The Championship 4 Could Feature the Exact Type of Field NASCAR Wants
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has featured more parity throughout the field than any year in a generation. And that could extend all the way to which teams will participate in the Championship 4 when the season comes to a close November 6 at Phoenix Raceway.
The four drivers currently in line to have a chance to race for the championship all come from different organizations, which is something that has not happened in the series since 2018.
Teammates have been involved in the Championship 4 each of the last three seasons
Joey Logano is the only driver locked into the Championship 4 so far, thanks to his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He also, coincidentally, won the 2018 title in his No. 22 car for Team Penske over Martin Truex Jr. from Furniture Row Racing, Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing, and Kyle Busch with Joe Gibbs Racing.
That was the final season for Furniture Row Racing, so Truex moved to JGR the following year and made the final four for the third consecutive season. But that time, he had teammates Denny Hamlin and the 2019 champion Busch also in contention for the title in the season’s final event.
Harvick was the lone non-JGR driver in the 2019 Championship 4. He finished fourth in the title-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and third in the final playoff standings.
Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Logano both had a chance to win the championship in 2020 when Phoenix Raceway took over as host of the final race of the season. But they finished second and third, respectively, to Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott.
Elliott was the only HMS driver in the 2020 Championship 4, but his new teammate for 2021, Kyle Larson, joined him in the 2021 edition that also featured a pair of JGR drivers in Truex and Hamlin.
Larson finished off an incredibly dominant season with his fourth win in the final five races to capture his first title ahead of the JGR duo of Truex and Hamlin, while Elliott finished fifth.
Chances of teammates making this year’s Championship 4 still exist
HMS could have two drivers in title contention again this season, with Elliott and William Byron still eligible with two races left in the Round of 8. But Byron is six points behind Hamlin for the fourth and final transfer spot.
As it stands now, Elliott would join Hamlin and Logano to battle for the title at Phoenix. Those three drivers have all competed in the Championship 4 multiple times, but this year they could be joined by Ross Chastain, who would be making his first Championship 4 appearance and the first for Trackhouse Racing, which is in only its second year of operation.
Chastain was a holdover when Trackhouse bought out Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2021 campaign. He has seen a massive boost in performance this year and currently sits second in the playoff standings with a 16-point margin over Byron in fifth.
Chastain has not finished better than 15th in three previous races at Homestead, which hosts the second race of the Round of 8 this weekend. However, he drove those races for either CGR or Premium Motorsports, which never reached a level Trackhouse has this season.
In fact, Chastain had only two-10 finishes on intermediate tracks between 1.33 and 1.5 miles in length in his first 35 races on such tracks. This year he has five top-10s at those types of venues and only two finishes worse than 15th. He also finished fifth in the spring race this season at Martinsville Speedway, where the Round of 8 will close on October 30.
SHR’s Chase Briscoe is the only other Round of 8 driver without a teammate still eligible for the championship. He could maintain the organizational parity if he can rise from his current sixth spot in the standings.
The bottom two drivers still in the playoffs are Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and JGR’s Christopher Bell. Blaney would join his teammate Logano if he is able to reach the Championship 4, while Bell and Hamlin could both represent JGR in the season finale if Bell can claw back from his current eighth spot in the standings.
Four different championship-eligible teams at Phoenix this year would make sense
A Championship 4 that features four different organizations would be fitting this season, given the parity theme that has existed throughout the year.
NASCAR introduced the Next Gen car model to begin this season to level the playing field, and so far, it has made great strides in that department. The 19 different winners through the first 33 races this year are the most in the Cup Series since 2001, and those winners have come from eight different organizations.
It has been a season of unpredictability and unexpected success from nearly all corners of the garage area, and four different teams involved in the Championship 4 would be an apt representation of the 2022 Cup Series season.
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