The case for who will win the Cup championship

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NASCAR’s season comes down to 312 laps today and four drivers racing for a Cup championship.

Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano seek to win a second series title and become only the 17th driver in series history with multiple crowns.

Denny Hamlin‘s quest for his first Cup championship continues. In his 15th full-time season, Hamlin already has a Hall of Fame resume but that doesn’t diminish his drive for a Cup crown.

Chase Elliott has Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet back in the Championship 4 for the first time since 2016. He seeks his first crown, matching the accomplishment his Hall of Fame father Bill achieved in 1988.

Who will win the title today at Phoenix Raceway?

Here is the case for each driver to emerge after Sunday’s race (coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC) holding the championship trophy.

Joey Logano

He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He’s shown he’s willing to be aggressive late in the race for the win. He won at Phoenix the last time the series raced there in March. And, he was the first driver to secure a spot in the Championship 4, giving his team two weeks to focus on their Phoenix car while his competitors didn’t advance until last weekend.

playoff standings
Joey Logano’s win at Kansas made him the first driver to advance to the Championship 4 round. (Photo: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)

Oh, he also has Paul Wolfe as his crew chief. Wolfe won the 2012 title with Keselowski and is viewed as one of the sharpest minds on pit road.

Logano could complete the Team Penske Xfinity-Cup sweep a day after Austin Cindric won the Xfinity title for the organization.

Logano won the 2018 title when it was the Big 3 and him. Few expected Logano to challenge the other title contenders that day. Logano is fueled by confidence and belief. He says believe is the rallying cry for this team.

There’s little reason to doubt Logano, who could celebrate his second title in three years and do so at the age of 30. Could this be the start of NASCAR’s next dynasty?

Quotable: “We’ve had three weeks to think about it, be ready for it. With those things I feel more confident than ever. I always go back to think about my first Championship 4 round back in 2014.  I remember crapping my pants about how nervous I was. … Now going through it before, knowing how to prepare for what’s coming ahead of you, that battle ahead of you, knowing you succeeded before in the championship round, it really gives you some confidence to go out there and do your job.” – Logano

– Dustin Long


Brad Keselowski

When team owner Roger Penske shocked many by shuffling his pit crew/driver combinations after last season, Brad Keselowski was viewed by some fans as getting the short end with Jeremy Bullins, the only Team Penske crew chief without a Cup title.

Keselowski told NBC Sports in January: “The way I see it, (Bullins is) the next one to win one.”

Brad Keselowski’s Phoenix car is the same one he won with at Richmond and New Hampshire. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Keselowski, 36, could be viewed as the favorite. The tire compound that will be used at Phoenix has been run at New Hampshire and Richmond. Keselowski won both races, leading a combined 53.6% of those laps. He will have the same car today that he drove to those wins.

He could have won at Phoenix earlier this year. Keselowski was collected in a crash early in the March race. Even with a damaged car, he still won the second stage.

Ever since winning his first title, Keselowski has made it known how important it is to him to be a multi-time champion. He recognizes the situation he’s in and knows he might not get the chance every year (this is his first Championship 4 appearance since 2017 and only his second since the playoff format debuted in 2014). The time is now for Keselowski.

Quotable: I’ve had different conversations internally this week than I had the last time I was in the Championship 4, that at their most basic level come from a high level of confidence. There’s nothing guaranteed, but I’m very confident we’re going to go there and be very competitive and have a great shot to win the race.” – Keselowski.

– Dustin Long



The pressure seemed to be lifted like a massive weight off his shoulders by the victory at Martinsville Speedway, and NASCAR’s two-time most popular driver since has talked all week about savoring the moment.

There are many reasons why he could seize it again at Phoenix.

Power Rankings Martinsville
Chase Elliott’s Martinsville win last weekend showed he could perform in pressure situations. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

He led 93 laps after qualifying on pole position at the 1-mile oval in March. Hendrick Motorsports has been better suited for the 750-horsepower tracks this season, and there’s a lot of helpful information that can be gleaned, applied and advanced from what worked for Elliott at Phoenix eight months ago.

And there are many soundboards of boundless wisdom to lean on for Elliott, who has had a Hall of Fame father quietly but fiercely guiding and supporting him for the entirety of his career. Seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson also has taken a keen interest in the development of Elliott, 24, and what is possibly Johnson’s final start would be the perfect setting for a passing of a generational torch to a new NASCAR Millennial champion.

Alan Gustafson, completing his 16th season as a crew chief, also has Championship 4 experience with Jeff Gordon. Elliott and Gustafson share a no-nonsense approach to racing, and brusque will be an operative word with only 312 laps to work with Sunday.

The only first-timer in the Championship 4, Elliott has the least experience and fewest victories among the contenders, but it’s a good time to be a rookie with Phoenix making its title track debut. It’s only the second race since the tweaking of downforce and horsepower, so Elliott has as many reps in this configuration.

The pressure is off for NASCAR’s young prince, and a desert coronation could be next.

Quotable: “We’ve had the speed and the performance at times to do it and be a contender, but we haven’t been able to rise to the occasion when it mattered most like we did (at Martinsville). In a lot of ways, I think it was that missing piece we’ve been needing.” – Elliott

– Nate Ryan


The rallying cry here is simple: The No. 11 already has done this before and arguably under more pressure-packed circumstances. Facing a win-or-bust situation to advance to last year’s Championship 4, Hamlin rose to the occasion, leading 132 of the final 136 laps for a victory at Phoenix.

Denny Hamlin began the season with a Daytona 500 and looks to end it with a Phoenix win and a Cup title. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

There still is much at stake today as Hamlin takes his third shot at the Championship 4 and his fifth at having a chance to win the championship in the season finale. His NASCAR Hall of Fame credentials are secure, and being known as this generation’s Mark Martin would be worthy consolation. But a title would validate Hamlin, 39, in another way, particularly as he is poised to launch the next chapter of his career as a Cup car co-owner with Michael Jordan next season.

The team has exhibited the ability to win on any given week, the working relationship of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart is unparalleled for implicit and mutual trust, and his second consecutive Daytona 500 victory (in which Hamlin gave up the lead and then passed two cars all in less than 2.5 miles) punctuated the driver’s tenacity.

If you like making predictions off destiny, this seems like Hamlin’s year more than any of the four. He enters with the least momentum of the championship contenders, but that also held true for teammate Kyle Busch last year and look what happened then.

And as the sole entrant left racing for the championship at Joe Gibbs Racing, the powerhouse organization has been laser-focused this week on streamlining Hamlin’s Camry for maximum speed.

It all adds up to a title long in the making, which would be fitting for what has seemed NASCAR’s longest year. 

Quotable: “I can’t think of a more favorable position to be in. There’s certainly no more pressure‑packed situation to be in than we were last year. For us making the Championship 4 is the goal. Winning the championship is gravy. Last year, when we were in a do‑or‑die situation, we were able to pull it off at that racetrack, at the track where the championship is decided this year. (That) is something that no other team can say.  We have won a clutch race at Phoenix.  I think that is a big deal for us.  Hopefully we can pull it off again.” – Chris Gabehart, crew chief for the No. 11

– Nate Ryan

Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Sunday Cup race at WWT Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


Twelve races remain until the playoffs begin in early September. Ten drivers have won races. The pressure to secure a playoff spot builds as the Cup Series heads into the summer months.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Six-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee will give the command to start engines at 3:32 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:40 p.m. … Driver intros are at 2:55 p.m. … Tim Bounds, pastor at The Crossing Church St. Louis, will give the invocation at 3:24 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Bebe Winans and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at 3:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 240 laps (300 miles) on the 1.25-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 140.

STARTING LINEUP: Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 90 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Joey Logano won the inaugural Cup race at this track. Kyle Busch was second. Kurt Busch placed third.


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Cup starting lineup at World Wide Technology Raceway


Kyle Busch will lead the Cup starting lineup to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The second row will have Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. The third row has Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

Corey LaJoie, driving the No. 9 car in place of the suspended Chase Elliott, qualified 30th after hitting the wall on his lap.

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1.

Kyle Busch wins Cup pole at WWT Raceway


Kyle Busch collected his first Cup pole of the season and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch last won a Cup pole at Phoenix in November 2019. He earned his 33rd career Cup pole Saturday with a lap of 137.187 mph on the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing, Team Chevy and everybody on this No. 8 team is good for us and just try to get some momentum rolling,” Busch said. “Our short track stuff hasn’t been the greatest this year so far, but this isn’t the short track aero package here this weekend, so that might pay dividends hopefully for us to just have a better day than what we anticipated. Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go, and knowing that their hard work is paying off.”

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney, who qualified at 137.153 mph. Blaney’s car failed inspection twice before qualifying. He will lose his pit selection for Sunday’s race. His car chief also was ejected. Brad Keselowski‘s car also failed inspection twice before qualifying. He loses pit selection and had the team’s car chief ejected. Keselowski qualified 19th with a lap of 135.743 mph.

Denny Hamlin (136.903 mph) starts third and is followed by Kevin Harvick (136.766) and Martin Truex Jr. (136.360). Harvick has two top-five starts this season and both have come in the last two events.

“I think we have a little bit of work to do on our car in race trim, but a lot of it is just getting into a rhythm I think – more than anything,” Harvick said. “Qualifying, we were just a little bit tight through Turns 1 and 2, and the car was good in 3 and 4. So, we have to have a better balance, and that’s what probably cost us a little bit of speed to get the pole. But, still a good day and a good starting spot.”

Corey LaJoie, subbing for the suspended Chase Elliott, will start 30th after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. He qualified at 134.561 mph. Carson Hocevar, making in his Cup debut in LaJoie’s car, qualified 26th with a lap of 135.220 mph.

Green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET on FS1.