2022 NASCAR Championship Weekend Previewby Jack Gaffney November 2, 2022 0 comments
Just over three dozen weekends down and one to go in the 2022 NASCAR Season. While the year across all three series gave both good and bad moments, 2022 will go down in the books as one of the crazier seasons in recent memory. With that said, all three Championships are up for grabs, technically four considering the Cup Series Owners Championship Final Four differs slightly from the drivers’ Championship. Not to waste any more time, here are the 12 drivers competing for titles this weekend.
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NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series Championship 4
No. 18 Chandler Smith – Kyle Busch Motorsports
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 15 Top 10s, 8 Top 5s, 440 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.0 (Average Playoff Finish: 9.6)
Smith is set to join the illustrious list of prospects Toyota let slip through the cracks as he’s set to move to Kaulig Racing next season in the Xfinity Series. For now, he’s Kyle Busch’s only hope to win one last Trucks Series Championship with Toyota before his team moves to Chevy next year. The biggest thing Smith has going for him is that he has been excellent in qualifying as of late. Seven races in a row now has he started in the top five, five of which he started second. Additionally, he has won two of those races in that span as well, Pocono and Richmond. Remember as well, he won this race a season ago but wasn’t in Championship contention.
No. 99 Ben Rhodes – ThorSport Racing
2022 Stats: One Win, 12 Top 10s, 7 Top 5s, 263 Laps Led, Average Finish of 12.1 (Average Playoff Finish: 9.8)
Outside of a Bristol Dirt win way earlier in the year, it hasn’t been the year the defending Trucks Champion had hoped for. Despite that, Rhodes once again will fight for a Championship and look to become the first back-to-back Champion since Matt Crafton in ’13-’14. The odds of that feel less than optimal given his stretch of runs since June. Rhodes has just four top 10s and no wins in his last 11 outings. Last year his late-season run was also a mixed bag, but last year was better on the whole. For what it’s worth as well, Rhodes also went months without a win last year and still won the Championship.
No. 38 Zane Smith – Front Row Motorsports
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 18 Top 10s, 13 Top 5s, 415 Laps Led, Average Finish of 8.0 (Average Playoff Finish: 6.1)
No postseason wins (yet), but Smith has been dynamite in these six races leading into Phoenix. Outside of a 17th at Talledega, he has a 100 percent clip of top 10 finishes, and four top 5s. His numbers ever since he subbed in Chris Buescher at Gateway have been elite, with top 10 finishes in 10-of-12 including the Trucks race that weekend. No win since Mid May, but Smith may very well be the favorite this weekend. Wouldnt be shocked in the slightest either if Smith bypasses Xfinity and goes straight to Cup, either with Front Row, or RFK in a few years.
No. 66 Ty Majeski – ThorSport Racing
2022 Stats: Two Wins, 15 Top 10s, 10 Top 5s, 306 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.6 (Average Playoff Finish: 7.3)
Easily the best thing Majeski has going for him is that he’s won two of the last three Trucks races at Bristol and Homestead. Furthermore, he is the only member of the Trucks Series Championship 4 to have a single pole position, and he has three to his name. Now one of the more infamous racers on the iRacing scene in the mid/late 2010s has the shot to bring home some real-world hardware and has the right amount of momentum entering to boot.
2022 NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series Championship Pick: Zane Smith
NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4
No. 7 Justin Allgaier – JR Motorsports
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 22 Top 10s, 15 Top 5s, 737 Laps Led, Average Finish of 10.8 (Average Playoff Finish: 11.1)
After snapping a season-plus-long losing streak at Darlington, the veteran Allgaier finished out the rest of the regular season strong. That continued into the postseason as well with four consecutive top 10s (3 top 5s) entering Phoenix this weekend. Allgaier is very much the dark horse here and for good reason. There are two younger and better guys in this field, not to mention his other teammate who has been better than him this postseason.
No. 8 Josh Berry – JR Motorsports
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 20 Top 10s, 11 Top 5s, 356 Laps Led, Average Finish of 10.7 (Average Playoff Finish: 8.5)
Wild to think about where Berry was just a few years ago and now. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s longtime guy is now fighting for a NASCAR Championship after years on the Super Late Model scene. Keep in mind as well, this is only his first-ever full-time season in any NASCAR series. Putting up the numbers he has so far is very impressive given the circumstances. Berry has even gotten better in the postseason, averaging a finish of 8.5. Wouldnt bet the farm on him, but keep an eye out for the No. 8 car this Saturday.
No. 54 Ty Gibbs – Joe Gibbs Racing
2022 Stats: Six Wins, 22 Top 10s, 15 Top 5s, 865 Laps Led, Average Finish of 9.4 (Average Playoff Finish: 3.1)
The Grandson of Joe Gibbs has been nothing short of fantastic in 2022, the numbers up top tell the story. What they don’t tell you is the list of enemies he’s made along the way this season. Most recent of which is his teammate Brandon Jones, whom Gibbs intentionally dumped on the final lap at Martinsville last weekend to knock Smith out of playoff contention. Seeing as how Jones is off to JR Motorsports next season, he will have no reason to cut Gibbs any slack. Should Gibbs get taken out this weekend, he’s going to have no one to blame but himself.
Joe Gibbs indicated there will be consequences for his grandson Ty Gibbs wrecking Brandon Jones on the final lap to win at Martinsville.
He wasn’t specific but says they are working through things: pic.twitter.com/HkSsFF22eX
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) November 1, 2022
No. 9 Noah Gragson – JR Motorsports
2022 Stats: Eight Wins, 25 Top 10s, 20 Top 5s, 975 Laps Led, Average Finish of 8.3 (Average Playoff Finish: 3.5)
The Mullet Man from Las Vegas, Nevada is making what is his final Xfinity Series start this weekend. Win lose or draw, it’s off to Petty-GMS next year in the No. 42 car. Like him or hate him, Gragson has been the class of the Xfinity Series this season, boasting eight wins and 25 Top 10s. One of those came back at Phoenix earlier this year after qualifying second. Doesn’t hurt either that Gragson has won five of the last nine races as well.
2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Pick: Noah Gragson
NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4
No. 1 Ross Chastain – Trackhouse Racing
2022 Stats: Two Wins, 20 Top 10s, 14 Top 5s, 692 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.5 (Average Playoff Finish: 10.5)
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 30, 2022
We cant talk about Chastain this week and not bring up what happened at Martinsville last Sunday. Sitting on it for a few days, I still cannot fully comprehend that it not only worked to perfection but how long have drivers considered doing this at other tracks in the past? Former Penske crew chief Todd Gordon brought up a story from the past earlier this week, but I digress. On what might be the most surreal racing move I have ever seen, a local Florida Melon Farmer in the form of Ross Chastain will have the shot to compete for a NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Just years after seeing his future evaporate in the Xfinity Series.
— Jack Gaffney (@JackGaffneyTDT) October 31, 2022
Chastain, even with his move at Martinsville, was having a great postseason to that point. Currently, his 10.5 average finish ranks the best of the Cup Series Championship 4. His Round of 8 stretch was particularly great, and he still almost got eliminated. Most importantly now, we know Chastain wants it more than these other three guys, that is an undeniable fact. Unless NASCAR outright says don’t ride the wall on the white flag, Chastain might make it two for two.
No. 20 Christopher Bell – Joe Gibbs Racing
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 19 Top 10s, 12 Top 5s, 573 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.9 (Average Playoff Finish: 12.2)
Amidst all the fanfare with Chastain, Bell has now won back-to-back must-win cutoff races to get into the Championship race at Phoenix. Both of those came after 34th-place finishes in the opening race of the last two rounds by the way. The big concern for Bell is that he has never finished better than ninth at Phoenix in his Cup career. Earlier this year he finished two laps down in 26th after qualifying in fourth. Gotta imagine things are going to go a lot better this go around. If for nothing else, we know Bell has the clutch gene to potentially get this done.
No. 9 Chase Elliott – Hendrick Motorsports
2022 Stats: Five Wins, 20 Top 10s, 12 Top 5s, 857 Laps Led, Average Finish of 12.0 (Average Playoff Finish: 16.3)
Elliott has been the overall best driver in 2022 in the NASCAR Cup Series but has sleepwalked into the Championship race. Although he won at Talledega, it’s been ever since he ‘won’ at Pocono that his production has dipped. In just the last 8-of-16 races, Elliott has failed to score a top 10, including 6-of-9 postseason races. If not for the bonus points he racked up beforehand, Elliott isn’t in this spot.
Worth noting that Elliott is not in the NASCAR Owners Championship this year, but rather teammate Kyle Larson. Just like Hamlin got outright eliminated from both Championships, that also got Elliott out of the Owners race. Elliott has run well in this race two years in a row, but nothing he has shown as of late gives much confidence. Will be interesting to see how he looks in practice and qualifying.
No. 22 Joey Logano – Team Penske
2022 Stats: Three Wins, 16 Top 10s, 10 Top 5s, 597 Laps Led, Average Finish of 13.5 (Average Playoff Finish: 13.3)
Logano almost always finds himself in this spot and in 2022 that is no different. He’s not quite as bad this postseason as Elliott but did not run as well as Chastain or Bell to this point. Back in 2020, Logano typically runs well at Phoenix post reconfig but ran 11th in this race a year ago. Outside of that, he has a win, a second, and a third to his name. Not a whole lot else to say about the former Champion. We know he has no problem rattling cages if he needs to to get the job done, and he just might have to this weekend.
2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship Pick: Ross Chastain
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images