Roger Diez: Final 4 for the NASCAR Cup championship

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Martinsville was exciting as usual for both the Xfinity and NASCAR Cup series. Ty Gibbs won the Xfinity race in the third overtime with a questionable move that took out teammate Brandon Jones and earned a chorus of boos, rightfully so in my opinion. Any other major sanctioning body would have stripped Gibbs of the win, but not NASCAR, the WWE of motorsports. There are rumors that Gibbs may yet receive a penalty from Grandpa Joe.

The Cup race was proceeding as usual until the last lap, when it turned into a cartoon. Ross Chastain, below the cut line on the back straight, didn’t brake for turn three. Instead he grabbed fifth gear and mashed the throttle, using the outside wall to hold the car from spinning out. He passed four cars including Denny Hamlin by the time he got to the finish line, bumping Hamlin from the championship round.

Chastain’s lap time on the last lap was 18.845 seconds, over 100 mph on the half-mile track. For comparison, Kyle Larson’s pole time for the race was 19.709 and Joey Logano’s outright fastest lap in 2014 was 18.898 seconds. The move distracted from Christopher Bell’s second clutch win the round’s final race, matching his miracle at the Roval.


So four drivers who will race for the 2022 championship at Phoenix on Sunday are Bell, Chastain, Logano, and Chase Elliott. The Xfinity final four are Gibbs and three JR Motorsports drivers: Noah Gragson, Josh Berry, and Justin Allgaier. Only two of the Cup contenders have won at Phoenix, Elliott and Logano.

The last three Phoenix winners are not in contention, nor is eight-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick. Chances are good that someone other than the four championship players could win the race, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the first of those four across the finish line is the champion.

History tells us that the champion has always won the final race since the playoff format began. And the oddsmakers are going with that, picking Elliott as the favorite at 5-2, Bell at 7-2, and Logano and Chastain both at 4-1. Larson is the highest-ranked non-contender at 14-1, Hamlin is 16-1, and Harvick and Ryan Blaney share 18-1 odds. My personal dark horse pick is A.J. Allmendinger at 250-1.

Cup qualifying airs at noon Saturday followed by The Xfinity race at 3 p.m., both on USA. NBC will broadcast the NASCAR Cup championship race at noon.


The Formula 1 Mexican Grand Prix was business as usual for Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Verstappen took pole position on Saturday and won the race on Sunday. But the Mercedes team continued to show its newfound strength with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton first and second in Saturday’s practice session and second and third in qualifying.

Verstappen started the race on the soft tire compound with a probable two-stop strategy while Mercedes started on medium tires, looking for a one-stopper. As it turned out, Mercedes’ choice of the hard tire on their stop proved to be the wrong one as Verstappen switched to mediums and made them last the rest of the race. Hamilton led after pit stops, but Verstappen ran him down and pulled away to a 15-second margin of victory.

Still, it was a good day for Mercedes, with Hamilton second and Russell fourth, split by Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez third in his home race. But it was an even better day for Verstappen, as he set the all-time record for wins in a season at 14, with two races to go. Next up is the Grande Premio de Sao Paulo in Brazil on Nov. 13.


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