The last race at Phoenix was the championship race for the 2020 season. The final race of the season is not like other races on the schedule. The four drivers competing for the championship receive plenty of room on the track and are allowed to start in front of the field. They also receive the best cars from their teams. These drivers typically dominate the race and that is what we had last November. Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were competing for the Championship trophy. They led 294 of the 312 laps and finished in the top-four positions. Since this race is unique, I will be incorporating some notes from the spring race at Phoenix into my article this week.
Race Rewind Phoenix: Championship 400 (2020)
– The 10 drivers who looked the best in the race: Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Matt DiBenedetto,
Stage / Race Results
|Stage 1||Stage 2||
|1. Joey Logano||1. Brad Keselowski||1. Chase Elliott|
|2. Denny Hamlin||2. Chase Elliott||2. Brad Keselowski|
|3. Chase Elliott||3. Joey Logano||3. Joey Logano|
|4. Brad Keselowski||4. Denny Hamlin||4. Denny Hamlin|
|5. Ryan Blaney||5. Ryan Blaney||5. Jimmie Johnson|
|6. Kyle Busch||6. Jimmie Johnson||6. Ryan Blaney|
|7. Alex Bowman||7. Kurt Busch||7. Kevin Harvick|
|8. Clint Bowyer||8. Kyle Busch||8. Matt DiBenedetto|
|9. Kurt Busch||9. Matt DiBenedetto||9. William Byron|
|10. Matt DiBenedetto||10. William Byron||10. Martin Truex Jr.|
– Martin Truex Jr. did not have much success at Phoenix last year. He finished 32nd in the spring race and 10th in the fall. This track ranks as his 18th best track (out of 25) on the schedule. Truex started 13th, did not score any Stage points or lead any laps, had an 11.66 average running position (13th best) and finished 10th at Phoenix last November. He should compete for a top-10 finish this week, but the competition may be too tough for Truex to win the race Sunday.
– Kyle Busch has been the best driver at Phoenix over the last four seasons. He has a series-high 122.8 Driver Rating, lead a series-high 605 laps and has a series-best 3.75 average finishing position. Busch has finished 11th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 7th, 3rd, 2rd, 4th and 4th at Phoenix since 2014. Outstanding! He has also scored Stage points in every Stage ever run at Phoenix. He had his worst race at Phoenix in November (Busch finished 11th) but that had a lot to do with the fact he had nothing to race for and it looked like Rowdy was simply logging laps.
– Denny Hamlin was the worst of the Championship Four are Phoenix last year but that does not mean the No. 11 car was not good. Hamlin started 4th, finished 2nd in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, did not lead any laps, had a 3.22 average running position (2nd best) and finished 4th in the race. Hamlin won at Phoenix in 2019 and he has finished 3 of his last 4 races in the desert in the top five. He should compete for another top-five finish Sunday.
– Christopher Bell got off to a horrible start in 2020. He finished 33rd at Las Vegas, 38th at Auto Club and then 24th at Phoenix. He improved throughout the season, but he still was not great at Phoenix in November. Bell started 17th, did not lead any laps or score any Stage points. Bell had an 18.04 average running position (18th best) and finished 17th. He will be driving the No. 20 car this week. Erik Jones finished 22nd and 28th in his two races at Phoenix in the No. 20 car last year.
– Brad Keselowski was the best driver on the short, flat tracks in 2020. He won at New Hampshire and Richmond and the No. 2 car was good at Phoenix too. Keselowski started 3rd, finished 4th in Stage 1, won Stage 2, led 16 laps and finished 2nd in the race. It was a great performance by Keselowski but his average finishing position in his last 6 races in the desert is 10th and he has only scored Stage points in half of the Stages.
– Joey Logano won the spring race at Phoenix last year and a trip to Victory Lane in November would have given Logano the championship. He had the best car at the beginning of the race. Logano started 2nd, won Stage 1, finished 3rd in Stage 2, led 125 laps (2nd most to Chase Elliott), had a series-best 2.35 average running position and finished 3rd. He also led 60 laps and scored 12 Stage points in the spring race at Phoenix. Logano will be a good pivot from Kevin Harvick and other more popular drivers this week.
– Ryan Blaney has been hit or miss at Phoenix. He has finished 3 of his last 4 races in the desert in the top 6, but he also has finishes of 37th and 34th over the last two seasons. Phoenix ranks as his 17th best track (out of 25 tracks). Blaney started 5th, finished 5th in both Stages and 6th in the race last November. He had one of the best non-playoff cars in the race. He should compete for a top-5 finish this week “if” he can stay out of trouble.
– Matt DiBenedetto had his best ever race at Phoenix last November. The No. 21 car started 12th, finished 10th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2, led 1 lap, had a 9.13 average running position (8th best) and finished 8th in the race. He also finished 13th in the spring race in the desert. DiBenedetto should compete for another top-12 finish this week.
– Kevin Harvick has been known as “The King of the Desert.” That used to be true when Harvick won 5 of 6 races between 2013 – 2016, but he has been good but not as dominant at Phoenix since NASCAR changed aero packages. Harvick still has a 4.8 average finishing position in the current aero package at Phoenix (that is very good), but he has only won 1 of his last 9 races at the track. Harvick should be a lock for a top-10 but he is not a lock to win this week.
– Chase Briscoe did not compete in the Cup Series race at Phoenix last year. He finished 9th, 6th, 8th and 6th in his 4 races in the Xfinity Series at Phoenix. He will be driving the No. 14 car this week. Clint Bowyer finished 5th in the spring race at Phoenix and 14th in the fall last year. It may be tough for Briscoe to break the top-15 this week.
– Aric Almirola has been good at Phoenix in since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. The track ranks as his 3rd-best track. Almirola finished 8th at Phoenix in the spring last year. He started 10th, led 7 laps, had a 14.22 average running position (15th best) and finished 13th in the fall race. Almirola has a 9.6 average finishing position at Phoenix since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He can thank Kevin Harvick for his success at Phoenix, because Almirola said that Harvick tough him how to get around this tricky track.
– Cole Custer ran really well at Phoenix in the spring so he entered the race in the fall with high expectations. Custer started 16th and finished 9th in the spring. He did not have much luck in the fall. Custer started 15th, did not score any Stage points, had an 18.38 average running position (20th best) and finished 28th in the race. He needs to get some more advice from Kevin Harvick this week so he can be more consistent at Phoenix.
– Chase Elliott had the best car at Phoenix in the Championship race last year. The No. 9 car failed inspection 3 times so Elliott had to start dead last. He made quick work of the field and finished 3rd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, led a race-high 153 laps and won the race and the championship trophy. Elliott also led 93 laps and finished 7th in the spring race at Phoenix. It was close between Elliott and Joey Logano as to which driver was the best at Phoenix last year. Elliott should be a threat to win the race again this week.
– Kyle Larson did not compete in the November race at Phoenix but he was very fast in the spring. Larson qualified 4th, led 2 laps, had a 6.3 average running position (6th best) and finished 4th. His average finishing position in his last 4 races at Phoenix is 4th. He will be driving for Jimmie Johnson’s team this week. Johnson finished 5th at Phoenix in November so the car Larson will be in should be fast Sunday.
– William Byron has been pretty good at Phoenix in his career. The track ranks as his 4th best on the schedule. Byron started 17th and finished 10th in the spring race at Phoenix. He had even more success in the fall. Byron started 25th, finished 10th in Stage 2, had a 10.78 average running position (12th best) and finished 9th. Byron could be a good sleeper pick this week.
– Alex Bowman has not had much success at Phoenix since he finished 6th at the track while filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016. Bowman has finished 16th, 14th, 23rd, 35th, 30th and 13th since that race. Last year he finished 16th and 14th in the two races in the desert, only scored 9 Stage points and did not lead any laps. Bowman will have to find some speed in order to finish in the top 10 Sunday.
– Kurt Busch has been good but not great at Phoenix since joining Chip Ganassi Racing. Busch has finished 12th, 6th, 11th and 7th in his 4 races in the No. 1 car. He has been better in the spring than he has been in the fall. He has only scored 9 Stage points out of a possible 80 points in the No. 1 car at Phoenix. Busch should be able to run in the top 10, but the competition may be too tough for Busch to win the race this week.
– Ross Chastain did not compete in the Cup Series race at Phoenix last November. He did fill in for Ryan Newman in the No. 6 car in the spring race last year. Chastain started 24th, did not score any Stage points, had a 23.98 average running position (25th best) and finished 24th. He will be driving the No. 42 car this week. Matt Kenseth finished 25th in this car at Phoenix last year. Chastain will have a tough time breaking into the top-15 Sunday.
– Ryan Newman did not compete in the spring race at Phoenix last year because he was recovering from his injuries at Daytona. Newman started 19th, did not score any Stage points or lead any laps, had a 23.64 average running position (25th best) and finished 24th last November at Phoenix. His average finishing position in the No. 6 car at Phoenix is 18th.
– Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did not have much success in his JTG Daugherty Racing car at Phoenix last year. Stenhouse started 19th and finished 22nd in the spring. He was even worse in November. Stenhouse started 20th, did not score any Stage points, had a 21.7 average running position (22nd best) and finished 27th. It may be tough for Stenhouse to crack the top-20 this week.
– Chris Buescher has not had a lot of success at Phoenix in his career. The track ranks as his 22nd best (out of 25 tracks). Buescher started 23rd and finished 17th in the spring race at Phoenix last year. He started 31st, did not score any Stage points, had a 25th-place average running position (26th best) and finished 20th in November. His ceiling this week is about an 18th-place finish.
– Austin Dillon started 30th and quickly crashed out of the spring race at Phoenix last year (he finished 36th). He bounced back a bit in the fall race. Dillon started 18th, had an 18.38 average running position (19th best) and finished 18th in the race. Dillon has a 24.75 average finishing position in his last 4 races in the desert. There are probably better choices for your team this week.
– Tyler Reddick did not have much success at Phoenix last year. He had a fast car in the spring. Reddick scored Stage points in both Stages but he hit the wall and finished 33rd. The No. 8 car started 21st, did not score any Stage points or lead any laps, and finished 19th last November at Phoenix. It will be interesting to see how he can do now that he has some experience at the track. Reddick is known as a quick learner.
– Erik Jones had some of his worst races of the season at Phoenix last year. Jones started 11th and finished 28th in the spring race. It was only slightly better in November. Jones started 14th, did not score any Stage points, had a 16.63 average running position (16th best) and finished 22nd. His car should have less speed this week since he has moved from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Petty Motorsports.
– Bubba Wallace had two decent races at Phoenix last year (decent for him). Wallace started 27th and finished 19th in the spring. He was even better in the fall. Wallace started 23rd, had a 19.44 average running position (21st best) and finished 15th. He will be driving for a new team this week but his alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and the experience of Crew Chief Mike Wheeler should give Wallace more speed than he had in 2020.
Follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR