The Championship 4 will race for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.
Ryan Blaney enters the finale in first place, followed by fellow title contenders Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson and William Byron.
The group is represented by three team owners who have a combined 22 championships among them, and Sunday will mark the sixth consecutive year a car owned by Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske will hoist the trophy.
“We always text each other and congratulate each other after we win,” said Hendrick, who has two cars in contention with Larson and Byron.
By contrast, the drivers themselves represent the star-studded youth in NASCAR, as each of the final four are under 32 years old and comprise the youngest title group in the 10-year history of the playoff format.
Byron, 25, has six wins this year while Larson, 31, has four.
“We’re just happy to be in the race,” Hendrick said. “We’re happy to have two good cars going out there to race for the championship. Both cars have been good all year. I hope that one of ’em can win. I don’t see that either one has any more advantage over the other guy.
“I think our guys are prepared,” Hendrick continued. “We’re going to go out with the best cars we have. A lot of attention to detail. We’ll try to execute a race without any mistakes — that’s what you got to do. You have to have good pit stops. Cautions have to fall the right way. You can be a dominant car and not win this race, so we’ve just got to run the race.
“When you start the year, you want to try to get cars to the Championship 4. When you can get one or two, you’ve had a great year.”
Blaney, 29, has an opportunity to deliver a second consecutive title for Penske, with Joey Logano winning last year. Meanwhile Gibbs, who has a car in the finale for the 10th consecutive year, is banking on the 28-year-old Bell this weekend.
“I just think this happens to be — and I know everybody is writing about it, talking about it — it’s a younger group for sure in the playoffs,” said Gibbs. “There’s so much on the line (in the playoff format). I think that the fans really do enjoy because there is that much pressure. You got three weeks to make it happen.”
NASCAR Cup Series Championship
Location: Phoenix Raceway
Date: Sunday, Nov. 5, 3 p.m. ET
Distance: 312 laps on 1-mile track
Defending champion: Joey Logano
Cup Series leader: Ryan Blaney
Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Kyle Larson (+175 at BetMGM)
Larson won in Phoenix two years ago to claim his first title, and he’s seeking to provide No. 15 overall for Hendrick. Larson has already won four times this year, including three weeks ago in Las Vegas, and he’s trying to join Logano and Kyle Busch as the only active two-time champions. Larson tops the series with 1,127 total laps led this year and has 14 top-5 finishes. He finished fourth in the spring race in Phoenix, where he has 11 top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
Ryan Blaney (+275)
Blaney already has two wins in the playoffs, including last week at Martinsville to secure his spot in the championship round. He’s in his first title race, but Blaney does have 10 top-10 finishes in 15 previous starts at Phoenix Raceway, including each of the past two. He’s second at the book in both total bets (10.9 percent) and money (11.8 percent) backing him to win.
William Byron (+325)
Byron qualified third in the spring race in Phoenix and went on to deliver the second of his series- and career-best six wins this year. He’s third among all drivers with 7.4 and 11.2 percent of the action, respectively.
Christopher Bell (+450)
This is the second consecutive year in the title race for Bell, who finished third last year. He has been backed by 7.0 percent of both the total bets and money as Bell’s odds have lengthened a bit since opening at +400.
Kevin Harvick (+1200)
The sentimental pick is the obvious choice as the popular driver is set to retire after the race. Harvick has yet to win this year and has only six top-5s, but one of those did come in Phoenix in the spring and he has 20 consecutive top-10s at the track. He is the overwhelming biggest liability for the book as Harvick leads the field with 12.1 percent of the bets and 26.2 percent of the money backing him to win.