The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series champion will be …

Kyle Larson

A look back at history can offer a look into what is likely happen in an upcoming event. When it comes to this weekend’s ‘Cup Series Championship’ at the Phoenix Raceway, everyone has an opinion regarding which of the ‘Championship 4’ will come out on top and be crowned at the end of the day on Sunday.

After the checkered flag waves over the one-mile facility located in the dessert of Arizona, the NASCAR Cup Series champion will be known. But a look at recent statistics can offer a clue as to who will be hoisting the trophy.

2021 NASCAR champion Kyle Larson will be joined in the Phoenix fight by Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney and William Byron.

Of those drivers, Larson earned his way into the foursome with a win in Las Vegas while Bell was victorious at Homestead-Miami and Blaney took the checkered flag ahead of the pack at Martinsville. Byron advanced due to the fact that he had more points than the remaining competitors.

Larson is the only former champion among the Championship 4 having won the crown two years ago with a Phoenix triumph. Winning the first of the three events in the ‘Round of 8’ has proven in the past to provide an advantage and that is the position the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team finds itself in as the race approaches.

With the exception of a 34th place finish in the spring race of 2022, Larson has been solid at Phoenix during his career. He scored that one victory mentioned earlier along with seven top-fives and 11 top-ten finishes.

Larson has led 382 laps at Phoenix on his way to an average finish of 11.7. He was 4th in the race held here earlier this season.

Of the four drivers involved, Bell has the least impressive track record at Phoenix. He has never scored a top-five but has amassed four top-tens there during his career. His average finish of 14.4 is the worst of the four and he has never led a lap on the uniquely shaped track.

The pilot of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 finished 6th at Phoenix this past spring.

Although Blaney has never won at Phoenix, his statistics are nonetheless impressive. The Team Penske No. 12 driver has scored six top-five and ten top-tens in Arizona. Of the four contenders, he has the highest total of laps led with 429.

Blaney finished 2nd here in the spring and he has an average overall finish on this track of 11.9 over his career.

It could be argued that Byron has been the most impressive driver over the course of the 2023 season amassing a career-high total of six victories including one in the most recent event held at Phoenix back in March. That victory accounted for his only top-5 at the one-mile facility but he has accounted for six top-ten results here.

The Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 with Byron behind the wheel has paced the field at Phoenix for a total of 91 circuits. The youngest driver among the four has an average finish of 11.9.

Can Kyle Larson and his crew once again rise to the occasion in Phoenix?

With all of those statistics taken into account, there is one other factor to be considered. Like many other NASCAR races, getting off pit road first after the final pit stop of the day often provides the final ingredient in the winning formula. And that’s what gave Larson his championship in 2021.

Because he is the only driver with a NASCAR Cup Series championship to his credit, he is a proven winner in this race, his crew has had two weeks to focus on the car he will drive, and because he has a pit crew that seems to always rise to the occasion in big moments, I am picking Kyle Larson to be the 2023 champion.

I have said in previous pieces posted on this site that I was predicting Bell to win and that Larson has been too inconsistent throughout the year. But his inconsistency doesn’t matter now that he is in the Championship 4 and that past experience will pay off. That’s what has led me to change my prediction.

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