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Kyle Larson, John Hunter Nemechek, Ben Rhodes will leave Phoenix as NASCAR champions Featured

Posted On Friday, 03 November 2023 02:46 Written by
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Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, speaks to the media during the NASCAR Championship Media Day at Phoenix Raceway on Thursday, November 2. Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, speaks to the media during the NASCAR Championship Media Day at Phoenix Raceway on Thursday, November 2. Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

As we often hear late in a race broadcast, the pay window is now open. And not just for one race, but for the whole shebang.

It’s that time of year where it’s all on the line, and the sport will crown its champions out in Phoenix before heading off into the sunset until February. Whether you like the format or not, we have four drivers who have risen above the rest and have their shot at glory out in the Soronan desert.

Here’s my take on how things will shake out this weekend, as these gladiators take to their chariots for the final time in 2023.

Cup Series: Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson — one of the most talented drivers in auto racing as a whole right now when you factor in his open-wheel domination and his upcoming Indy adventure — is going for his second title in the Cup series.

Everyone else in the running — William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell — is going for their first title at the Cup level.

Many people are saying Blaney is the favorite, based partly on the momentum he has from his win at Martinsville and the awesome overall showing he had in the Round of 8. And while that’s very much a possibility, I still think Larson is the guy to beat.

The winner of the race at Phoenix will likely come from the group of four competing for the title. And looking at past Phoenix results, Blaney has a slight edge on Larson in average finish (9.3 compared to 9.8), but Larson led 201 laps in the spring event this year.

Bell and Byron could serve as spoilers, but they are traditionally less consistent at Phoenix, and I don’t see either one taking home the title in 2023.

Unless calamity strikes and Larson gets caught up in drama during one of those 8-wide messy restarts at Phoenix, I see him hoisting a second championship trophy this Sunday.

Larson was very diplomatic leading up the race, praising all of his competitors and the overall strength of the final four drivers.

“I think you can make a case for all of us on why each of us could or should be the champion. I mean, obviously you look at, like, recent speed and stuff, Blaney probably to me stands out to be the best. If I was setting odds, I would put him as the favorite potentially. Again, not by much,” Larson said on Thursday in Phoenix. “I think we're all four pretty equal. It should be a really good race. I think whoever wins on Sunday is a very deserving champion.”

True indeed. it’s hard to argue with that last sentence.

Xfinity series: John Hunter Nemechek

After Richard Childress Racing’s teammates Austin Hill and Sheldon Creed gifted the win at Martinsville last week to Justin Allgaier with their petty squabbling — knocking themselves out of the final four in the process — we are left with a pretty dynamic final four that should be competing up front all day on Saturday.


Sam Mayer and Justin Allgaier represent for JR Motorsports and Chevy, Cole Custer represents Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford, and John Hunter Nemechek represents Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.

All four have had standout years, but the absolute favorite has to be Nemechek. With seven wins on the season, he has three more victories than anyone else in the Xfinity garage. And his average finish at Phoenix is 5.7, well ahead of the 12.0 average of Custer and Allgaier, and the 20.0 rank of Mayer.

“I’m confident in this 20 team. I’m confident in myself as a driver. We just have to go execute like we have all year,” Nemechek said on Thursday. “Can’t change anything now. We’re going to go do what we know how to do and that’s race and compete. We have fun doing it – that’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re in this position.”

Just as Ty Gibbs did last year, JHN should bring home a big piece of hardware for Coach Gibbs this Saturday, before moving onto the Legacy Motor Club ride in Cup in 2024.

Truck Series: Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes is perhaps best remembered for doing the most fun post-race interview in history after his 2021 Truck championship, and he’s hoping for a chance to repeat that celebration late Friday night in Phoenix.

He’s got a great shot at it, too, considering he’s the only past champion, and has by far a better average finish at Phoenix vs. his rivals Grant Enfinger, Corey Heim and Carson Hocevar.

What I’ve liked seeing this year is how Rhodes continues to mature. He’s only 26 years old, but he’s incredibly consistent and could be locking down a second Truck title, en route to perhaps a much brighter future in the sport.

“I’m having the time of my life doing this stuff, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Respect or not, I’m having a great time, and I really don’t care what they think of me. I’m just here to have fun and bring a championship back to my team, because I love it, they love it and the culture’s awesome,” Rhodes said Thursday.

While his stats for the year overall may fall short of the other three, especially Heim, I believe Rhodes’ experience under pressure will pull him through to title No. 2.

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Follow AutoTechReviews on Instagram at @autotechreviews, and on Twitter @AutoTechReview. Follow Matt Myftiu on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

 

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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