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Who will win?
NASCAR’s version of championship weekend heads to Phoenix Raceway, a 1-mile oval nestled in the mountains in Avondale, a Phoenix suburb.
Four drivers are eligible to win the championship, a race within the race of a full field of drivers, some who are angry they aren’t racing for the title and some who just want to get the season over with and move on to next year.
The driver who finishes best among the four finalists is crowned the champion.
Here are my thoughts on who will win in the three national series. Use the info at your own risk.
Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Kyle Larson are the four finalists. I’m going to go with the only driver among them who already has a championship: Larson.
Larson has led the most laps of any driver this season with 1,127. And 201 of those came at Phoenix in the spring, where Larson started on the pole. OK, so he didn’t win that race. Byron did. But there is more on the line Sunday, and Larson tends to rise up in pressure situations (see his 2021 championship victory at Phoenix).
Bob Pockrass predicts who he thinks will win the three championship races at Phoenix
Of course, the same could be said about Bell, who won two elimination races last year. And the same could be said about Blaney, who performed the best among playoff drivers in the semifinal round.
Byron? Maybe the jury is a little bit out on him in high-pressure situations. But he has won a series-best six races this year.
So the argument could be made for all of them. But give the edge to Larson. In seven of the nine playoff races, Larson has finished in at least the top three in 10 of the 18 stages. He is consistently fast. His pit crew is solid. He’s the one to beat.
My pick: Larson
Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek are the four finalists. Three of them — Allgaier, Custer and Nemechek — have significant Cup experience.
So while Mayer has the advantage at the moment with eight top-5s and four wins in the last 12 races, his lack of overall experience should count for something (sorry, Sam).
Allgaier has led 544 laps at Phoenix in his career and has two wins in 26 starts. Nemechek has led 102 laps with two top-5s in six starts. Custer has led 44 laps with two top-5s in seven starts.
Sheldon Creed, Justin Allgaier, Sammy Smith and others battle it out at the Dead On Tools 250 Highlights
Allgaier started second and won both stages in the spring before an accident foiled his day. He would be the obvious pick.
Nemechek, though, has the most victories this year with seven, compared to four for Allgaier and Mayer and two for Custer. And Nemechek’s teammate, Sammy Smith, won at Phoenix earlier this year.
Does that mean it will come down to Nemechek and Allgaier? Possibly, but for some reason, my gut tells me Custer.
Custer has the focus of the Stewart-Haas Racing organization for this weekend. He is a strong competitor. He has been through these scenarios before and has the fewest enemies of any of these four drivers.
My pick: Custer
Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar, Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes are the four finalists.
Heim has led 18 percent of all the laps this year. His three race wins are the same as Enfinger and one behind Hocevar.
Rhodes only has one victory but the “one” that might mean the most is the fact that he won the title at Phoenix two years ago. He is the only former champion among the four and finished second in the race last year before champion Zane Smith.
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While Rhodes was second last year, Enfinger was sixth in this race, Heim seventh and Hocevar 10th.
But the pick here goes to Heim because he consistently has had speed and led laps this year. While he has only raced a truck once at Phoenix, he qualified third last year to show he knows what it takes to get around the track. And his race craft has improved since a year ago.
My pick: Heim
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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