PHOENIX — Chase Elliott refused to select a favorite from among his Championship 4 colleagues during Thursday’s NASCAR Media Day press conference, insisting that after a 35-race season to date if you qualified for this weekend’s championship race, you could be the champion.
Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will compete against Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Team Penske’s Joey Logano for the season trophy Sunday and both Elliott and Logano are racing for their second championship. Chastain and Bell are making their Championship 4 debut this weekend.
Elliott has a strong record at Phoenix Raceway – winning the 2020 title race from pole position to claim his first championship. He has scored eight top-10s in 13 starts and led 546 laps at the one-mile track but comes into the championship finale with only a pair of top-10 finishes in the nine playoff races – a win at Talladega Superspeedway and a runner-up result at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Personally, being a part of it the last couple years and as this format has kind of progressed and changed, I think if you make it to that last race, I think you have a shot,” Elliott said. “If you’re in the final four, I think you have a chance.
“We’ve seen this, you don’t have to dominate all day to win [the title] . … What Jimmie did in 2016 is a great example of not necessarily being the best car all day but when it came time to execute at the end of the day, put together some good restarts, some good pit stops and make it happen, they did.
“Our playoffs hasn’t been great but with this format, it really doesn’t matter now. If you’re part of the show, you’re part of the show. And if you have a shot this weekend, you have a shot to change the narrative and write the end of the story however you want.”
Both Logano (Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and Bell (Martinsville Speedway) won races in the Playoffs’ Round of 8 to earn their title opportunity. Elliott and Chastain “pointed” their way into championship contention.
In a rather unusual twist, the Hendrick Motorsports team could capture both the driver and team championship but with different drivers. Elliott is racing for the driver’s title and Kyle Larson qualified the team’s No. 5 Chevrolet for the team owner’s championship.
“The best thing that could happen is one of us wins the race and the other runs second and you can check both boxes and we all go home happy,’’ Elliott said. “That would be choice number one for me, and I think that’s feasible.”
For Logano, nothing short of a championship will do
To say Logano is optimistic about the way circumstances have played out over the past three weeks would be a massive understatement.
First of all, Logano won the first race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 8 on Oct. 16 at Las Vegas. The certainty of advancement to the Championship 4 has given his No. 22 Team Penske team the luxury of extra time to prepare for Sunday’s title race at Phoenix.
At 32, Logano is the oldest of the four Championship 4 drivers. With 14 full seasons in the Cup Series and 506 races under his belt, he is by far the most experienced. He and Chase Elliott are the only two drivers vying for the title who already have won a championship.
For Logano, it’s an opportunity not to waste.
“I feel like we’re in a great spot right now,” Logano said on Thursday during Championship 4 Media Day interviews at the Phoenix Convention Center. “I feel like our team is in a great spot for a lot of reasons. For one, we’re not happy to be here. We’re not just happy to be in the Championship 4. This isn’t enough for us.
“I feel like that’s the number one driver for the 22 team to win this thing. I think with that mentality and the three weeks that we’ve had since Vegas to really focus in here, it’s going to give us a huge advantage to not only have a good practice plan and set our car up but also execute this race correctly, on top of the experience we’ve got.
“I’ve never felt more solid in this position than I do right now. With that said, I’m ready to go racing and get out there, because we feel prepared. We’re ready to go to battle.”