Skip to main content

NASCAR Cup Series Championship (Phoenix) Preview and Fantasy Predictions

NASCAR will crown a Cup Series champion on Sunday... and my time with Athlon Sports' NASCAR coverage will come to a close.
2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4

This year's Cup Series champion will either be (L-R) Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott, or Joey Logano.

The NASCAR Cup Series will crown a champion this Sunday at Phoenix Raceway among Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell. But that’s not the only NASCAR storyline we’ll see as several drivers end tenures with their current team. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, and primary sponsor M&M Mars, for example, will be parting ways after 15 years together.

Turns out I was able to edge Kyle by one. My NASCAR relationship with Athlon Sports, which this column completes, made it 16 years.

It was November 2006 when then-Athlon editor Matt Taliaferro asked if I knew of a certain NASCAR preview magazine. He wanted me to write the cover story reflecting on an upcoming "Season of Change." The big news then included Toyota moving into Cup for their first full-time season; Jimmie Johnson getting over the hump to win the first of what would be seven championships; and Mark Martin leaving his home of nearly 20 years at Roush Racing.

Kyle Busch, back then, was just a young driver trying to make a name for himself at Hendrick Motorsports. Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell? They were in middle school. AJ Allmendinger? An excitable driver with endless energy was getting ready to run Cup full-time… OK, I guess some things never change.

By 2007, I was the main consultant for the Athlon Racing magazine and put my heart and soul into every page you read every year since. If I wasn’t writing on it, I was consulting and editing, helping produce the best offseason NASCAR content (and eventually the only magazine) promoting the following year.

There were anonymous scouting reports, allowing drivers and crew chiefs in the industry to open up on how they felt about a particular rival. There were the "13 Tough Questions," later reduced to 10, well-researched and designed to hold this sport to account during its toughest years. And there were so many good features produced by the best writers in the industry, too many to name here. I was always so proud of the final product and the faith Athlon had in my work.

That success spiraled into an Athlon Racing podcast for a few years, done with Matt and Braden Gall, along with the weekly NASCAR columns you see at Athlon today. I am forever in Matt’s debt; words do not do justice to how much he meant to my career, a trusted mentor at a crucial point in my career. He always gave me a space to be myself, our passion for NASCAR resulting in quality, collaborative content fans loved. I felt I always had a home here.

To the editors that followed Matt, Mitchell Light, and Rob Doster, thank you for your professionalism and patience as I got you deep into the weeds with cars running around in circles. Mark Ross, my current online editor, has been a joy to work with, one of the most dependable and hard-working people in this industry.

While Athlon will be wrapping up its coverage of NASCAR going forward, I’ll still be doing plenty within the sport. You can find my weekly column (and more) on along with content in multiple places, where I retain my role as Majority Owner and Editor-in-Chief. 

Last but not least, to my Athlon readers: THANK YOU. I appreciated every bit of feedback through the years, every criticism; it makes me better. Sports journalists would not be able to tell these great stories if you weren’t so willing to read them.

Now, on to the matter at hand: who will win the most evenly matched Championship 4 in the history of NASCAR's playoff format.

NASCAR Cup Series Championship (Season Finale 500)

Date: Sunday, Nov. 6
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Track: Phoenix Raceway (Avondale, Ariz.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Starting Lineup

Who's at the Front: Christopher Bell & Ross Chastain

Bell and Chastain stand out as first-time Championship 4 participants. Bell ended up winning with his back against the wall, twice, in order to advance in the playoffs. But Bell’s win-or-bust success was overshadowed by a video game-style move by Ross Chastain in order to jump from 10th to 5th during the final lap at Martinsville Speedway last weekend.

The video says it all, a move people thought was borderline impossible. It’s put Chastain and Trackhouse Racing in position for a title in only the team’s second year of existence.

Who's at the Back: Kyle Busch

Busch was dead last on speed at times during the Martinsville race, winding up in 29th position, six laps off the pace. Since blowing an engine in September’s Southern 500, Busch has led just three laps in eight additional postseason races while piling up four finishes outside the top 25.

Add in the loss of regular crew chief Ben Beshore to a loose wheel and it’s been a difficult time for Busch and family as his JGR tenure is wrapping up.

News Briefs

Jimmie Johnson announced Friday he’s signed a deal to become part owner of Petty GMS Motorsports. Johnson will also run a third Petty GMS car on a limited schedule beginning with February’s Daytona 500, his first NASCAR race since leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the 2020 season.

Tyler Reddick was cleared to return to the No. 8 of Richard Childress Racing after having a health scare at Martinsville. Reddick parked early during that race after he hit another car in front of him and started to feel sick with a major headache. “My head went flying back into the headrest,” Reddick said of the incident. “Something didn’t really seem right.”

Sheldon Creed will return with Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2023. Creed, backed by sponsorship from Whelen, had a difficult first year in NXS, failing to make the playoffs a year after capturing the Camping World Truck Series Championship.

NASCAR by the Numbers

Average age of the four Championship 4 contenders. Only Joey Logano (32) is over age 30.

Straight years Brad Keselowski has won at least one race on the Cup level. It’s the second-longest active streak behind Kyle Busch and will come to an end Sunday if he can’t find a way to win at Phoenix.

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

Top Tier

It’s the same song and dance every year. But it’s also reality: stack as many of the Championship 4 (Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano) as you can on your roster. In two previous title races at Phoenix, everyone who was competing for the championship finished inside the top 5.

Yes, that means you’re going to have to deal with lesser-talented drivers at the bottom of the roster. But there’s no way you’re going to win otherwise. Put in three if you can (although the salaries make that borderline impossible).

Related: Best Phoenix Raceway Drivers for DraftKings

Middle Tier

Ryan Blaney remains winless this year in points-paying events despite capturing the All-Star Race. He’d be top 5 in the standings without the postseason reset and is motivated to put an exclamation point on a strong year. Remember, Blaney was the lone driver to finish ahead of a Championship 4 driver at Phoenix last year and was fourth with the NextGen chassis this spring.

Brad Keselowski would need a Hail Mary to end the year with a victory and continue his streak. But the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford team has improved dramatically throughout the playoffs, his sixth-place finish turned DNQ at Martinsville notwithstanding. The track record for Keselowski at Phoenix includes a runner-up finish as recently as 2020; he had five straight top 11s before a disappointing 23rd back in the spring.

Lower Tier

Cole Custer is fighting for his racing future with rumors Ryan Preece could replace him in the No. 41 Ford for 2023. He’s run a little better as of late, a fifth-place qualifying effort turning into a solid run at Martinsville before fading to 14th down the stretch. Could Phoenix be a place Custer can prove himself with an average finish of 14.5 his last two starts in the desert?

Todd Gilliland has had a solid rookie season for Front Row Motorsports and in a race you need some lower-salaried drivers to cash in, he could give you a sneaky top-20 result. 19th at Phoenix in the spring, Gilliland had some Truck Series success here, posting three top-10 finishes in five starts at this 1-mile oval.

What Vegas Thinks

Through Friday night, was giving Chase Elliott the edge for the Cup title at +230. Christopher Bell is next up at +300 with Joey Logano and Ross Chastain at +400. No other driver is better than +1200 odds.

If you want a longshot, that’s the other driver I’d take: reigning NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Larson, still eligible to win the owner’s championship in his No. 5 Chevrolet.

What I Think

What a toss-up. I think Ross Chastain has the most momentum entering the weekend and was the fastest in Friday practice. Christopher Bell has proven he can win with his back against the wall; crew chief Adam Stevens has won two titles already with Kyle Busch. Chase Elliott has struggled this postseason but remains a slight favorite due to a season-high five race wins.

Through it all, Joey Logano and Team Penske have displayed their usual professionalism, similar to when they snuck up on people and won the title in 2018. I’ve changed my mind five times this week, might do it again after this article but I’ll say Logano uses his experience to earn a second Cup championship.

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.