NCS Spotlight turns to Phoenix Raceway for Championship Weekend

NASCAR

The anticipation and intensity that has been building over the last 35 races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will culminate this Sunday (Nov. 7) in the Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Four drivers have scratched and clawed their way into the series’ Championship 4 Round. Two are former Cup champions – Martin Truex Jr. (2017) and Chase Elliott (2020) – and the other two – Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin – are hoping to etch their name on the NASCAR Cup Series champions list.

It was announced in March of 2019 that the NASCAR Cup Series would be moving its Playoffs’ Championship Race from Homestead-Miami Speedway, where it had resided since the inception of the Playoffs in 2004, to Phoenix Raceway for the first time in 2020. Prior to the 2020 season, Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs season finale for 16 seasons (from 2004-2019). Phoenix Raceway is just the second track to host the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race in the Playoffs. 

2021 marks just the second year the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race will be held at Phoenix Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona (2020-2021). Since the inception of the Playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2004, Phoenix Raceway has occupied three different positions on the postseason schedule. In 2004, Phoenix Raceway hosted the eighth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – the event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. Then from 2005 – 2019 (15 seasons), Phoenix Raceway has hosted the penultimate race (ninth) in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

A total of 10 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races at Phoenix Raceway. Kevin Harvick leads the NASCAR Cup Series in Playoff race wins at Phoenix Raceway with four victories (2006, 2012, 2013 and 2014). Last season, Chase Elliott secured his first NASCAR Cup Series title by winning the season finale at Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 8, 2020).

NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway Playoff Race Winners
TrackPlayoff Race WinnersDateRace No.
PhoenixDale Earnhardt JrSunday, November 7, 200434
PhoenixKyle BuschSunday, November 13, 200535
PhoenixKevin HarvickSunday, November 12, 200635
PhoenixJimmie JohnsonSunday, November 11, 200735
PhoenixJimmie JohnsonSunday, November 9, 200835
PhoenixJimmie JohnsonSunday, November 15, 200935
PhoenixCarl EdwardsSunday, November 14, 201035
PhoenixKasey KahneSunday, November 13, 201135
PhoenixKevin HarvickSunday, November 11, 201235
PhoenixKevin HarvickSunday, November 10, 201335
PhoenixKevin HarvickSunday, November 9, 201435
PhoenixDale Earnhardt JrSunday, November 15, 201535
PhoenixJoey LoganoSunday, November 13, 201635
PhoenixMatt KensethSunday, November 12, 201735
PhoenixKyle BuschSunday, November 11, 201835
PhoenixDenny HamlinSunday, November 10, 201935
PhoenixChase ElliottSunday, November 8, 202036

Four non-Playoff drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway:

  • In 2005, Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway and was ranked 19th in the point standings at the time of the win.
  • In 2011, Kasey Kahne won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway and was ranked 14th in the point standings at the time of the win.
  • In 2015, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway and was seventh in point standings at the time of the win. Earnhardt Jr. had made the Playoffs in 2015 but was eliminated in the Round of 12.
  • In 2017, Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway and was seventh in points at the time of the win. Kenseth had made the Playoffs in 2017 but was eliminated in the Round of 12.

The worst finish in a NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Phoenix Raceway by a driver that went on to win the title the same season was 38th by Jimmie Johnson in 2016. In 2016, Phoenix occupied the penultimate event of the season. 

In total, Phoenix Raceway had hosted 50 NASCAR Cup Series races producing 25 different pole winners and 26 different race winners. Of the 26 NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix race winners, 10 are active this weekend and three are Championship 4 drivers. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick leads the series in wins at Phoenix with nine victories.

A closer look at the Cup season finale in the Playoffs

When it comes time to put up or shut up, there is no bigger stage in NASCAR than the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Championship Race. Below is a look at the performances in the season finale during the Playoff Era (2004-2021). 

A total of 12 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series championship race (2004-2020). Greg Biffle leads the NASCAR Cup Series in championship race wins with three victories (2004, 2005, 2006 – all at Homestead-Miami Speedway). 

NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Season Finale Race Winners
TrackPlayoff Race WinnersDate
HomesteadGreg BiffleSunday, November 21, 2004
HomesteadGreg BiffleSunday, November 20, 2005
HomesteadGreg BiffleSunday, November 19, 2006
HomesteadMatt KensethSunday, November 18, 2007
HomesteadCarl EdwardsSunday, November 16, 2008
HomesteadDenny HamlinSunday, November 22, 2009
HomesteadCarl EdwardsSunday, November 21, 2010
HomesteadTony StewartSunday, November 20, 2011
HomesteadJeff GordonSunday, November 18, 2012
HomesteadDenny HamlinSunday, November 17, 2013
HomesteadKevin HarvickSunday, November 16, 2014
HomesteadKyle BuschSunday, November 22, 2015
HomesteadJimmie JohnsonSunday, November 20, 2016
HomesteadMartin Truex JrSunday, November 19, 2017
HomesteadJoey LoganoSunday, November 18, 2018
HomesteadKyle BuschSunday, November 17, 2019
PhoenixChase ElliottSunday, November 8, 2020

Eight times the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series season finale race has won the championship during the Playoff Era (2004-Present) – the most of any of the Playoff races: 

  • In 2011, Tony Stewart won from the 15th starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and as a result secured his third-career NASCAR Cup Series championship in the closest points battle in series history – tied with Carl Edwards – Stewart won the title by virtue of the tiebreaker: most wins.
  • In 2014, Kevin Harvick won from the fifth starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the first year of the elimination-style format of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, as a result he won his first series title.
  • In 2015, Kyle Busch won from the third starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the second year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, as a result he won his first series championship.  
  • In 2016, Jimmie Johnson won from the 14th starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the third year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, and as a result he tied NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the series-most championships with seven each.
  • In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. won from the second starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the fourth year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, and as a result he won his first series championship.  
  • In 2018, Joey Logano won from the fifth starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the fifth year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, and as a result he won his first series championship.
  • In 2019, Kyle Busch won from the fourth starting position at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the sixth year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, and as a result he became just the second active driver at the time with multiple titles (20115, 2019) joining seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.   
  • In 2020, Chase Elliott won from the first starting position at Phoenix Raceway in the seventh year of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs, and as a result he won his first series championship. Worth noting, Elliott was served a pre-race penalty and as a result of serving the penalty he actually started the race from back of the field and still won.  

The worst finish in a championship race by the eventual series champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway was 15th (three times): Tony Stewart in 2005, Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and Brad Keselowski in 2012. 

Two non-Playoff drivers have won the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale Playoff race: Greg Biffle (2004 and 2006) and Denny Hamlin (2013).     

Full Championship Weekend at Phoenix

Obviously, the ultimate goal is to crown a champion this weekend in Phoenix but before we do that fans will be treated to a full schedule of action this weekend, making it feel like it was back in 2019. 

The NASCAR Cup Series will hold practice this weekend on Friday, Nov. 5 at 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. ET.

The series will then set the starting lineup by good ole pole qualifying on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET.

Last season’s starting lineup for the championship race at Phoenix was set by Metric Qualifying and as a result Chase Elliott earned the first starting position. This season he will have to earn it on the 1-mile track. 

By The Numbers: Phoenix Raceway / Season Finale

0.10 – Since the advent of electronic scoring (1993), the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway is the Spring race of 2016 (March 13, 2016) when Kevin Harvick beat Carl Edwards to the line by 0.010 seconds – which is tied with Atlanta (3/12/2000), Daytona (2/21/2016), and Rockingham (2/22/2004) for the eighth closest finish in series history.

1 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series championship races Phoenix Raceway has hosted (2020).

3 – Number of 2021 Championship 4 drivers with a former win at Phoenix Raceway – Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott.

6 – Number of wins from the pole or first starting position at Phoenix Raceway – most recent was Chase Elliott’s win in the championship race last season. 

8 – Number of times the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series championship season finale race has won the title during the Playoff Era (2004-Present); including the last seven seasons in the elimination-style format of the Playoffs – Tony Stewart, 2011; Kevin Harvick, 2014; Kyle Busch, 2015; Jimmie Johnson, 2016; Martin Truex Jr., 2017; Joey Logano, 2018; Kyle Busch, 2019; and Chase Elliott (2020) – Note: All the wins listed were at Homestead-Miami Speedway except for Elliott’s last season.

10 – Number of former NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix race winners entered in this weekend’s season finale – 

Active Race WinnersWinsSeasons
Kevin Harvick92018, 2016, 2015, 2014 sweep, 2013, 2012, 2007 sweep
Kyle Busch32019, 2018, 2005
Joey Logano22020, 2016
Denny Hamlin22019, 2012
Ryan Newman22017, 2010
Martin Truex Jr12021
Chase Elliott12020
Kurt Busch12005

7 – Number of former NASCAR Cup Series champions entered in this year’s season finale race at Phoenix:

RankNo. of TitlesActive Champions (7)Years
12Kyle Busch2019, 2015
21Chase Elliott2020
 1Joey Logano2018
1Martin Truex Jr.2017
 1Kevin Harvick2014
1Brad Keselowski2012
 1Kurt Busch2004

9 – The degrees of banking in Turns 3 and 4 of Phoenix Raceway.

11 – The degrees of banking in Turns 1 and 2 of Phoenix Raceway.

12 – The most cautions in a single NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway; has happened twice – most recently earlier this season (03/08/2020).

15 – The worst finish by the eventual series champion in the season finale race (at Homestead-Miami Speedway) – it happened three times: Tony Stewart in 2005, Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and Brad Keselowski in 2012. 

17 – Total number of NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races held at Phoenix Raceway (2004-2020).

20 – The age of the youngest NASCAR Cup Series race winner at Phoenix Raceway: Kyle Busch (November 13, 2005 – 20 years, 6 months, 11 days).

25 – Number of different NASCAR Cup Series Busch pole winners at Phoenix Raceway; led by Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick with four each.

26 – Number of different NASCAR Cup Series winners at Phoenix Raceway; led by Kevin Harvick with nine victories.

28 – The greatest number of lead changes in a single race at Phoenix Raceway (Feb. 27, 2011) – earlier this season the NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix produced 22 lead changes.

29 – The lowest starting position by a race winner at Phoenix Raceway (Ricky Rudd, 1995).

37 – Most NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway starts; led by Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman with 37 each.  

50 – Total number of NASCAR Cup Series races held at Phoenix Raceway.

93 – Number of different drivers that have led at least one lap in the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway.  

312 – Number of laps scheduled for this weekend’s Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

Season Finale Title-Clinching Performances

Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will mark the conclusion of the 2021 season. Below is a look at how the last 11 NASCAR Cup Series season finales (2010-2020) have turned out:

2010 – Jimmie Johnson Tracks Down Denny Hamlin For Fifth Straight Title

Denny Hamlin held a comfortable 15-point lead on Jimmie Johnson for the championship heading into the season finale. However, Hamlin could not close out the title. Hamlin damaged his Toyota with an early-race spin and finished 14th as a result. Kevin Harvick, who was third in points entering the race, finished third. Johnson placed runner-up to take home his fifth consecutive championship.

2011 – Tony Stewart Wins Third Championship In Epic Race

Trailing leader Carl Edwards by three points entering the 2011 season finale, Tony Stewart virtually needed a win to capture the title – especially considering that Edwards ultimately finished runner-up in the race.

Stewart drove to the front from the back of the field twice and edged out Edwards to get to Victory Lane.

The pair finished the season tied in points, but Stewart held the tiebreaker over Edwards of most wins during the season (five to one). It was the first title for Stewart-Haas Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

2012 – Brad Keselowski Fends Off Jimmie Johnson For First Championship

Brad Keselowski entered the 2012 season finale 20 points ahead of second-place Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings.

Keselowski, who won two Playoff races to help put himself in championship-clinching position, didn’t produce his best performance with a 15th-place showing at Homestead-Miami.

But problems in the pits for Johnson caused the five-time champion to finish 36th and helped Keselowski secure his first championship, as well as the first title for Team Penske.

2013 – Jimmie Johnson Closes In On Earnhardt And Petty With Sixth Title

After building up his points lead on the strength of six wins, 16 top fives and 23 top 10s, Jimmie Johnson needed to finish 23rd to capture his sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Following an incident on a restart just shy of the 200-lap mark, Johnson ended up 23rd when it all sorted itself out.

By the end of the race, he worked his way up to finish ninth, earning Hendrick Motorsports a record 11th championship.

2014 – Harvick Rides To Two ‘Do Or Die’ Victories To Earn First Series Title

Kevin Harvick started the penultimate race of the 2014 season needing a win to get into the Championship 4 race at Phoenix. He dominated the contest, leading 264 laps to earn the victory and a spot in the Championship 4. After playing mind games throughout Homestead week with the rest of the field, Harvick held off runner-up Ryan Newman to earn his first career NASCAR Cup Series title and the second for Stewart-Haas Racing.

2015 – Kyle Busch Overcomes Injury For Improbable Comeback

Just ninth months after breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot, Kyle Busch edged out defending champion Kevin Harvick for the Homestead race win and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. Busch missed the first 11 races of the season after sustaining his injuries in a crash in the season-opening NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona. He came back to win five races in the NASCAR Cup Series that year and cement his name in NASCAR history.

2016 – Johnson Ties Series Record With Seventh Championship

Jimmie Johnson proved once again to not count him out in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. He won his way into the Round of 8 with a victory at Charlotte, then took the checkered flag at Martinsville to punch his ticket to Homestead. He provided a walk-off win at Homestead to capture his seventh championship, tying NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the NASCAR Cup Series record.

2017 – Martin Truex Jr. Earns First Championship

Driving for the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, Truex turned a career-best season into a championship for the ages. His victory in the Homestead finale was a personal best eighth on the year. He led the final 34 laps and held off a hard charging Kyle Busch by .681-seconds to earn the trophy hoist. It was an emotional victory with team owner, Barney Visser recovering from a recent heart attack back in Denver and Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex trackside after a year of major medical obstacles.

2018 – Joey Logano Wins First Championship

After qualifying for the Championship 4 in the Round of 8 opening race at Martinsville Speedway, the 28-year old Logano headed to Homestead-Miami largely considered the “underdog” to 2018’s “Big 3” – Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick. The threesome (Busch, 9, Harvick, 8 and Truex, 4) won 21 of the first 35 races in 2018. However, the Team Penske driver grabbed his opportunity and took it to the Big 3, winning the season finale by a sizable 1.7-seconds over Truex, Harvick and Busch and taking his career first NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy – Team Penske’s second.

2019 – Kyle Busch grabs second title, fifth for JGR

After putting up four wins early in the 2019 NACAR Cup Series season, Kyle Busch went winless for 21 races. He pointed his way into the Championship 4 but when his back was against the wall he answered and won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway passing Kevin Harvick in the closing laps and the holding off his hard charging Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. by 4.578-seconds to win his second championship. With the feat, Busch became just the second active multiple champion joining Jimmie Johnson (seven titles). The title was also the fifth for Joe Gibbs Racing – Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015 and 2019).

2020 – Chase Elliott comes from the rear to win first title at Phoenix

After putting up just two wins during the 2020 NACAR Cup Series regular season, Chase Elliott stepped up his game in the Playoffs winning at the Charlotte Road Course to advance to the Round of 8 and then winning the penultimate race at Martinsville Speedway to earn his spot in the Championship 4 Round.  Elliott and the No. 9 team would head to Phoenix for the season finale only to lose their first starting position to multiple pre-race inspection failures. But the setback didn’t hold Elliott down, instead it made even more hungry for the title. He methodically worked his way through the field taking the lead for the first time in the event on Lap 79 of 312. Elliott would go on to hold off a hard charging Brad Keselowski to win the race by 2.740-seconds. With the feat, Elliott became seventh active champion. The title was also a series leading 13th for Hendrick Motorsports.

Chances a spoiler steals the show this weekend at Phoenix

Since the introduction of the “win and you’re in” elimination-style Playoff format, the eventual champion has won the season finale race (at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix Raceway) each of the seven previous years (Kevin Harvick, 2014; Kyle Busch, 2015; Jimmie Johnson, 2016; Martin Truex Jr., 2017; Joey Logano, 2018; Kyle Busch, 2019; Chase Elliott, 2020). Still, with Phoenix Raceway hosting the championship event, there is still a chance a driver out of championship contention can win the race.

The name that rises to the top of the list of possible spoilers this weekend, is NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix Raceway wins leader, Kevin Harvick, who has spent a career mastering the 1-mile raceway putting up nine series victories, including four Playoff wins. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, Harvick, failed to make the Championship 4 this season, and is riding a winless streak that dates back to Bristol in 2020 (42 races ago). So, the Californian would like nothing more than to steal a win this weekend.

Expect Harvick to be in the mix for the lead no matter what this weekend. Phoenix Raceway is his best track. At Phoenix, Harvick leads the series in wins (nine), top fives (18), top 10s (26) laps completed (11,530), laps led (1,662) and average finish (8.8). Plus, he leads the series in key pre-race Loop Data categories with an Average Running Position of 8.290 and a Driver Rating of 110.4. 

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

ARCA Menards Series ties to NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 – All four of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 contenders have stock car racing roots in the ARCA Menards Series platform, developing their skills in at least one of the series that currently races under the ARCA Menards Series banner.

Kyle Larson was the 2012 champion in what is now the ARCA Menards Series East, racing the full season of 14 races for Rev Racing. He won a pair of races in that series, at Gresham Motorsports Park (Jefferson, Georgia) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He also tallied a pair of second-place results amongst eight top-five finishes that year.

He also made three ARCA Menards Series starts, winning at Pocono in 2014 and finishing as runner-up at Daytona in 2013. And recorded a win in his lone start in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West, taking the checkered on the road course at Sonoma in 2014.

Chase Elliott made 12 ARCA Menards Series starts, recording a win at Pocono in 2013 and finishing second at Martinsville in 2012, recording six top-five results total. He also had a win in each of the other two ARCA developmental series – at Iowa in the current East series, and then at Sonoma in 2016 in the current West series.

Martin Truex Jr. raced only in what is now the ARCA Menards Series East but tallied 62 starts in the series between 1999 and 2003. He had five wins (New Hampshire in 2000, Thompson and Stafford in 2001, and Stafford and New Hampshire in 2003). Overall, he had 23 top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in those 62 starts.

Denny Hamlin made two ARCA Menards Series starts – one each in 2004 and 2005. He finished third at Talladega in 2004.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Update – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe has mathematically clinched the 2021 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors but will not be officially awarded until he finishes the season in good standing, per the program guidelines and eligibility. Briscoe is currently 304 points ahead of Anthony Alfredo in second.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year
RookiesPointsAwards
Chase Briscoe65329
Anthony Alfredo3496

Briscoe’s rookie campaign has produced three top-10 finishes in 35 starts. His average starting position in 2021 is 22.2 and his average finish is 19.2. He has led 18 laps and has won 29 Sunoco Rookie of the Race awards.  

Cup Manufacturers Championship – Chevrolet has clinched the NASCAR Cup Series Manufacturers Championship this season. The manufacturer mathematically clinched the title following Kyle Larson’s win at Kansas. Chevrolet currently has 18 wins on the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Nine different manufacturers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Manufacturers Championship. This is Chevrolet’s series leading 40th NASCAR Cup Series Manufacturers Championship,

NCS Manufacturer Champions
OEMNo. of Manufacturers ChampionshipsMost Recent
Chevrolet402021
Ford172020
Toyota32019
Hudson31954
Buick21982
Dodge21975
Oldsmobile11955
Plymouth11971
Pontiac11962
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