It is time. For nine and a half long and grueling months, it has all come down to this. 35 weeks of the season have all led up to this. One race, four drivers, one Champion. The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship Four is quite possibly the most competitive Championship Four in the Playoffs era. Each of the four drivers has tremendous talent in their own right. This will be a tremendous fight for the Championship, no matter who wins the title. Who will walk out of Phoenix on Sunday evening with the Bill France Cup? Let’s analyze the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship Four.
#5 Kyle Larson:
After his 2021 Cup Series Championship win, Kyle Larson and the #5 Hendrick Motorsports team expected themselves to be dominant in 2022. 2022 was quite the opposite of 2021 for Larson with a ton of bad luck throughout the season. Larson was eliminated in the Round of 12 in the Playoffs last season. Now, Larson has a chance to become a multi-time Cup Series champion. With wins early in the season at Richmond and Martinsville, it looked like Larson was going to be dominant throughout the Summer. That was not the case. After his win at Martinsville in April, his luck went downhill very fast. In the 10 races after Martinsville in April, Larson DNF’d in five of those races. Once the Playoffs began, his luck was on the upward trend. Larson began the Playoffs with a bang with a win in the Southern 500 at Darlington.
Three weeks ago, he clinched his Championship Four spot with a win in Las Vegas. In the Spring, Larson led over 200 laps at Phoenix but came up short of the win. Despite his eight DNF’s throughout the season, Larson has been very fast almost every week. He is the first driver in the history of the Next-Gen car to lead over 1000 laps in a single season. If Larson can win this Championship, he will become one of only three active multi-time Champions in the Cup Series. No matter what, it will be a difficult task for the other Championship Four drivers to overcome Larson this coming Sunday.
#12 Ryan Blaney:
Coming into 2023, Ryan Blaney was riding the longest winless streak of his Cup Series career. He broke that winless streak with a win at the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, in late May. Blaney was extremely fast throughout the first portions of the season, but after his win in Charlotte, he kind of fell off a cliff. It was a tough Summer for Blaney registering no Top-5 finishes and no wins. But he and his team have come alive in the last month and a half of the season. With a poor result at Texas to begin the Round of 12, Blaney was in danger of not making the Round of Eight. A win at Talladega got rid of all those worries for Blaney as he was locked into the Round of Eight.
Last week, Blaney won his way into the Championship Four in dominating fashion at Martinsville. So, what does Blaney have over the other Championship Four drivers when heading into Phoenix? Momentum. He has momentum on his side and knows that he has been fast at Phoenix the last two times the Cup Series went there. Both times, Blaney finished second and should have won the Fall race last season. If Blaney were to win the Championship on Sunday, it would be thanks to the momentum he and his team have built over the last two months.
#20 Christopher Bell:
Last season, Christopher Bell made the Championship Four after a walk-off win at Martinsville, in a must-win situation. Unfortunately, Bell came up short of claiming the title on a late race pit stop after one of his Tire Changer’s fingers got caught in the tire itself. After that disappointing loss, Bell and Joe Gibbs Racing held their head high for 2023. Even with his win at Bristol in April, it was a slow start to the season for Bell. Bell registered three DNF’s in the first 12 races of the season. The good news about that is that Bell hasn’t registered a DNF since Kansas in May. With his win at Homestead two weeks ago, Bell clinched himself a Championship Four spot. No matter what, Bell won’t go down in the Championship battle without a fight.
#24 William Byron:
Last season, William Byron had a career year. With his two wins at Atlanta and Martinsville, he established himself as the Championship favorite. Although he did have a career year last year, he came up short of the Championship. Byron was eliminated in the Round of Eight of the 2022 Playoffs, failing to bring home a Championship for Hendrick Motorsports. After that, Byron committed himself to have a better 2023 than his 2022 season. And that’s exactly what he has done so far. Throughout the season, William Byron has been extremely fast. Byron made it obvious very quickly that he was going to be a contender for the Championship early in the season. With back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix, it was obvious he was going to be fast in every race. After his third win of the season, Darlington, Byron established himself as the Championship favorite.
Currently, Byron leads the Cup Series with six wins in 2023. Throughout the Playoffs, Byron has not finished outside the Top-15. His lowest finish in the Playoffs so far, is 15th at Kansas, almost two months ago. The one thing that Byron has above the other Championship Four drivers heading into Phoenix, is that he won at Phoenix in the Spring. The last time that the Hendrick Motorsports #24 won a Championship was 22 years ago with Jeff Gordon. If Byron can win this Championship in Phoenix, it’ll be bittersweet for not only himself but for Hendrick Motorsports.
Who can win the Championship?
Much like the Xfinity Series Championship Four, this is a tough decision to make because of how equal each driver is. Larson is arguably the most talented driver in the Cup Series field today with what he does within the Cup Series and out of the Cup Series. Blaney is riding momentum with how good he and his team have been the last two months. Bell has had speed after a tough summer. Byron has been the best all season long. There is a case for each Championship Four driver to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. So, who has the best chance of hoisting the Bill France Cup on Sunday evening in Phoenix? That would be Kyle Larson.
As previously said, Larson has recorded eight DNF’s on the season so far. But he has also been very fast throughout the season while putting up consistent finishes throughout the season. In the 2021 Championship Race, Larson was the final Championship Four driver with 30 laps to go. A caution came out late and changed everything. His pit crew got him off of pit road first and scored the Cup in Phoenix. There’s a case for each of the Championship Four drivers, but don’t be shocked if Kyle Larson becomes a two-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion on Sunday.
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