Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared East/Getty Images)
There are four drivers set to compete for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series championship, but one of those drivers competes for a team that can’t win.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs were unique in that the 16 drivers who qualified for the postseason did not all have teams that qualified for the owner playoffs.
23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch, who qualified for the playoffs by winning the race at Kansas Speedway back in May, withdrew his name from the postseason field when faced with the reality that he would not be ready to return to action. He had suffered a head injury as a result of his qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway in July.
His withdrawal opened up a playoff spot for Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, who was the highest finishing non-winner in the regular season standings. But because Busch’s win remained tied to the #45 team, the #45 team still qualified for the owner playoffs, while Blaney’s #12 team did not.
23XI Racing opted to move Bubba Wallace, the full-time driver of the #23 Toyota, to Busch’s #45 Toyota for the playoffs in an effort to bolster the #45 team’s owner championship chances, and the move paid off in the first round, when Wallace won at Kansas Speedway to advance to the round of 12.
Blaney also advanced to the round of 12. While Blaney advanced to the round of 8, however, the #45 team was eliminated from the owner playoffs.
This meant that the round of 8 still featured a team whose driver had already been eliminated, in addition to a driver (Blaney) whose team had already been eliminated.
This time, it was the #5 team of Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson. While Larson was the first driver below the round of 8 cut line after the round of 12, the #5 team was the last team above it. So the #5 team advanced to the semifinal round despite the fact that its driver, the reigning series champion, had been eliminated from title contention.
Larson ended up winning the second of three races in the round of 8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, thus locking the #5 team into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
However, because Larson had already been eliminated, he is not one of the Championship 4 drivers. Those drivers are Team Penske’s Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain, and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott.
Logano advanced by winning the round of 8 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bell advanced by winning the round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway, and both Chastain and Elliott advanced on points.
With the #5 team having secured a Championship 4 spot in the owner playoffs, however, only three other teams have a chance to win the owner championship. Those three teams are Logano’s #22 team, Bell’s #20 team, and Chastain’s #1 team.
This means that Elliott’s #9 team is eliminated from contention, despite the fact that Elliott can still win the title himself.
The NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from Phoenix Raceway beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET this afternoon, so begin a free trial of FuboTV now if you haven’t already done so!