PHOENIX — After 35 races in roughly nine months, the NASCAR Cup Series season comes down to Sunday’s championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin, the Championship 4 drivers, will compete against each other for the 2021 crown and drive against each other and the rest of the field for the race win. Elliott and Truex are racing for their second championships — Elliott is the defending champ while Truex won in 2017 — and Larson and Hamlin are aiming for their first.
Sunday’s race is the second at Phoenix this season. Truex won the first back in March after leading 64 of 312 laps. Hamlin finished third, Elliott fifth and Larson seventh.
But to win the title, the Championship 4 drivers don’t necessarily have to win the race. The champion will be the highest finisher among the four of them — though since the format was enacted in the 2014 season, the champion also won the season’s final race. And with the way these four drivers and their teams have performed throughout the season, it seems likely one of them will take the checkered flag Sunday.
Ahead of the title race, each of the contenders explained why they think their team will win it all.
Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
“Well, I’ve won here in the spring, and I’ve won a championship before. So those are two things in my favor.”
No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
“Just knowing how I’ve performed for the whole year. The bottom line is that every single week, I’ve showed up, [and] I’ve had a chance to win. And there’s just not been many years, except for the last couple, where that’s been the case, so I don’t see that changing overnight. …
“Certainly, I’m a stats and analytics person, but I also have a feel. When I have a feel, and it’s positive, the on-track [performance] usually backs that up. Usually, it gets confirmed pretty quickly that we’re able to win races or move on [in the playoffs]. Whatever it might be, my gut is usually correct.”
NASCAR FINAL FOUR: Breakdown of the drivers racing for the championship
NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS: Which driver is favored to win the 2021 title?
No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“I think for us, I feel like we’re very capable. And I’ve said this a lot, but I just feel like when our group is at our best, I feel like we can run with whoever. And I felt that way for a long time, and I’ve been really proud of the way we’ve run these last couple weeks. Had a really strong car at Kansas [Speedway], had a really good car Martinsville [Speedway]. And there’s no reason why we can’t go and have a shot to win this thing.”
No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t really know. Maybe just the experience of winning a lot this year and the confidence that that brings. But I don’t know.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NASCAR championship: Final 4 drivers say why they will win at Phoenix