Since 2014, four drivers each year have been pitted against a match race at the end of the season to decide who truly deserves the right to be crowned NASCAR Cup Series champion. Championship 4 has been around long enough that along the way it has developed a recurring cast of characters who should continue and perhaps even improve their stories of chasing and conquering championships – but this year the cast has been considerably upset.
There’s NASCAR’s most popular driver in Chase Elliott, back in Championship 4 for the third time after being the dominant driver in the 2022 season. And there’s also Joey Logano, who competes in Championship 4 every two years since 2014. But there are also two emerging stars few could have imagined would reach this point: Ross Chastain, whose breakout season hit a climax last week that instantly made him l one of the most notorious and famous racers on the planet, and Christopher Bell, who has gone from a budding young star to a rider the playoff format has never seen.
All four come into this weekend’s season finale and championship race in Phoenix with a story to tell, and all four shared that story during Thursday’s Championship 4 media day. Here’s a look at a major storyline that will emerge from the media day for each of the 4 Championship drivers.
Hail melon, full of grace
It’s been a long, long time since a move performed in a NASCAR race garnered the widespread attention and notoriety that is now bestowed upon Ross Chastain. By run flat against the wall and gaining five spots in a corner to make the Championship 4, Chastain went from a NASCAR star to a star heralded across the world.
Millions upon millions of people watched as the culmination of Chastain’s move — now dubbed the “Hail Melon” by NASCAR President Steve Phelps — caused a stir and landed at No. 1 in SportsCenter’s Top 10 . Formula 1 stars have hailed Chastain on social media, with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso calling Chastain’s decision “the best thing of 2022 in motor racing”. Hard diska satirical video game publication, wrote an article centering on the fact that Chastain’s movement originated while playing NASCAR 2005 with his brother on the Nintendo GameCube.
It’s an unusual position for Chastain, who not too long ago was an underrated underdog who was just beginning to gain notoriety for his superior performance in lesser gear and for being a watermelon farmer by trade. And as the biggest race of his entire career approached, Chastain confessed he had taken time to sample everything that came his way.
“For better or for worse, you have to turn it off. You have to turn it off at some point. It’s been turned off,” Chastain said. “But you can’t open social media without seeing it. It’s like, ‘Dang it, I just want to see what these guys are saying today,’ and I always see my stuff popping up, so… We’re just living at the moment, however.”
The COVID champion is no more?
No one can take away the fact that Chase Elliott won the 2020 Cup Series championship, but his first championship season is and always will be defined by the circumstances in which it took place. Elliott emerged as champion in a severely altered season that saw a two-month lockdown, a very condensed schedule dialed on the fly and few to no fans in the stands throughout the year.
Now, with the widespread panic over COVID and pandemic restrictions a thing of the past, Elliott has a shot at not just another championship, but one that takes place under normal circumstances – even if Elliott himself don’t think that way.
“At the end of the day, does it really matter? No. For me, not really,” Elliott said. “Was it unfortunate circumstances? Absolutely. Nobody wanted to be in that situation as we went through those times in 2020 and beyond. But I felt like we made the best of a difficult situation in which the world was at at the time, and we were able to go back and get back on track. I’m very proud of NASCAR for the effort we put in that year.
“I don’t think it’s all negative from that point of view. Certainly for us, it’s been a great year for us. You don’t want to let those things bring that down. It’s still a great accomplishment. I sincerely think that it’s just as significant in 2020 as it has been this week before.”
What made Christopher Bell’s second win of the playoffs in Martinsville better was the unusual outburst of emotion Bell showed after taking the checkered flag to make the championship 4. Bell, whose temper is often very even, hooted and howled and visibly choked while dedicating the victory to his mother and father.
Bell’s parents, who still live in Oklahoma as he pursues his racing career, were instrumental in Bell’s journey to the 4th Championship despite the tremendous adversity he faced. Speaking to reporters, Bell revealed that it was his parents who thought he could reach that playoff stage even after an accident in Las Vegas put Bell in a deep hole he couldn’t get out of. here the end of the day at Property.
“The emotions were that they believed in me after Vegas. They believed in me after Homestead when I didn’t believe in myself. I thought it was over,” Bell said. “They kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it.’ That’s where it stems from when I said, we did it.
“They believed in me to succeed when I didn’t think it would happen. Damn, we did it.”
Bell’s parents will both be at this weekend’s championship race in Phoenix, where Bell will have a huge trump card in his corner: Although this is Bell’s first-ever shot at the Cup championship, his chief of he Adam Stevens team has two Cup titles to their name. with Kyle Busch in 2015 and 2019.
Twice for driver 22
Chase Elliott isn’t the only Championship 4 driver to become a multiple-time Cup champion. Joey Logano is in position to win his second Cup title after initially prevailing as an underdog in 2018.
Of all the drivers in the title fight, Logano is the closest to building a full Hall of Fame resume. He has 30 career wins in 14 full seasons, and he has made the championship 4 a total of five times since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014. A second championship to accompany his triumph in 2018 would only bolster the case Logano is building for himself. as one of the greatest.
When asked if a second championship would validate his racing career, Logano shared that he hadn’t focused on the idea of his legacy when trying to win this Sunday.
“I mean, two is twice as good,” laughed Logano. “I don’t know. I mean, one is really nice. It’s nice to say you have more than nothing. I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it that deeply if I’m being honest with you. I could be living right under the hood right now when it comes to looking at legacies, what those things mean and all that.
“I’m still in the race, am I? I’m still going. I can’t say I can look back and say I’m not solidified as a Cup driver, Hall of Famer , with a championship. I don’t think it’s fair to say that either. There’s so much more behind it.
If there’s anything that exemplifies the point Logano has reached in his career, it’s the fact that the 32-year-old is the oldest driver in the 4 Championship – something that highlights his long run of racing. a teenage driving prodigy who was pushed into the Cup Series full-time at just 18 in 2009.
“It’s interesting because, like, I’m not much older than Ross,” Logano said. “Ross is only a year younger than me.”