Through the Field: Endgame
The 2020 NASCAR season is about to come to an end.
The final race of the year comes in Phoenix this weekend, and just as in any season, we will have some notable “lasts” as we round out the year.
Multiple teams will be racing for the last time. Stars of the sport are retiring from full-time driving. Sponsors and numbers that have become iconic will fade away.
In life, things end. Nothing good (or really, nothing at all) lasts forever. Doors are going to close, whether by choice or by force. The best thing to do is to keep it rollin’, just like the title contenders will on track, and see what happens.
Perhaps the story of the weekend from Martinsville was that Kevin Harvick’s door to winning the 2020 title closed as he was eliminated following the race. But that’s the beauty of the playoffs – it’s not always the best team who wins. Harvick had a bad few weeks, and it cost him. But there’s no doubt that a deserving driver will win the 2020 Cup title, even if it isn’t necessarily the most deserving one.
I would imagine most casual NASCAR fantasy players don’t usually pay attention to the lower series, which is why I haven’t written about them. But with this being “Championship Weekend,” you may be interested in betting on the series’ champions across the board.
If you bet on Sheldon Creed to win the Truck Series title, congratulations, and good luck with the other two series.
In the Xfinity Series, the “Final Four” are Justin Allgaier (No. 7), Chase Briscoe (No. 98), Austin Cindric (No. 22) and Justin Haley (No. 11). All four drivers have had great seasons and it’s anyone’s race Saturday afternoon.
Allgaier is the wily veteran of the group. His appearance here reminds me of when Elliott Sadler was competing for titles in his last few years. Allgaier is a guy who probably isn’t getting a Cup ride again but still knows how to win. He’s won before at Phoenix and has always been solid there, but the team has been inconsistent in 2020 and will need few slip-ups to stay ahead.
Briscoe is going Cup racing in 2021, taking Clint Bowyer’s ride, and he deserves it. Briscoe has won nine races at all different kinds of tracks in 2020 and is in solid Stewart-Haas Racing equipment. The team hasn’t been consistent in the playoffs, but they have earned wins and should be the favorite for the title. He’s my pick.
Cindric drives the other Ford in the series for Team Penske and has also had a very good season. His playoffs have also been inconsistent, and he nearly was eliminated on multiple occasions but hasn’t finished worse than eighth in Phoenix over the last few years. He should be in contention all day.
Haley’s Kaulig Racing equipment is the only one of the four remaining drivers that isn’t heavily supported by a Cup team, but if there’s one thing Haley has taught us in his young career, it’s to never count him out. The entire Kaulig team generally races with one goal in mind – win trophies. I anticipate Haley will do whatever it takes to take home the series’ biggest one.
On the Cup side, the final four consists of Chase Elliott (No. 9), Denny Hamlin (No. 11), Brad Keselowski (No. 2) and Joey Logano (No. 22).
Elliott was absolutely clutch in his Martinsville win last week and brings Chevrolet the closest to a title that it’s been since Jeff Gordon’s last ride in the No. 24 five years ago. He isn’t bad there and team crew chief Alan Gustafson has won at Phoenix with three different drivers, but I am skeptical that Elliott will become his fourth. This was the season where Chase Elliott became a title contender that we knew he would be, but it won’t be the year that he will become a title winner.
Hamlin has waited for a championship for so long and has come so close on multiple occasions. His biggest threat in Harvick was already eliminated and the No. 11 team won the fall Phoenix race last season, prior to it being the title-deciding race. He may be the sentimental favorite, but similarly to Harvick, it hasn’t been a sensational playoff for Hamlin and I worry that he will come up just short again.
Keselowski is a very unique case when it comes to Phoenix specifically: The race will use the 750-horsepower package, and Keselowski has won races at New Hampshire and Richmond which used that package. He’s hung around enough to stay afloat, scraped his way in and is my pick for the title.
I’m not going to say Logano is here because of a fluke, because he’s had a solid season, but I still believe he should’ve had a harder fight in his win at Kansas. Logano has been clutch in the past, isn’t shy about losing friends on the track and has “won the damn war” before, and as such cannot be ignored with a title on the line.
I’ve surprised myself with how right some of my picks have been for winners throughout this playoff; here’s hoping for your sake and mine the lucky streak continues for one final week.