Joey Logano starts first as he’s chasing his second NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday.
Logano won pole on Saturday in Sunday’s Cup final at Phoenix Raceway. The 312 mile race will determine the 2022 Cup champion. Logano ran 134.389 miles per hour.
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Elliott won in Phoenix in 2020 and Alan Gustafson, his crew chief, has four wins in Phoenix.
Logano won twice in Phoenix. Elliott has one track win, while Bell and Chastain have no wins.
Bell enters the season finale with two wins from his last four races. Both were knockout events.
Chastain placed second at Phoenix in the March race.
Avondale, Arizona. In sports, he’s considered a rock star and a champion, but to Bill and Cindy Elliott, he’s just Chase, their son.
“Your kids will always be your kids,” Cindy Elliot told NBC Sports of her 26-year-old son, who is aiming to become the 17th multiple Cup champion in NASCAR history and break a tie with his Hall of Famer father in the crown series.
For Bill Elliott, he sees how his son has grown. He recalls his 2002 Brickyard 400 victory and photographs of a young Chase celebrating with him.
“It’s all about how fast things go,” Bill Elliot said of how time passed. “I was at Victory Lane in Indy in 2002 and here you are 20 years later and here he is grown up and doing his own thing.
“Life goes by so fast.”
It makes Bill Elliot think of days gone by.
“I still think the most fun times we had together were what we did when we lived in Colorado and he was racing go-karts,” said Bill Elliot of the early days of racing his son. “It was just a great time. I think it was a fun series that we showed. There wasn’t much pressure. I still see him in it. Times have passed, he has grown and become independent.”
It was also a special time for Chase Elliott.
“We spent a couple of fun years there,” said Chase Elliott. “Dad, I think he thought he was retired at the time. I just loved being a dad, I loved going to the race track, and we raced together, worked karts, cleaned trailers and everything.
“Yes, those were special years. Of course, I’m glad that I have the opportunity to look back at them.
Cindy Elliot sums up such an experience by saying, “Enjoy and enjoy every moment.”
Sunday marks the third year in a row that Elliott has raced in the Cup of Champions. He won the 2020 title and finished fourth last year. If he wins this year, Elliott will become the second youngest driver to win multiple cups, behind only Jeff Gordon.
Cindy Elliott says this weekend will be “just as edgy as last year and the year before.”
The difference is how fickle Elliott and his No. 9 team in the playoffs are.
He won at Talladega in the round of 16, but this is one of only three top 10 finishes he has made in the playoffs. Elliott started each round as the leader in playoff points he scored in the regular season, but fell short in the first race of each round.
“I feel like we have as good an opportunity as anyone,” Elliot said of Sunday’s title race. “Yes, there were ups and downs in our playoffs, maybe more than what we actually did because of the way we ran to him.
“But when I sit and look at this weekend, at this format, at how the final four work, if you’re in, you have a number one chance. Second, we haven’t written the ending yet, right? Storytelling is meant to be how you want it to be, however you want to spend your day.”
Not every champion was the favorite in the season finale.
Kyle Bush was not considered a favorite in 2019, but became champion, taking his second crown.
Jimmie Johnson was not aiming for his seventh series title in 2016 until a belated warning changed that race and resulted in Johnson joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most series crowns.
So everything is possible in one race for the championship.
“HOURconfidence is high,” car owner Rick Hendrick said of Elliott. “I think he is so competitive, he just wants to be close to the team and the organization and himself. He knows how good he is.
“I have spoken to him several times this week. He is ready for this race. He wants to win another championship.”
Although Elliott’s playoffs proved difficult, it was during this time that the sport took notice when he spoke out at Talladega about safety issues with the Next Gen car. It happened after a teammate Alex Bowman got a concussion last week in Texas. Elliot was among the senior drivers who discussed the matter. It attracted attention because Elliot usually doesn’t get involved in such discussions, but at the time he felt it was important.
With changes to the car next season to help the drivers, Elliot has turned his focus back to the playoffs and now to the championship.
But he also knows that these are the days he will remember sometime in the future.
“I want to succeed,” Elliott said. “I want to do my job. I think you have to mentally be where you need to be to do this. I think that sometimes it can make it impossible to enjoy certain moments or occasions.
“But I try very hard because I know that you will not return this time, you will not return these years. To be honest, I respect that aspect of life and how fragile it can be.”
His father looks back for a moment and thinks about celebrating with his son in Indianapolis 20 years ago.
“Kissing the bricks,” said Bill Elliot, “he stands there and says, ‘What are you doing?’ He looks like that, what are you doing there? I don’t think he understood it.”
The victory, however, goes to his son.
Avondale, Arizona – Gavin Grubbs and Joey Logano have been friends for so long that Grubbs says it’s hard to remember when a champion racer wasn’t part of his life.
They first met in 2010 when Grubbs was 8 and Logano was 19.. This meeting was organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Logano flew to Harrisburg, Arkansas to meet Grubbs, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 6 months, and invite him to the Daytona 500.
Their friendship grew. Grubbs was present at test sessions in Memphis, Tennessee when the Logano team from Penske was there. Gibbs and Logano corresponded and talked frequently. They spent more time together.
“You only want to surround yourself with good, healthy people,” said Logano, who starts from pole in today’s Cup race. “That’s what I want, to have someone real by my side.”
Grubbs was the groom at Logano’s wedding, was at Homestead-Miami Speedway when Logano won the 2018 title, and surprised Logano by introducing “my friend” at the NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas after that season. Grubbs was also present at the 2020 championship at Phoenix Raceway when Logano failed to win the crown.
While Grubbs returns to Phoenix for today’s race, another Logano-influenced family will be watching the NBC broadcast (3:00 p.m. ET) and hoping he wins a second cup championship.