut line, but his team ended up as the final team above it.
So while Larson’s round of 8 win at Homestead-Miami Speedway didn’t lock him into the Championship 4, it did lock the #5 team into the Championship 4.
In the owner playoffs, the four teams in the Championship 4 are Larson’s #5 team, Logano’s #22 team, Bell’s #20 team, and Chastain’s #1 team.
Though Elliott can still become a two-time champion himself, his #9 team was eliminated in the round of 8 after finishing two points behind Chastain’s #1 team.
It is entirely possible that Elliott could win the driver championship and Larson could secure a second consecutive owner championship for his #5 team.
The NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 is scheduled to take place this Sunday, November 6, and it is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Phoenix Raceway beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss any of the action!