This is it. No more messing around. Twelve drivers. Three champions. Nine losers.
Every fan and every NASCAR Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series team has waited for this weekend to come since February. We’ve seen the good, bad, ugly and everything in between happen from then until now. Some drivers have met our expectations by making the Championship Four. Others rose from the ashes when they needed to and became dark horse drivers in their respective championship fights.
While fans will be making their projections for who wins the race and the championship, here’s a few other predictions for the final race weekend of the year.
1. Each Champion Will Win the Race
This ongoing trend began in 2014 with Kevin Harvick’s maiden championship win in the Cup Series. And it has repeated every year since then with Kyle Busch (2015, 2019), Jimmie Johnson (2016), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Joey Logano (2018) and Chase Elliott (2020) all winning the championship race and the title.
In Xfinity Series playoff history, Daniel Suarez (2016), Tyler Reddick (2018-19), and Austin Cindric (2020) are the only three drivers to win both the season finale and the championship. Brett Moffitt (2018) and Sheldon Creed (2020) are the only two drivers to do the same in Trucks.
With winning the race being the sure way to win the title, this is why I believe this year will be no different. Although the rest of the field wants to get one more win before the year closes out, they’ll have to do something extraordinary to break that trend.
2. The Xfinity Series Will Be the Best Race
If you want to see a title finale that will leave you hanging on the edge of your seat this weekend, the Xfinity Series is your best bet.
Have any doubts on that? The numbers from last year’s Phoenix finale show it. That race had a whopping 16 lead changes between seven drivers, eight cautions and a memorable overtime finish with Cindric getting the job done.
As for the Truck and Cup series finale events, the numbers just aren’t close to what the Xfinity finale had. The Truck finale did have an overtime finish but only had two yellows for single-truck incidents aside from the stage breaks. The Cup finale had the two stage breaks, one debris yellow, one single-car incident yellow and ended on a 112-lap green flag run. It did have 19 lead changes but most of them occurred during green flag pit stops.
With that being said, look for Xfinity to put on another exciting show in the Arizona desert. AJ Allmendinger, Cindric, Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson have all traded serious paint with each other this year. They’ll have one more chance to do it this coming Saturday, Nov. 6.
3. At Least One Title Contender Will Crash
The pressure will never be higher when the final laps tick away at Phoenix. Should a late-race restart unfold, someone is bound to make a mistake and sweep up a playoff contender in the process.
With the joy of victory comes the agony of defeat. And the defeats are the most painful when you don’t even see the checkered flag at the end of it all. Some memorable championship-ending crashes include Davey Allison in the 1992 Hooters 500, Johnson in the 2005 Ford 400 and Carl Edwards in the 2016 Ford 400 (his last ever start).
Even though last year’s finales only saw one playoff contender involved in an incident (Chase Briscoe, Xfinity), this year is a new animal. The playoffs deliver exactly what it’s intended to create: drama and excitement. If Cindric and Allmendinger wrecked across the line for the regular season championship, how much will you bet that they do the same for the big trophy?
4. At Least One Title Contender Will Have Issues on Pit Road
It’s tough to miss out on a championship due to an on-track miscue. But it’s just as bad to have a championship slip through your fingers at the hands of your pit crew.
Time and time again, we have seen drivers or pit crews make costly mistakes in the pits with a title on the line. Logano’s team stumbled on their final pit stop in 2014. Cole Custer’s crew chief kept him on the track for much longer than he should’ve in 2018, allowing Reddick to zoom on by. Christopher Bell missed the entrance to pit road under green in 2019. Don’t forget about the mega-sized piece of tape that Denny Hamlin’s crew put on his front grille in 2019 that led to him overheating. And last year, Brad Keselowski lost several seconds to Elliott in the pits.
The pit crews will have just as important of a battle as the drivers do. NASCAR is a team sport. If one falls, everyone falls. It’ll be interesting to see whose pit crew performs the best at the best time and whose will fold under the pressure and let their entire season fall away.
5. Some Tempers Will Flare
With the earlier prediction of a crash involving one or more playoff contenders, it makes sense to say that we may also see their emotions may get the best of them afterward. Last weekend’s action at Martinsville Speedway is a prime example of that.
Keselowski, Elliott, Hamlin and Alex Bowman got people talking with controversial contact they all had late in the going of the Cup race. In the Truck Series’ crash-filled event, there were plenty of negative emotions and animosity from John Hunter Nemechek, Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen, Todd Gilliland and more. That kind of thing is typical for a place like Martinsville. But it’s going to be a whole new level of intensity if it were to happen in the championship race. Remember how mad Elliott Sadler was when Ryan Preece raced him hard in 2017 and cost him the Xfinity title?
Altercations or brawls don’t often happen during championship weekend. But it’s always safe to expect the unexpected. All it takes is one wrong move for bad blood to brew again. Should we see two or more drivers trade blows on or off the track, we will possibly behold a second reincarnation of the ending to the 1979 Daytona 500.