The stage is set for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin enter Arizona with a shot at the title, ready to take the green flag Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with the rest of the series’ stars.
OLD-FASHIONED RACE WEEKEND
Teams will have more time to prepare for this weekend’s race thanks to an hour-long practice session on Friday (4:05 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App).
Additionally, Sunday’s starting lineup will be set by traditional single-car time-trial qualifying on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC/NBC Sports App). This marks the first weekend the Cup Series will practice or qualify since the Aug. 15 weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
NASCAR released purse information for the upcoming national series races.
NASCAR Cup Series: $10,053,801
NASCAR Xfinity Series: $1,622,583
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: $908,369
— Phoenix Raceway opened in 1964 with hopes of becoming a western beacon of open-wheel racing and held its first race on a road-course layout. AJ Foyt won the track’s first oval race in March 1964.
— Richard Petty won the venue’s first NASCAR-sanctioned event, a Winston West Series victory in 1978.
— In 1988, three years after Buddy Jobe purchased the track from Dennis Wood, Phoenix held its first Cup Series event, won on Nov. 6 by Alan Kulwicki who celebrated with the first “Polish Victory Lap” by driving the opposite direction around the track.
— International Speedway Corporation purchased Phoenix in 1997.
— The track was first reconfigured and repaved in 2011, widening the then-frontstretch by 10 feet while extending the backstretch dogleg by 95 feet and tightening its radius. Progressive banking was also added in Turns 1 and 2.
— The track was again reconfigured and renovated in 2018 as part of a $178 million project which saw the start/finish line move to the exit of what was previously Turn 2. Enhancements were made to provide a new pedestrian tunnel as well as upgrade the media center, Victory Lane and garage area.
— Sunday marks the 51st race at Phoenix and second championship race, the first coming in 2020.
Source: Racing Insights
NASCAR Cup Series cars will utilize the 750-horsepower, low-downforce package this weekend, which features shorter spoilers and front splitters in an effort to minimize the impact of aerodynamics at tracks shorter than 1.4 miles in length.
After switching to the higher-horsepower package in March 2020, Goodyear adjusted its tread compounds to give Cup teams more mechanical grip to compensate for the lost aero grip. These tires also wear more, leading to necessary tire management by the competitors.
This weekend also marks the final NASCAR Cup Series race on a 15-inch tire before the Next Gen welcomes Goodyear’s 18-inch tire in 2022.
“For the Cup Series this weekend, someone will go down as the last driver to win a championship on a 15-inch tire,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing.
This tire compound is the same utilized at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway, where it was used most recently.
STORY LINES AT RATTLESNAKE HILL
— Kyle Larson (9 wins), Martin Truex Jr. (4), Chase Elliott (2) and Denny Hamlin (2) enter Phoenix as the Championship 4 contenders battling for the Cup Series title. Whichever driver finishes highest on Sunday claims the championship.
— Kyle Larson is the only championship contender who has not yet won at Phoenix. Elliott won here in 2020 to claim the title; Hamlin has two Phoenix victories, including the fall race in 2019; and Truex went to Victory Lane in March.
— Chase Elliott is the lone contender yet to win in these playoffs. His teammate Kyle Larson has won four times in the last nine races, Hamlin twice and Truex once (Richmond). In fact, Larson, Hamlin and Truex are the only playoff drivers to win this postseason.
— Denny Hamlin has made the Championship 4 for the third consecutive season. He is the only driver to qualify for the playoffs more than 10 times yet to win a championship.
— Sixteen drivers have won multiple championships. Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. can join that elite list with a title on Sunday.
— The last five Phoenix races were won by five different drivers.
— Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won four of the past six Phoenix events.
— The driver who led the most laps has won four of the last six races at Phoenix.
— There were 27 laps of caution at Phoenix in November 2020, the fewest in the last 21 races there; four cautions, the fewest in the last 11 races.
— The final green-flag stretch was 25 laps or less in four of the last six Phoenix races, but last November’s run to the finish was 112 laps.
Source: Racing Insights
He might be the lone member of the Championship 4 field without a win at Phoenix Raceway, but Kyle Larson remains the betting favorite for this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at 7-4 (+175) odds, according to BetMGM.
Odds heavily favor the title contenders this weekend — and for good reason. Since NASCAR’s shift toward elimination-style playoffs in 2014, the resulting champion has won the race every time. Defending champion Chase Elliott enters with 7-2 (+350) odds while Denny Hamlin (4-1) and Martin Truex Jr. (9-2/+450) follow behind.
Numbers drop off significantly behind Truex, with Kyle Busch given the next-best chance at 16-1 odds. But perhaps William Byron (18-1) may be the underdog pick this week. His speed throughout the playoffs has been exceptional and kept him up front. A complete effort by the No. 24 team might result in a sneaky upset from outside the Championship 4.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out the playoff version of NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now and offers a fresh start for those of you who played the regular-season contest. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts, and there is a $10,000 prize for the winner.
The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Kyle Larson (1,402), Denny Hamlin (1,382) and Chase Elliott (1,191).
This year, NASCAR.com also has the Playoffs Grid Challenge game, presented by Ruoff Mortgage, where you can pick the winners for each round of the playoffs right up through the Championship 4. First prize is $10,000.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.
New for this season, NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.
And finally, head over to the NASCAR Mobile App for AR Racing presented by Mobil 1, where you can design your own car and race the playoff drivers at the playoff tracks in augmented reality.