What to Watch: Youngest Championship 4 ever readies for Phoenix title showdown


Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway

(⏰ Sunday, Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. ET | 📺 NBC, Peacock | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway, the 36th and final points-paying race of the 2023 Cup Series campaign.

Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Weather tracker | Phoenix championship race 101

Cup Series
💪Championship 4 drivers:
Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell
📍 Location:
Avondale, Arizona
📐 Track length: 1 mile
💰 Cup Series race purse: $11,143,232
📏 Race distance: 312 laps | 312 miles
🔢 Stages: 60 | 185 | 312
📋 Starting lineup: Byron on pole for Championship race
🚗 Pit stall assignments:
Where drivers will pit on Sunday

A graphic showcasing Championship 4 drivers Kyle Larson, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney

Key things to watch 🔑

Friday and Saturday’s sessions

Championship 4 drivers Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell had the advantage during Friday evening’s 50-minute practice sessions, but couldn’t back it up in Saturday’s qualifying. Those two will start outside the top 10 on Sunday with Bell rolling off 13th and Blaney in 15th. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron will start at the front as Byron grabbed the Busch Light Pole Award and the all-important No. 1 pit stall at Phoenix Raceway. Larson will start fourth | Read qualifying recap

Big story line

In his first Championship 4 appearance, is Ryan Blaney ready for his one shining moment?

Blaney had never made it past the Round of 8 until now in his seventh playoff appearance. It truly feels like the 29-year-old High Point, North Carolina, native took the next step in his NASCAR Cup Series career. Exiting the previous round riding a hot streak, Blaney finished sixth at Las Vegas, a career-best finish of second place at Homestead, and sailed to Victory Lane in last Sunday’s elimination race at Martinsville. Getting two wins in the last five races certainly gives the Team Penske driver quite a bit of momentum heading into the championship decider.

His performances in the last two races have been championship-worthy and moments everyone may look back on if the driver of the No. 12 Ford ends up winning his first Cup Series title. Sunday’s trip to the “Valley of the Sun” will be the most important race of Blaney’s life. With six consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix, expect another strong drive in the championship race as Blaney seeks to deliver his one shining moment in the desert. | Inside the Race: Ryan Blaney’s Phoenix advantage

History tells us…

The final showdown for the 2023 title is anyone’s game.

Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell make up the youngest Championship 4 in Cup Series Playoffs history at 28 years, 11 months and 25 days. The only past series champion is Larson (2021), who makes his second Championship 4 appearance and hopes to go two-for-two with it all on the line.

Also making it to the final round for the second time is Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell. He is the only driver from 2022 to return to the Championship 4.

Hendrick Motorsports will have two drivers representing the powerhouse Chevrolet team with Larson and Byron, who is in his first Championship 4 appearance. Team Penske’s Blaney joins Byron in the first-timers club. When evaluating each driver’s stats at Phoenix, there is no clear favorite. The average finishes at the 1-mile oval are very close between Larson (11.72), Byron (11.91) and Blaney (11.93). Bell is the sole outlier with an average finish of 14.43.

The four Championship 4 cars rest in their garage stalls

Now, evaluating each driver’s record in Arizona, 2021 Cup Series champion Larson has eight finishes of ninth or better in the last nine Phoenix races, including the win in the season finale to conclude his championship-winning season. If Larson becomes a two-time series champion on Sunday, he will join Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as the third Hendrick driver to win multiple titles.

Byron is the winner of the Phoenix spring race from earlier in the year and is riding a hot streak in the desert, with two straight finishes of sixth or better. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet also earned five top 10s in the last seven races here. Byron certainly hopes to give team owner Rick Hendrick his 15th Cup Series title.

Blaney will try to give “The Captain” his fourth Cup Series title among three drivers after Joey Logano (2018, 2022) and Brad Keselowski (2012) collected the first three. Meanwhile, in Bell’s seven career Phoenix starts, the JGR driver earned four top 10s in the last five races and got a career-best finish of sixth earlier this year in the spring race. Unlike the other three drivers competing for the title, Bell is the only one who has never led a single lap here in Cup Series competition.

To paint a more clear picture, we ranked all four Championship 4 drivers in 15 key categories and used the results to establish a favorite. | See the results

A collection of images of Kevin Harvick and his four crew chiefs
NASCAR Creative Design

He may not be the betting favorite to win, but watch out for…

Kevin Harvick. After a long Cup Series career that lasted for over two decades, it all comes down to the final 312 laps. Being the young kid from Bakersfield, California, who had the weight of the world placed on his shoulders by taking Dale Earnhardt’s spot at Richard Childress Racing in 2001, to putting together a Hall of Fame career, imagine if Harvick wins his final Cup Series start on Sunday. As the 2014 Cup Series champion hangs up the helmet after the checkered flag, coming to one of his best tracks provides a great opportunity for a potential storybook ending in Phoenix Victory Lane. Although history suggests a Championship 4 driver will probably win the race, do not count out Harvick to seal the deal in “The Closer’s” last act before taking a final bow.

His odds of winning the Phoenix season finale have improved to 5-1 after practice and qualifying this weekend. Flashing back to the spring race earlier this year, Harvick was in prime position to win until a late-race caution cost him a visit to Victory Lane. The 47-year-old California native has a remarkable streak of finishing ninth or better in 20 consecutive Phoenix races. Look for this streak to continue on Sunday, but getting one more Cup Series win before riding off into the sunset in a mic drop moment would truly be a special moment for the sport.

To truly encapsulate Harvick’s career, we spoke with all four crew chiefs who won a NASCAR Cup Series race with him. | See their stories

Making the case 👨‍⚖️

Analyzing what makes each driver a good bet to win the title on Sunday.

Why Kyle Larson will win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title
Why Christopher Bell will win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title
Why William Byron will win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title
Why Ryan Blaney will win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title

Xfinity Series

Championship race: Cole Custer nabs illustrious first championship
Championship 4 drivers: John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer and Sam Mayer
2023 champion:
Cole Custer
NXS news: Get up to speed

Truck Series

Championship race: Rhodes rides to second career title
Championship 4 drivers: Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar, Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger
2023 champion:
Ben Rhodes
More NCTS news: Get up to speed

Familiar favorites ⭐️

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

– Advance Through the Playoffs: Racing Insights projects the final race results | Read article
– Notes from the track:
What to expect in the Phoenix title race | Watch video
– The Action Network:
Best bet for Sunday’s championship race | Read article
At-track photos: Sights and scenes from Phoenix Championship Weekend | Photos
– End of season goodbyes: See what comes to an end after Phoenix | Read more
– Fantasy Fastlane: Ryan Blaney is hot at the right time, one last Phoenix hoorah for Kevin Harvick | See fantasy tips
– Paint Scheme Preview: See the schemes for Phoenix | Pick a favorite
– Power Rankings: How all 12 Championship 4 drivers stack up| Latest driver rankings
– Silly Season: Catch up on driver, team changes | Read more
💎 NASCAR 75: Learn more about the history of the sport, from pioneers to current stars | Visit NASCAR 75 hub

Catch the pack 💨

Read up on the top headlines from the week leading up this weekend’s finales.

– Championship 4 roundtable: Hear from the four drivers going for the 2023 Cup title before the big race | Watch here
– Crew chiefs speak:
Kevin Harvick’s crew chiefs reflect on his career and lasting legacy | Read more
– New Body:
Ford unveils Mustang Dark Horse for 2024 Cup Series campaign | Read more
– Twenty-Four:
Rick Hendrick discusses the possibility of the No. 24 car winning another championship | Watch here

Fast facts

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

The No. 12 car has never won a championship in the Cup Series, while Nos. 5, 20 and 24 have combined to win eight championships.
Christopher Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens is making his seventh Championship 4 appearance (two with Bell and five with Kyle Busch), which is most of all Cup Series crew chiefs.
For the first time since Tony Stewart and Gene Haas formed Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, SHR may have its first winless season in the Cup Series if they do not find Victory Lane at Phoenix.

MUST WATCH