Final Four: Cup Series to be decided at Phoenix

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will race Sunday for the championship

Phoenix Raceway will host Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race for the first time. (Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo)

Back at the start of September when the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs began, there was a clear-cut favorite: Kevin Harvick. And even after three postseason races — two of which the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 won — it looked like the 2020 series championship was Harvick’s to lose.

But Harvick didn’t win again, and after Sunday’s race at Martinsville, he was knocked out of the running for his second title. Instead, it will be two former champions — Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano — looking to add to their championship collection while two others — Denny Hamlin, the de facto “best to never win a title” driver in the series, and Chase Elliott, the 24-year-old legacy racer — aim for their first.

After 18 years of the Cup Series being decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway, this year’s Championship 4 race heads to Phoenix Raceway for a 3 p.m. start on Sunday. Harvick, with nine wins, has more victories than anyone at Phoenix, but a win this week won’t bring him a title. Here’s a closer look at the four championship contenders heading into the 2020 season’s finale.

Keselowski mug

2 • Brad Keselowski

Owner/Manufacturer: Team Penske/Ford
Championships: 1 (2012)
2020 wins: 4
Finish at Phoenix on March 8: 11th

Keselowski has been here before, going in with a point lead and finishing 15th at Homestead in 2012 to win the title. But since 2017, the four drivers remaining for the final race are on even footing — whoever finishes highest wins the championship. Phoenix hasn’t been particularly kind to the No. 2 — Keselowski has never won in the Cup Series on the track and has six top-fives and 10 top-10s in 22 races there. In March, he led for 82 laps but finished 11th. After stumbling in the middle of the playoffs, Keselowski has strung together two fourths and a sixth in the last three races heading into the finale.

Chase Elliott (AP Photo/Nell Redmond, File)9 • Chase Elliott

Owner/Manufacturer: Hendrick Motorsports/Chevrolet
Championships: None
2020 wins: 4
Finish at Phoenix on March 8: 7th

Chase Elliott (AP Photo/Lee Luther Jr.)

Elliott’s never won at Phoenix, but he led more laps (93) than anyone else back in the spring before finishing seventh. He also has five top-10s in nine races, including two top-fives, in his career at the Arizona track. Now it’s time to find out if he can do what his legendary father Bill never did — win a championship. He’s won two of the last four races — on the Roval in Charlotte last month and Sunday at Martinsville — and led in every playoff race but one. Veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson has been close before (second with Mark Martin in 2009; third with Jeff Gordon in 2015). Is it time for the tandem to reach NASCAR’s pinnacle?

Denny Hamlin (AP Photo/John Raoux)

11 • Denny Hamlin

Owner/Manufacturer: Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota
Championships: None
2020 wins: 7
Finish at Phoenix on March 8: 20th

Denny Hamlin (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

For the second straight year, Hamlin enters the final race of the year with a shot to claim his first Cup title. Homestead was a better fit for Hamlin (three wins in 16 career races), but he’s also won twice before — including last November — at Phoenix and has 13 top-fives and 17 top-10s in 30 visits. With Harvick out of the way, Hamlin is the favorite, but the No. 11 hasn’t finished better than ninth in the four races since it won at Talladega. With his partnership with Michael Jordan on the horizon, this is Hamlin’s last shot at winning a title without the distractions of also being a team owner.

Joey Logano (AP Photo/John Raoux)

22 • Joey Logano

Owner/Manufacturer: Team Penske/Ford
Championships: 1 (2018)
2020 wins: 3
Finish at Phoenix on March 8: 1st

Joey Logano (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)Logano is a two-time winner at Phoenix, including in the spring when he won the fourth race of the season and the last before the Cup Series went dark for more than two months due to the coronavirus. But that’s a long time ago — Kyle Larson was still racing for Chip Ganassi Racing (finishing fourth) and the pandemic hadn’t yet altered the season. Still, Logano has finished in the top 10 of more than half of his career races at Phoenix (12 of 23) and won the winner-take-all championship race at Homestead in 2018. His odds of winning are second only to Hamlin.