It’s championship week.
The best rider in the Final Four will win the Cup.
While the championship issue is being decided, other drivers will be chasing other things – an extra race win, the first win of the season, or a strong finish in a long season.
Drivers to watch out for (four in particular) on Sunday in Phoenix:
- Points position: 3rd
- Last three races: 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead, 2nd at Las Vegas.
- Phoenix Past: Career best of eight starts – second. There are no circles.
Chastain is the man of the moment in NASCAR. His last-lap shot for Championship 4 set fire to the sport, with fans and industry insiders debating all week. A championship would be the perfect end to a breakthrough season for Chastain.
- Points position: 4th
- Last three races: 10th at Martinsville, 12th at Homestead, 13th at Las Vegas.
- Phoenix Past: One win, five consecutive 11th or better finishes
The playoffs have not been kind to Elliott. In nine playoff races, he finished in two top fives and three in the top 10, the lowest performance in those categories among the final four.
- Points position: 2nd
- Last three races: win at Martinsville, 7th at Homestead, 5th at Las Vegas.
- Past in Phoenix: Best result – 9th place in five career starts. There are no circles.
Bell was a playoff hero with wins in two elimination races, including last weekend in Martinsville. A win on Sunday would have completed a perfect trifecta.
- Points position: 1st
- Last three races: 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead, win at Las Vegas.
- Past in Phoenix: 2 career wins
Logano is the “oldie” of the Final Four at 32 and has won twice at Finike. He has completed 425 laps in the last six races on the track.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
- Points position: 8th
- Last three races: 3rd at Martinsville, 17th at Homestead, 28th at Las Vegas.
- Past in Phoenix: Six top-10s in last seven starts
Blaney’s quest for his first points win of the year is coming to an end. His third-place finish at Martinsville ended with a streak of three consecutive finishes of 17th or worse.
- Points position: 14th
- Last three races: 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead, 3rd at Las Vegas.
- Past in Phoenix: 3 career wins
In what will be his last race with Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch will be aiming for his first win since the spring dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He hasn’t led a single lap in his last five races in Phoenix.
- Points position: 7th
- Last three races: 2nd at Martinsville, win at Homestead, 35th at Las Vegas.
- Past in Phoenix: 1 career win
How will the reigning Cup champions end a strange season? He won three times but dropped out of the driver’s title in the round of 16. However, car number 5 is in the owners’ championship and could win that title on Sunday.
Jimmie Johnson will return to NASCAR and compete in select NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023, starting with the Daytona 500, following an ownership agreement with Petty GMS owner Maury Gallagher and chairman Richard Petty.
The pairing of two of the three seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champions was announced Friday morning at Phoenix Raceway.
The team’s post says that Johnson’s race schedule, sponsors and car number will be revealed in the future, and does not mention if he will race in other series.
During Friday’s press conference, Johnson said he originally planned to run eight to ten NTT IndyCar Series races next year, as well as sports car races in 2023.
Johnson said he still has a “great relationship” with Chip Ganassi Racing, with whom he has raced IndyCar for the past two seasons. But Petty GMS is a Chevrolet team and Ganassi runs Honda, which casts doubt on whether a conflict with manufacturers will prevent Johnson from returning to the team at Brickyard.
Johnson said he remains interested in racing IndyCars and sports cars (adding his June schedule, it’s clear that it includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans).
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 4, 2022
Johnson said his new NASCAR deal “escalated quickly” after he entered into talks with Gallagher last month. Johnson said the meetings went through his longtime agent, Alan Miller, who also represents the Petty GMS driver. Eric Jones.
“This is a life-changing opportunity and I had to take it,” Johnson, 47, said. “So I’m very excited about it.”
Financial terms were not disclosed, and Johnson said he had no partners in the deal.
The size of Johnson’s ownership stake was also not disclosed, but Petty said he hoped Johnson would eventually become the majority owner.
“Mori and I talk all the time about what we can do to improve our situation, make our business bigger, win a few more races,” Petty said. “He called me one day and said, ‘I was talking to Jimmie Johnson,’ and I said you must be kidding. Jimmie Johnson wants to be with us, and we will be with him? This must be one of the biggest things that has happened to the Petty and GMS crowd.
“Given that Jimmy is gaining popularity and people he knows and we don’t, it must have been a hell of a deal. From my point of view, this is a big, big step. Not just for one year. I look down the road. If Jimmy comes, he will do his job. I’m 85, so I won’t be here for another 15 or 20 years, and then Jimmy sort of takes over. It should have been a plus-plus.”
Since retiring from NASCAR full-time competition, Johnson has spent the past two seasons in IndyCar racing, including a full season last year in which he made his Indy 500 debut.
“It’s great to be back in NASCAR,” Johnson said in a press release. “When the IndyCar season ended, I hit the road to what was next. Maury and I got in touch, this opportunity came up and it’s perfect for me.
“Belonging to a team is such a big deal at this point in my career and after spending time with Maury and his family, talking to Mike (Beam), Dave (Elenz, crew chief of #43) and Joey (Cohen, director of competitions). and mechanical engineering), I realized that this is what I would like to do both from a business and competitive point of view. If I’m going to do something like this, I want to make a difference and have something tangible to show it when all is said and done. So this opportunity with Petty GMS is everything and more.”
Johnson’s most recent start in NASCAR was the 2020 season finale in Phoenix. In 19 seasons in the NASCAR main series with Hendrick Motorsports from 2002 to 2020, the El Cajon, California native has 83 wins, finishing sixth in Cup history.
“This is an amazing day for our sport,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “Jimmy is one of the greatest champions of all time on the race track and I know he will apply the same mentality to his role as a team owner.
“When he makes a decision, the level of commitment and work ethic he brings is second to none. Seeing Jimmy in a fire suit with his name on the roof of a Chevrolet at the DAYTONA 500 will be special for many. Rivalry with him will certainly be a big challenge and change, but we welcome his return to NASCAR and look forward to the next chapter of his truly remarkable career.”
He became the third seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion in 2016, joining Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson will be teamed with Petty GMS regular riders Jones (who brought the team their first Southern 500 victory) and a rookie rookie. Noah Gragson.
“I have been fortunate to have had wonderful mentors throughout my life and have always tried to pay up front for that,” Johnson said. “My experience and energy will add value to a team with young riders like Eric and Noah. I feel that I can be useful both on and off the track.”
Gallagher said: “I am very pleased that Jimmie Johnson has joined Petty GMS. Ever since we started playing in the Cup last year, we have been consistent in wanting to be ahead and have a winning program. Nobody in the modern era of NASCAR has won more than Jimmy. Having a driver of Jimmy’s caliber, operating our equipment, and being able to give feedback to our crew chiefs and engineers, but most importantly, Eric and Noah’s mentoring will be invaluable. Perhaps most importantly, Jimmy would be a great partner.
“I know I am speaking for all the members of the Petty GMS team, including Richard Petty, by welcoming Jimmy to the team. No one else will be able to tell that they have two of them…