Race for the Cup: Pull Those Belts Tight One More Time

Phoenix Raceway will host the 2020 NASCAR Championships for the Cup, Xfinity, Truck, and ARCA West Series Nov. 6-8.

Four champions, three days. As NASCAR heads to Daytona to start Speedweeks, there are plenty of headlines and we look ahead to the Desert Four Crown Championships.


A Championship in Phoenix

The Championship race for NASCAR has been housed at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2002. It was announced in March of 2019 that NASCAR moved the title race to the one-mile oval in Phoenix which received $178 million in modernization in 2018.

Admittedly, short track racing was subpar with the racing packing when it came to horsepower and aerodynamics last season, occasionally resulting in lackluster racing, including at Phoenix.

NASCAR would only visit Homestead for the title race. For the first time since 2001, NASCAR will visit the championship track earlier in the year with the FanShield 500 weekend at Phoenix from March 6-8. This gives teams a chance to preview the track with the new rules package before the championship. This makes the FanShield 500 a commodity never seen before for most of these teams, making the weekend one of the most important of the season to prepare for a possible championship later in the year.

One Last Ride

One of the greatest to ever hop in a stock car enters his final full season of NASCAR racing as seven-time Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson, will race one last season for Hendrick Motorsports in the Ally No. 48, Chevy Camaro. Johnson is tied with only Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for the most championships in Cup Series history.

Johnson has been in a dry spell, not collecting a win in the last two seasons after winning at least one race every season of his career. He looks to add at least one more win on his 83 career victories to tie Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth on the Cup Series all-time wins list.

The El Cajon, CA, native said he’s no longer concerned with “Chasing 8,” to pass Petty and Earnhardt. He’s looking to enjoy one last season with his friends, colleagues, and his wife and two daughters, hungry to take them to victory lane again. Johnson has four wins at Phoenix Raceway, most recently in 2009. 

The Legend of the Coach

If any constant carries over from 2019, it will be the dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing.

The former Washington Redskins head coach picked up his fifth championship as a NASCAR Cup Series owner as Kyle Busch claimed his second career title. Gibbs has already started 2020 with win, being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. JGR won 19 of the 36 races in 2019 with Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, and the 2019 Daytona 500 champ, Denny Hamlin. The 19 victories broke the record for most wins by a team in Cup Series history.

The Gibbs stable stays the same heading into 2020 and added farm system driver and prodigy, Christopher Bell, into their alliance team, Leavine Family Racing. They look to defend their Daytona 500 title on Sunday, Feb. 16.

The Arizona Field

The weekly field will host three drivers hailing from State 48. 

Tucson’s Alex Bowman made history at Chicagoland last June when he became the first Arizona native to win a NASCAR Cup Series race. That locked Bowman into the Playoffs for the second straight year. Bowman had a career year in his second full season at Hendrick Motorsports, driving the No. 88 Chevy Camaro, previously driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The former Ironwood Ridge High Nighthawk racked up 12 top-tens and seven top-fives, leading 200 laps during the season, all career highs.

Michael McDowell will once again drive the Love’s No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports. The 35-year-old had a career-high two top-fives for the underfunded FRM team, once in the Daytona 500 and in the Talladega Playoff race. The Glendale driver led 18 laps in 2019 and completed over 90% of the season’s laps. He also beat many Arizona media members and race fans in karting races. McDowell looks to build off a good season where he finished 27th in points.

For the first time since 2007, USAC Triple Crown Champion, J.J. Yeley will likely race a full-time Cup Series schedule. The 43-year-old veteran will be the full-time driver of the Rick Ware No. 54, the lead driver in a program looking to build a consistent NASCAR multi-car team. The Phoenix driver has seen limited action in the Cup Series since the 2007 season and last scored a top-ten finish in 2013.

The Youngsters

The Cup Series will see three fierce competitors enter the series with premiere teams. Formerly known as the Xfinity Series Big Three, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, and Christopher Bell, had fierce battles both on and off the track the past two seasons. The three would win 21 of the series’ 33 races in 2019, dominating the series all under the age of 25.

Reddick would have the final laughs in both seasons, winning the Xfinity Series titles in 2018 and 2019. The trio now heads to the Cup Series together for their rookie seasons with Reddick driving for Richard Childress Racing, Custer for Stewart-Haas Racing, and Bell for Leavine Family Racing, a Joe Gibbs Racing alliance team. 

That leaves the Xfinity championship open for any new youngster or spunky veteran to claim the title in 2020. The Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will see most of their championship contenders return to the series. After not winning a single race in 2019, 43-year-old, Matt Crafton, will look to defend his championship when the trucks head to Phoenix for the only time on Nov. 6.

A New Series Visits

Phoenix Raceway will not only crown NASCAR’s West Regional champion for the second year, but they’ll also bring in a national racing series for the first time.

The Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) was purchased by NASCAR in 2018 and has placed NASCAR’s East and West Regional series under the ARCA Menards Series banner. Not only will the ARCA West Series run their championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, but the ARCA National series will visit Phoenix for the first time on March 6.

ARCA created a Sioux Chief Showdown series, an all-star series brings together the ARCA National, West, and East series’, with the points series beginning in Phoenix. 

The NASCAR season gets underway on Sunday with The Busch Clash exhibition race on Feb. 9. Follow Sports360AZ throughout the season as we prepare for the NASCAR championships at Phoenix Raceway.