It’s Championship Sunday. After 35 races, it’s time to crown a champion in the NASCAR Cup Series for 2023. The championship race will take place in the Arizona desert at Phoenix Raceway.
The four drivers racing for the championship are William Byron, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Ryan Blaney. Byron and Larson drive for Hendrick Motorsports, Bell drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, and Blaney drives for Roger Penske. Byron, Larson, Blaney, and Bell are the youngest championship four in Cup Series playoff history at 28 years, 11 months, and 25 days. Whoever finishes the best of that group wins the Championship, but that has always meant winning the race, as well, in the Cup series. Let us take a look at the championship four drivers season.
No. 24 William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports)
Byron is the youngest of the championship four. He is having a breakout/career year. He leads the Cup Series with six wins, 14 top-fives, 20 top tens, has led 921 laps, and has an average finish of 11.2. His pit crew has the fastest average four-tire pit stop time this season at 10.940 seconds.
This season, Byron has had speed and consistency to show he's a contender to win every race. In the playoffs, Byron has one win, five top fives, and seven top tens with an average finish of 6.3, the best of any driver. Byron won the spring race at Phoenix and has a career 11.91 average finish at Phoenix. He will start the race from the pole. If Byron wins his first title, he'd be only the second driver to win a championship in the 24-car, joining four-time Champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.
No. 5 Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports)
Kyle Larson: Larson is the only driver in the championship four to have won a Cup Series championship. His first Championship Four appearance came in 2021 when he won the championship. This season he has four wins, 14 top fives, 17 top tens, and an average finish of 15th.
Larson’s wins and consistency this season have made him a championship favorite. At Phoenix in the spring he led 201 of 317 laps and finished fourth. He has the best-average finish at Phoenix of the championship four at 11.72.
No. 20 Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing)
Bell is making his second appearance in the Championship Four and is the only driver to return from last year's group. Despite that, he's had the least successful season of the Championship Four with just two wins, ten top fives, 19 top tens, 599 laps led, and an average finish of 12.3. Bell’s pit crew hasn’t been great this season, as they have had tons of slow pit stops. His pit crew will have to step up their game for the driver of the No. 20 to win this Championship.
No. 12 Ryan Blaney (Team Penske)
Blaney is making his first championship four appearance. He hadn't made it past the round of eight in his six previous playoff appearances. Blaney has had a somewhat struggling season, with three wins, seven top fives, 17 top tens, 560 laps led, and an average finish of 14.4. After winning the Coca-Cola 600 in May, he had an average finish of 22nd in the following 11 races. His win at Talladega in October was his first top-five since his win in the 600. He has momentum on his side though, as he has four finishes of sixth or better, including two wins, in the last five races.
Championship Prediction: Byron and Larson are the Championship favorites heading into Sunday. Larson's performance in the playoffs has made him more of a favorite than Byron. While Larson has experience and a championship, I think that Byron will win the championship. Byron and Larson have had good seasons, and both of them are good at Phoenix, but Byron has been just a bit better than Larson this year, and that’s why Byron will win his first championship.
The championship race will mark the final race for Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. Harvick hasn’t won this year and has been good at Phoenix in the past. It would be great to see Harvick win the final race of his career.
2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship Pick: William Byron
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