The final race of the 2023 Cup Series season gets underway today with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway. Whichever driver finishes the highest of the Championship 4 drivers today will win the Championship, regardless of if they win the race.
Phoenix is a 1 mile intermediate track that that first opened in 1964 and hosted its first NASCAR race in 1988. Alan Kulwicki won the inaugural race here in 1988, while Kevin Harvick, who is making his final Cup Series start today, has the most wins here with 9.
Last year’s edition was won by Joey Logano, who started from the Pole and led 187 laps on the way to his fourth victory of the season, his third career Phoenix victory, and his second Cup Series Championship. Ryan Blaney finished second after leading 109 laps during the race, Ross Chastain finished third, and Chase Briscoe and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 5.
Ford has the hot streak this weekend, with both Ben Rhodes and Cole Custer winning the Championship in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series, respectively. Is a weekend sweep possible with Ryan Blaney? Or will William Byron or Kyle Larson step up to the plate to give Hendrick Motorsports its third Championship in the last 4 years? Or will Christopher Bell find his clutch gene yet again to grind out the most important victory of his career? We find out today, with pre-race beginning at 2PM EST and green flag coverage beginning at 3PM EST on NBC.
Driver to Fade:
Corey LaJoie is not particularly good at Phoenix. LaJoie has just 1 top 25 finishes in 12 career starts here. LaJoie has not shown much pace this weekend, finishing 30th in practice and qualifying 29th for the race this afternoon. We expect more of the same struggles today, as we predict that LaJoie will finish outside the top 25 yet again. Worth noting is that LaJoie is in the midst of a historic streak. LaJoie has finished every race this season. He may not always finish on the lead lap, but he finishes the race running. We also predict that he will make it to the finish today and become the first driver since Denny Hamlin in 2021 to finish every race in a season.
As a whole, 2023 has been an up and down season for Chase Briscoe, with 4 top 5’s and 8 top 10’s on the campaign. Briscoe is fresh off of a 4th place finish last week at Martinsville and comes back to another track where he has a ton of success, winning here in spring 2022 and finishing in the top 10 each of the last 3 races here. Briscoe started 24th in the spring race and went on to finish 7th that day and will have to follow a similar arc today, as he begins this race from 26th. We predict that Briscoe will end the season on a high note with another top 10 finish.
The King of the Desert, Kevin Harvick pretty much has owned Phoenix Raceway in his career. 9 wins, 20 top 5’s, 30 top 10’s, 37 top 20’s and 1,699 laps led in 41 career starts. Today is the end of an era, with Kevin Harvick retiring from full-time racing following his 826th and final career Cup Series start. 2023 has probably not been the farewell season that Harvick was looking for, with 6 top 5’s and 13 top 10’s, but most importantly, no victories. Harvick showed solid pace in practice and had his best qualifying result of the season, as he will start today’s race from third place. Harvick will have something to say before the end of the race and will certainly be in the mix for the win today. A top 10 finish in his final start is a lock.
2023 has been a steady year for Ryan Blaney, with 3 wins, 7 top 5’s, and 17 top 10 finishes this season. However, Blaney has been heating up at just the right time of the season, with a pair of wins and a runner-up result in his last 5 starts, including the win last week at Martinsville. Blaney has not won at Phoenix, but his track record here is still quite solid, with 6 top 5’s, 10 top 10’s and 429 laps led in 15 starts, including 4 straight top 5’s and back-to-back runner-up finishes. Blaney had great speed on both the short run and long run in practice, but qualified in 15th place for today’s race, his worst career qualifying effort at Phoenix. In spite of that, Ryan Blaney has had the momentum of late and has stepped up when it matters most over the past few weeks. He has some ground to make up early, but we predict that Ryan Blaney will break out the Polish Victory Lap at the place where the tradition was born to celebrate his 4th win of the season, his first win at Phoenix, and his first Cup Series Championship!