Intro by MJBurroughs
The 2022 NASCAR Cup season has been one for the record books…and for once that’s not a lame ass cliched throwaway comment. Modern era records in different race winners, exciting races on more tracks, and an all-timer crazy moment from Ross Chastain to bring us to the finale at Phoenix were the positive narratives from an eventful season. The Playoffs…well they’re here to stay, and considering the amount of attention the Ross Chastain Martinsville move has generated alone, there’s no change to the elimination format expected in the near future. Another luxury of Playoff racing is the easy low energy content that writers like yours truly get to fist into the cake hole of the general public for one last gluttonous gorge in the 2022 NASCAR season. Max, Jake, and myself are back with our Playoff Brackets in bloody shambles as we try to take a wild guess at who comes out on top to take home the big ol’ Cup. As the young children Max and Jake are busy merging their websites together and planning for their promising future, let’s start with me and how I think the finale will shake out.
MJBurroughs of TehBen.com
My final four bracket guesses of Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Tyler Reddick were cursed from the word go as my only saving grace was the near “gimme” in the 2020 Cup Champion 9 car who held a healthy point lead for most of the year. Still, the lack of predictability for the Playoffs, which carried over from the parity of the regular season was a VERY refreshing thing to see. While Phoenix may prove different from the previous 9 Playoff races, seeing non-playoff drivers fighting for wins is a trend that not only serves to provide more entertainment in the race, but may save the Playoffs as a concept down the line.
Anyway, Phoenix is pretty wide open as any of the four could easily take the W and there’s no real underdog that would upset the applecart of motorsports should they pull it off. For Chase Elliott, there’s been a great matter of consistency, but it seems like they’ve been working from the front and not taking the risks that it might take to win at the very end. Joey Logano is a formidable competitor, and while he’s somehow the “old-man” of the group this year, there’s nothing there that tells me he’ll pull this off on a late race restart. The other two feel to have an extra bit of charm that would be a great conclusion to a great Cup season. Christopher Bell, who secured two consecutive “elimination race” wins while well out of the points on both occasions, is an accomplishment that I hope will be remembered for years. It would be a lovely cap to the season to have the Joe Gibbs Racing driver usher in a new era for the team, the manufacturer, and the sport itself for the big win, but the fan in me wants one thing more.
No driver has represented the new/old era brought on by the 2022 Cup season better than Florida’s Ross Chastain. The Watermelon Man from early season on has provided quality drives, provided great rivalry content, has seemingly made every driver in the field beet red with rage on the track…….and yet gained nearly ALL of the good vibes back with one move in 8 seconds of footage in the last corner at Martinsville. There is no one more suited to close out the crazy season than this unlikely new superstar of NASCAR, and for all our sakes it could be the result we most desperately need. I couldn’t in good conscience predict some crazy wall ride to win the Championship two weeks in a row…but the fact we don’t really know what Ross Chastain might pull on a late restart out in the desert is what makes him the best man for the Cup. Please Ross, make my dreams come true.
Championship Pick for Matt: Ross Chastain
Max of MotorMax Media
Another season has come and nearly gone, but before we move away from 2022 entirely, we still need to crown a champion. After 35 grueling weeks, the playoff drama has narrowed us down to the Final Four. This year, we get two past champions in Chase Elliott and Joey Logano, as well as Christopher Bell in his first Championship 4 appearance and Ross Chastain, in his first EVER Cup playoff appearance.
Before we take a longshot guess at who the champion will be, let’s see how everyone got here. The first driver to lock into the Phoenix Finale was Joey Logano by virtue of winning Las Vegas. Kyle Larson won at Homestead, but he was surprisingly eliminated after the second round of the playoffs so his win meant nothing for the playoffs (side note: he was still eligible in the owner’s points playoffs, and could possibly win the owner’s title this weekend). Alas, this set up a sure-to-be thrilling Martinsville race.
Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, both trying to win their way into Phoenix, dominated the early goings. However, after some late-race cautions, Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell, both in must-win situations, made some bold strategy calls. Briscoe was leading with five laps to go, but a gutsy push by Bell moved him out of the groove and ultimately out of the Playoffs. Bell went on to win and clinch the spot, and Hamlin seemed to be good on points as he was +2 over Ross Chastain heading toward the checkered. Ross Chastain, never satisfied with second, had other ideas and went balls-to-the-wall (literally) and rode the wall at full speed through turns three and four. The most legendary move in recent memory was enough to get Chastain into the Final Four. Chase Elliott also locked in on points.
Now that we know our four, who’s going to come out on top? Each driver has their own advantages and disadvantages heading in. For starters, we’ll take a look at Christopher Bell. In his third season, Bell has set personal bests across the board and is finally settling in as a weekly contender. He’s scored three wins this year at New Hampshire, The Charlotte Roval, and the aforementioned Martinsville race. He’s got momentum heading into Phoenix, but the Roval and Martinsville victories both came in a walk-off fashion; he was in a must-win both times. Sure, there were underlying circumstances like a DNF at Vegas thanks to Bubba Wallace, but you can never rely on walk-offs…someone else could have pure momentum, and right now, Bell’s got it.
Keeping with the momentum, we move next to Ross Chastain. Chastain is in his first season with the revolutionary Team Trackhouse, and he’s been nothing short of impressive. Two early wins, some on-track feuds, and a clutch wall-ride to further deepen his playoff run have all helped. He hasn’t seen victory lane since Talladega in May, but he’s had some strong runs since then. He finished second at Phoenix in the spring and is definitely a threat to win not only the race, but the NASCAR Cup Series Championship in his first playoff run.
Chase Elliott is the people’s favorite and the 2020 Cup Champion. After a slow start to 2022, he picked up momentum and dominated the summer with four wins and the regular season championship. He slowed massively during the playoffs, collecting one victory at Talladega and just two other finishes inside the top ten. Momentum isn’t on his side so far this playoffs, but the fans certainly are. My initial Championship pick looks to overcome the odds this Sunday.
Lastly is Joey Logano. Logano started off the season by winning the Busch Clash at the LA Coliseum. He won twice more during the regular season and once during the playoffs at Vegas. He’s been slightly more consistent than Elliott, but has still had his woes. He’s won Phoenix before and in the 2018 Cup Series champ. He’s listed as the #1 seed heading into the title race.
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: who will win the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series title? My initial pick from my Playoff Prediction article was Chase Elliott, but after his lackluster Playoff run, I’ve elected to change my vote. I’m torn between Bell and Chastain, but ultimately, I think Ross “The Boss” caps off Trackhouse’s first playoff run with a title. Maybe not quite in the same fashion as Martinsville, but definitely worthy of a smashed melon. After 35 weeks of duking it out on the race track, only one driver will ride off into the Phoenix sunset as a champ. This year, the #1 is the one to do it.
Championship Pick for Max: Ross Chastain
Jake Cianciosa of The Slow Restart:
As one of the most thrilling seasons in the history of the sport comes to a close there are many great moments we can look back on that all tell the story of this great campaign. Before we can go all the way back through the season, 4 drivers need to complete their quest for the Cup Series Championship. Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain take to Phoenix to decide who can be the first champion in the Next Gen era.
The real best part of the season ending and the championship race being this weekend means another year of myself, Max and Matthew competing to see who can guess the final 4 and then again to see who can best guess the final 4 standings at the end of the race. Let’s take a deep drive into the championship 4 drivers and how this race will shape up on Sunday.
Ross Chastain has had himself a breakout year and after his amazing wall riding move at Martinsville, is one of the most well known drivers in the sport. The team will need to put their historic run behind them and focus on their task at hand. Chastain is the most interesting driver in this final 4 for many reasons, the big one being nobody thinks they truly belong there. This team has been viewed as under dogs no matter how well they run or how many races they win. The other thing that makes Chastain interesting is the potential that he could have his race ruined by another driver who he may have roughed up on his way to a win. It is no secret Chastain has ruffled feathers on the way to the final race and time and time again drivers swore they would get him back when it mattered most, and what better time than now? This could easily take him out of contention early and ruin his race…but what a run it’s been.
The next driver we are going to look at is Joey Logano, winning his way in early in the final round. Logano has had smooth sailing for the rest of the playoffs and has had the most time to prepare a car for Sunday. Joey is a bit of a wild card this season as early on he made a controversial move for a win sending William Byron into the fence on the last lap to grab his first win and punch his ticket to the playoffs. After that he had a fairly quiet season for his standards not getting mixed up in other drivers business too much but still running near the front most weeks. Logano is going to need to have the drive of his life if he is going to beat the likes of Elliott, who has shown time and time again that he is one of the best at this track.
That brings us to Chase Elliott, arguably the best driver in the final 4. Elliott has had an amazing season and is looking to cap off that season with his second championship. Already winning 1 championship at Phoenix, Elliott has run up front no matter what car or what time of year. Elliotts dominance on the track is going to make him near impossible to beat as long as his pit crew can keep it together and not cost him crucial spots late in the race. There is not much that can stop this team besides themselves, despite that being their downfall all year costing them a few races they should have easily won.
Christopher Bell, Mr. Clutch, has now won his way into the Championship race after winning his way into the final 4 from well below the cut line at the Roval. Bell is on a hot streak this playoffs and has shown when the lights come on he grabs the spotlight and gets the job done. Bell is my choice at Phoenix and with his mentality of going out and getting it done there is a very good chance it can happen. Bell has all the cards stacked in his favor, momentum going into the race, a pit crew that has not made many errors this season, and a winning crew chief in Adam Stevens that has been here before and can keep the young driver in the right positions to be the best of the 4 drivers coming across the checkered flag.
Championship Pic for Jake: Christopher Bell