Phoenix Raceway, Phoenix, AZ — November 8, 2020
It’s Championship Sunday as the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series comes to a close today at Phoenix Raceway in “The Season Finale 500.” Four drivers have earned the chance to battle for the Bill France Cup in today’s race. No bonus points from Stages, no position points just straight-up racing between Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott. Whichever driver posts the best finish will be crowned Champion.
After last week’s race at Martinsville, many fans were stunned when Kevin Harvick failed to qualify for the Championship 4. After posting a Series high 9 wins, Harvick needed 1 point to qualify for Phoenix when he rounded Turn 4 on the final lap at Martinsville. He realized he was not going to be able to pass Kyle Busch so he ran into the bumper of the #18 car and spun him out. But, the bumper tag move failed as Harvick also spun.
DID YOU FEEL LIKE THE MOVE ON KYLE WAS GOING TO WORK OR WAS IT ONE OF THOSE YOU WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO CRASH AS WELL BUT YOU HAD TO TRY IT? “It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point. I needed to hit him square in the door, but at that point, I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back. It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”
ARE YOU STILL OKAY WITH THIS SYSTEM? YOU HAVE 9 WINS AND DON’T MAKE THE FINAL FOUR. “We had a great year. Like I said earlier, they aren’t won the same way that Earnhardt and Petty did. You have to put together a few weeks and we didn’t put together these last few weeks like we needed to and just came up short.”
Harvick could have qualified if Denny Hamlin lost a position. Over the closing laps of the race, Erik Jones was clearly faster than Hamlin. But, Jones was told not to pass his teammate. The dutiful team player stayed on Hamlin’s bumper and protected the position from all comers. Amazing allegiance considering Jones loses his ride after Phoenix, Having been essentially fired from Joe Gibbs Racing. NASCAR investigated the incident and decided to take no action.
Ford Wins Manufacturer’s Championship
Ford claimed the Manufacturer’s Championship for the 2020 NASCAR season when it clinched the title at Martinsville Speedway. Ryan Blaney’s second-place finish enabled Ford to win the coveted crown for the second time in three years and give Mustang its first championship since debuting in the series last season.
“We’re in motorsports to win races and championships, so to clinch this year’s manufacturers’ championship before the end of the season with all of the challenges everyone in the sport has faced is a real source of pride,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports.
Ford leads all manufacturers with 18 Cup wins in 2020, Kevin Harvick led the way with a series-best nine victories. Brad Keselowski (four), Joey Logano (three), Ryan Blaney (1), and Cole Custer (1) also registered at least one victory this season.
Austin Cindric Wins NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship
Team Penske has two drivers in the Championship Four and one Championship Banner flying after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was concluded.
Ford driver Austin Cindric capped off a memorable season by winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship at Phoenix Raceway, doing it with a last-lap pass in overtime to win the Desert Diamond Casino West Valley 200.
Cindric, who is in his second season driving for Team Penske, opted to give up the lead and pit when the caution came out with three laps to go. The four tires he got from his crew proved to be the difference in the final two-lap dash to the finish. Cindric started third on the restart but was able to squeeze between leader Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson shortly after taking the white flag. That move enabled him to eventually pass Allgaier in Turn 1 and then Gragson in Turn 3 to win the race and championship.
Cindric won six races this season in what proved to be a career year. He and fellow Ford driver Chase Briscoe combined to win 15 of the 33 races, which was the most for any manufacturer.
Chase Elliott(9) was set to start on the pole for today’s Championship race until his car failed inspection twice. Relegating Elliott to start at the rear of the field. Joey Logano(22), Brad Keselowski(2), and Denny Hamlin(11) will lead the field to green.
Today marks the end of full-time NASCAR racing for 7-time Champion Jimmie Johnson(48). It is also the last start for Clint Bowyer(14). Johnson is going to drive a limited Indy Car schedule in 2021 for Chip Ganassi Racing. Bowyer is moving to the Fox broadcast booth and will debut during SpeedWeeks at Daytona.
Team Penske’s Championship contenders Logano and Keselowski are both looking for their 2nd Cup Series Championship. Logano won in 2018, Keselowski was the 2012 Championship winner. Hamlin is racing in his 2nd Series Championship 4, this is the 1st appearance in the finals for Chase Elliott.
Logano jumped to the lead on the drop of the green flag. He led every lap until the competition caution flag waved on Lap 31. Elliott began to immediately carve his way through the field and was up to 10th when the scheduled service brought the cars to pit road.
Logano resumed the lead after being the first to exit the pits. He was followed by Hamlin, Alex Bowman(88), Kyle Busch(18), and Bowyer.
On Lap 46, Elliott passed Bowman to take over the 3rd spot, and three laps later Keselowski took over 4th from Bowman lining up the Championship 4 at the front of the field. Content to run out front, the line-up remained the same till the green and white checkered flag ended the Stage at Lap 75.
Remarkably, the leaders returned to the track in the same order they entered pit road for the Stage ending caution. Restarts are always dicey at Phoenix as cars can go five to six wide down into the dogleg. It will be interesting to see if any of the leaders mix it up this early in the race.
On the restart, everyone falls into place. Keselowski drops to 6th not wanting to get mixed up in an incident with another car. Elliott tried to pass Hamlin, they raced side-by-side for several laps until the #11 car prevailed. Once he put Elliott behind him, Hamlin began to pressure Logano. Joey complained of a wheel vibration, his crew told him to try and hold on until they were in their pit window for Stage 2.
The lead shrank as Logano slowed slightly to take care of his car. Hamlin tried to pass the leader and he was unsuccessful. This allowed Elliott to close and pass Hamlin for 2nd. On Lap 120 Elliott drove to the front, Hamlin also passed Logano who was noticeably slower.
Keselowski was the first to pit under green on Lap 128. He took on enough fuel to be able to finish the Stage. However, pitting early put Brad a lap down, he must hope the caution does not come out before pit stops cycle through.
Logano pitted on Lap 138, Elliott and Hamlin pitted a lap later. When pit stops were complete, among the Championship 4, Keselowski was ahead, Elliott, Hamlin, and Logano all ran nose to tail.
The yellow flag came out on Lap 160 when James Davison(53) hit the wall in Turn 2. This allowed everyone to pit for fresh tires and fuel with 23 laps to go in Stage 2. Kurt Busch was first off pit road, taking only two tires on his stop. He and Elliott paced the field to the restart.
Elliott passed quickly for the lead while Logano, Keselowski, and Hamlin raced three-wide behind Kurt Busch. Keselowski came out ahead in that battle, moved past Busch, and took the lead from Elliott on Lap 173. Logano and Hamlin returned to 3rd and 4th respectively.
With seven laps to go in the Stage, Elliott was back out front. Keselowski continued to fight for the position and hounded Elliott over the closing laps, edging his Penske Ford Mustang out front on the final lap of Stage 2.
The Final Stage
Racing to Lap 312 and the checkered flag the race restarted on Lap 201. Elliott and Logano on the front row with Hamlin and Keselowski falling in behind as the field strung out after taking the green. Keselowski moved into 3rd and the Top 4 seemed content to ride to the next pit stop.
With 54 laps to go, Logano and Hamlin pitted. Elliott and Keselowski came in on the next lap. The move worked for Logano as he came out as the leader 1.5 seconds ahead of Elliott. Hamlin was over four seconds back and Keselowski almost five seconds off the lead.
It’s looking like it will be a two-car race to the finish as the leaders work through lapped traffic. With 43 laps to go, Elliott is on Logano’s bumper. He gets the 22 car loose with a couple of taps and Elliott takes the lead. Once in front, Elliott began to pull away.
If the race stays green, Chase and his dad Bill Elliott will become the 3rd Father-Son combination to win a NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Joining Lee and Richard Petty, along with Ned and Dale Jarrett.
With 11 laps to go Elliott led by over 3 seconds. Keselowski had closed on Logano and passed for the 2nd position.
Never in doubt, Chase Elliott cruised to his first NASCAR Cup Series Championship by a comfortable margin. Keselowski finished 2nd, Logano 3rd, and Hamlin in the 4th spot.
Results of The Season Finale 500 from Phoenix Raceway
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||—||312|
|2||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||2.740||312|
|3||22||Joey Logano (P)||4.847||312|
|4||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||8.659||312|
|10||19||Martin Truex Jr.||26.829||312|
|26||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-1||311|
|27||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-2||310|