After nine months, 35 points-paying races, two exhibition events, 19 different race winners, paddock parity like we’ve never seen before, and nearly as many controversies as exciting moments, NASCAR’s 16 playoff entrants had their the fall. up to a dozen, eight, and finally, the cherished Championship 4.
This quartet will fight arms and hands and car after car for at least 312 laps on an oddly shaped race track that thinks it’s a short track, the one mile-long Phoenix Raceway. The format is simple. The one who finishes best of all of these four will become the champion of the 74th season of the NASCAR Premier Series.
So who are these four? How did they get here? How do they run in Phoenix? And how do they approach the pressure of title races? Read on as we give you the stats, the path, and short questions and answers for each.
2022: 3 wins, 4 poles, 12 best 5s, 19 best 10s, 6 DNF
Playoffs 2022: 2 wins, 1 pole, 5 top 5/top 10 finishes, 2 DNF
Playoff history: 2nd appearance, 2 wins, both this year
The best result of the championship: January 12, 2021
Phoenix Career Stats: 5 starts, 0 wins, 0 best 5, 2 best 10 (both finished 9th), 0 DNF, 17.0 avg
Sportzshala: On Sunday, you won your way to this Championship 4 after you started this playoff round by crashing in the Bubba Wallace/Kyle Larson mess in Las Vegas to finish 34th. And to get into this round, you had to beat Charlotte Roval, because you also started this round in 34th place. Man, it’s a hard way to make a living.
Call: It. And that’s why I was the most emotional I’ve ever been behind the wheel of a race car, right after winning Martinsville last weekend. My first thoughts were about my mom and dad because when I left Vegas I was desperate. Mom and dad said over and over, “You can still do it, you can still do it.” I didn’t really believe them, especially when I went to Martinsville where I didn’t have much success, and then we ended up on Victory Lane.
Sportzshala: You must have these anchors in life.
Call: Like [crew chief] Adam Stevens. He saw it all. As everyone knows, he won a couple of cup titles with Kyle Busch. He never changes. If we win or lose or crash, or if I lose 18 times, it will be the same every week. His schedule is the same. He just stays very, very calm, cool, collected and attacks every race, whether it’s April or this weekend’s championship race. This is being passed on to my mechanics, the road mechanics, the shop mechanics, the technician team, everyone who had a hand in this. That’s how you go to Martinsville 35 points below the cut line on a track that I haven’t really been close to winning in the past and do what we did.
Sportzshala: I know the sample size is small, but you definitely didn’t set Phoenix Raceway on fire.
Call: But I love Phoenix. During the Xfinity days, this was one of my favorite race tracks. [three top fives and a win in five starts]. But when it comes to the Cup, you can’t measure a guy’s stats when it’s the final race of four championships like they did in Phoenix. If you are not in this group, your only goal is not to interfere with these guys. So not in the championship, I just tried not to interfere.
Sportzshala: And now you’re in the championship, so…
Call: Yes, let’s hope they remember that and won’t get in my way this time. [laughs]!
2022: 2 wins, 0 poles, 14 top 5s, 20 top 10s, 5 DNF
Playoffs 2022: 0 wins, 0 poles, 4 top 5s, 6 top 10s, 0 DNF
Playoff history: 1st performance, no wins
The best result of the championship: February 20, 2021
Phoenix Career Stats: 8 starts, 0 wins, 1 top 5, 1 top 10 (2nd, March 2022), 0 DNF, 20.5 avg
Sportzshala: Okay, first things first. That last lap move in Martinsville where you went from 10th to 5th by going through the wall like Tony Hawk and I think you were going 300 miles an hour. How was this week when you became the greatest racing driver who ever lived?
Chastain: [Laughs] I still can’t believe it worked. Yes, with the reach of people from all over the world, it’s crazy. That’s what’s great about racing, that we get to see something like that from time to time. And every now and then something wild happens that defies physics.
Sportzshala: What was it like?
Chastain: It was so fast. Once they told me how many seats I needed, there were no options. It had to happen. And when I got into fifth gear, I didn’t plan on it, but I ran out of gear, or I was about to hit the chip. So, I put in fifth gear, as I did, I passed my breakpoint where I should have slowed down. That’s when things just sped up, how really fast. The wildest thing is that when I rounded the wall, it just didn’t slow down. Didn’t lose speed. I started letting go of the steering wheel because I wasn’t really doing anything and I thought about the pit lane gate. [the section of the front stretch wall that opens as a gate]. I didn’t want to break my arms.
Sportzshala: This moment kind of sums up the Ross Chastain experience of 2022 for me. You are a Tier 2 team in Trackhouse Racing. You won on the highway and in Talladega with the same car. You had a strange off-road experience on the track in Indianapolis. However, here you are.
Chastain: If I wasn’t driving this car, I would be farming, and you know what, I would watch these races on the weekends. I would be a fan. I’m a fan. And this is a team that is easy for a fan to root for. We are in the same building as Ganassi Racing when I entered in 2018 to drive an Xfinity car, but what a rollercoaster since then. We’re going full time and then they shut us down and then I get in the cup car and now the team is sold and there’s a Next Gen car. I was at the store this morning before leaving for Phoenix and thought about all this. Many of us are still there together. Again, this is not difficult if you are a NASCAR fan.
2022: 5 wins, 4 poles, 12 best 5s, 20 best 10s, 4 DNF
Playoffs 2022: 1 win (Talladega), 3 top 10 finishes, 2 DNF
Playoff history: 7th appearance, 7 wins
The best result of the championship: 2020 Cup Series Champion
Phoenix Career Stats: 13 starts, 1 win (2020 title win), 5 top 5 finishes, 8 top 10 finishes, 1 DNF, average finish 10.7
Sportzshala: Chase Elliott. I literally remember the day you were born, and here you are, a cunning, experienced 26-year-old veteran…
Elliot: yeah [laughs]I don’t necessarily feel like a veteran. When you step back and look at this, it will be the end of my seventh year in the Cup, which is crazy for you and for me. I think about it and realize, damn it, I’ve been doing it longer than any other form of racing in my career. I think for anyone, whether you’re a racer or not, I think your 20s are important years, just in your life in general. You focus on different things. You’re trying to figure out where this is going and how it relates to the racing side of things. But to be able to race for the championship in the last three years has been a great honor.
Sportzshala: But when the team and driver make it to the final race three times in a row, does it start to feel like business as usual?
Elliot: Never. Making Championship 4 is very difficult. Something that I certainly don’t take for granted. Our path to this race over these three years has been very different. In 2020, we needed to win Martinsville to get to the Final Four and win the championship and it was the craziest seven days of my life. Last year we achieved this steadily. This year we were on top, but these victories gave us enough bonus points to continue. As long as your best weekend is your last, that’s the only goal right now.
Sportzshala: I won’t be in Phoenix. I’ll be in Athens, GA to see your favorite Dawgs take on Tennessee. Sorry about that.
Elliot: Do not be. You are certainly not alone in this. I would like to be in both places at the same time, but if it makes you feel better, I have many friends who have already informed me that they will be watching the race on TV this Sunday because they have decided to stay at home in Georgia. for Game. I’m not holding a grudge. This is a big game. I mean no more than me but it’s cool [laughs]. See you at the SEC Championship next month.
2022: 3 wins, 3 poles, 10 best 5s, 16 best 10s, 4 DNF
Playoffs 2022: 1 win (Las Vegas), 2 poles, 4 top 10 finishes, 1 DNF
Playoff history: 9th appearance, 11 wins
The best result of the championship: Cup Series Champion 2018
Phoenix Career Stats: 27 starts, 2 wins (most recent in March 2020), 7 top 5 finishes, 15 top 10 finishes, 4 DNF, 13.1 avg.
Sportzshala: There are really two pairs in this four. Two veterans and two junior, relative newcomers. You are the oldest in the group and were one of the first guys in the NASCAR youth movement. How different is it for you now?
Logano: The comfort of being in Championship 4 five times already, you kind of know what’s around the corner. How is this week going. How to prepare for the race itself. It’s much nicer for sure [laughs].
Sportzshala: So, do you agree with the opinion that I hear all the time from football coaches that this is just another game, just another race, if you approach it like that?
Logano: I don’t agree with this at all. This is a championship race. It’s all. When you do this, you are simply trying to minimize the race in order to feel more comfortable. I don’t want to be comfortable. The added pressure and intensity is how you find another level in yourself. Winning championships is why I do it. That’s why I’ve always done it this way. So none of this should feel normal because you’re living that dream.
Sportzshala: When does it seem normal, if ever?
Logano: When the window grid rises. when you put on a helmet. Like, okay, everyone’s gone. The noise is gone. I can just go do my job and do what I’m willing to do and do it. This piece. And I think the whole team is like…