“In the Know”
The excitement is high as we head to Phoenix Raceway this weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series season finale. The Cup Series Championship will take place at 3pm ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. The four drivers in the Championship round are Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, and Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex of Joe Gibbs Racing.
The Xfinity Series will battle it out on Saturday at 8:30pm ET. Catch Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, Daniel Hemric and A.J. Allmendinger fighting for a title on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
This race marks the end of an era for the 15-inch tire. Goodyear has run 15-inch tires since the beginning of its involvement in NASCAR, which dates back to the late 1950s. The tire maker will switch to 18-inch with the debut of the Next Gen Cup car next year (the Xfinity and Truck Series will remain on 15-inch), starting a new page in the history books.
“For the Cup Series this weekend, someone will go down as the last driver to win a championship on a 15-inch tire,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Goodyear has done a lot of development on its 15-inch racing program over the last 60-plus years, including the move from bias ply to radials back in the late 1980s, and now we transition to 18-inch for the 2022 Cup season.”
NASCAR Cup Series Overview
● Event: NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale (Round 36 of 36)
● Time/Date: 3 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 7
● Location: Phoenix Raceway
● Layout: 1-mile oval
● Laps/Miles: 312 laps/312 miles (502 kilometers)
● Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 75 laps / Stage 2: 115 laps / Final Stage: 122 laps
● TV/Radio: NBC / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
NASCAR Xfinity Series Overview
● Event: NASCAR Xfinity Series Season Finale (Round 33 of 33)
● Date: Saturday, Nov. 6
● Location: Phoenix Raceway
● Layout: 1-mile oval
● Time/TV/Radio: 8:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
What Our Drivers are Saying:
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light #BuschPitBoss Stewart-Haas Racing
How would you assess this season?
“That’s a good question. For us as a group on the 4 car, I think we’ve worked through things pretty well. We’ve been in position to win two or three races, but one thing or another didn’t let that happen or didn’t make it happen, however you want to look at it. But I’ve had a lot worse seasons, I know that for sure. I’ve lived through a whole bunch that were way worse than this one. This one has been a bit of a struggle to get the finishes that we have, but in the end, I’ve raced like that for years in my career. You know, a lot of people that watch and cover the sport in this particular period forget about 20 years ago. It’s hard to explain to people some of the things that you’ve been through. I feel like my first press conference was the biggest one I’ll ever do, the first year was the most stressful I’ll ever have, 2002 was a horrendous year, and somehow we won a race that year playing the track-position game and put ourselves in the right spot. I’ve personally been through some pretty tough years and this one has just been a struggle because you had to work so hard to get everything you have. I think from a team standpoint, we’ve also learned a lot about the other side of the fence as far as having to dig your heels in and do things that you haven’t had to do. And whether you like it or not, that race is coming up next week and you’re going to have to participate, whether your car is slow or fast, and you’ve got to figure out how to make the most out of that. For us, I know we have 23 top-10s, and you look at the top-fives, they’re not where we want them to be. But when you look at the overall picture and the grind that we’ve been through this year, I think everybody’s done a good job and I think a lot of that comes from the maturity and the experience of this Busch Light team and being together so long.”
Aric Almirola, Driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What’s the most important thing to be successful at Phoenix?
“You have to have everything at Phoenix. You have to have downforce, grip in your car and good brakes. You have to make sure your car turns well through the center of turns one and two, which is a sharp, banked corner. And then you have turns three and four, which are really fast and sweeping and flat. You’ve got to have a car that’s versatile and is a good compromise for both corners. We had that at Loudon, where we won, and we had it last weekend at Martinsville. ”
Chase Briscoe, Driver of the No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’re one race away from checking Cup Series Rookie of the Year on your list of 2021 goals. Talk about how it feels to end the season with that kind of accomplishment.
“I wish there were more guys competing for it this year. It’s always fun when you can have another points battle to be a part of, but it’s still cool to be able to win it and, more so, to win it in all three series. That’s something I always wanted to do, so it’ll be nice to cap that off. It’s still a big accomplishment even though we were only competing against one other guy. He had just as many opportunities to win it. I wish we had more high points to our season, but it’s nice to have something to hang our hat on for the year. We’ll certainly go out to Phoenix and try to execute and come out with the best finish possible, but we know we’re coming out with some kind of success at the end of the year no matter how it goes. And to be on a list of only three guys that have won Rookie of the Year in the Truck, Xfinity and Cup Series is really cool. It’s humbling. I never thought I’d even get to win a Truck race, so now to be here with a chance to be rookie of the year in all three is very humbling.”
Cole Custer, Driver of the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You scored your first career Cup Series top-10 at Phoenix last year in what was then your seventh career start. How big of an accomplishment was that for you?
“It was a huge finish for us. It was a huge boost to have a really solid day and a fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend, and it really helped us continue to carry that all through the rest of the year. I think we got better most every single race in one way or another, so it was something that gave us the momentum to do that. We came back to Phoenix in November and didn’t get the finish we wanted, but we left there with the Rookie of the Year title, which obviously was special. It was definitely a rookie season with a lot of peaks and valleys, results-wise, and a really interesting season to be a rookie with no practice, no testing or qualifying, so it was a lot of just learning on the fly, but I think we all managed it very well. It’ll be good to get back there this weekend.”
Riley Herbst, Driver of the Xfinity No. 98 Monster Energy Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You scored a fourth-place finish thanks to a strong restart in the final laps the last time you raced at Phoenix. What’s the plan heading into Saturday’s race?
“Last time we were in Phoenix, we had an impressive finish and really started to show what this team could do if presented with an opportunity. We avoided the chaos at the end and brought home a top-five. Heading into this weekend, the ultimate goal is to win, but most of all, we want to finish out the season with another strong finish. This team has worked hard all season long. I know we can get it done.”
Kevin Harvick hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in his last 16 starts at Phoenix. The last time he finished outside the top-10 was March 3, 2013 when he finished 13th. Of Harvick’s nine NASCAR Cup Series victories at Phoenix, he won four straight between November 2013 and March 2015. The streak ended when Harvick finished second at Phoenix in November 2015, but when the series returned to the track in March 2016, Harvick won again. Harvick is the only driver to win four Cup Series races in a row at Phoenix. Johnson was next best with three straight wins between November 2007 and November 2008. Only five drivers have won consecutive Cup Series races at Phoenix, but Harvick is the only driver to win consecutive races twice, as he also swept both races in 2006. In 37 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Harvick has earned an average finish of 8.8, the best of any active Cup Series driver. Denny Hamlin is next best with an average finish of 10.8 over 32 Cup Series starts.
The 312-lap race around the desert mile oval will be Cole Custer’s 75th Cup Series start and his fourth at Phoenix. The 23-year-old from Ladera Ranch, California, scored his first nine career Cup Series top-10s in the March 2020 Phoenix race, which was just his seventh career Cup Series start, en route to earning Rookie of the Year honors. He followed up that ninth-place finish with another near-top-10 in this race a year ago, which was derailed by an unscheduled pit stop to replace a loose wheel during the final stage. He finished 28th. Last March at Phoenix, another top-10 bid was ruined when contact from behind in the closing laps sent Custer into the wall and relegated him to a 31st-place finish.
In Chase Briscoe’s first start at Phoenix in March of this year, and just his fifth in a Cup Series car, he started 26th and finished 22nd. Since then, the No. 14 team has earned three top-10s with a best finish of sixth earned twice – May 23 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and July 4 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. In the first 35 races this season, the HighPoint.com Ford Mustang finished inside the top-20 19 times. The 26-year-old driver from Mitchell, Indiana, has four career NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the Phoenix mile oval and each resulted in top-10 finishes. His best is sixth, scored twice – March 2019 and March 2020.
Phoenix is the track where Aric Almirola has arguably been most consistent in recent years. In his last eight starts there, he has earned four top-10 finishes – two of those being top-fours. He’s also led 33 laps at the mile oval.
When the Xfinity Series rolled into Phoenix back in March for its fifth race of 2021, Riley Herbst emerged with a solid fourth-place finish thanks to some savvy driving in the closing laps. Saturday’s race will be Herbst’s fifth career Xfinity Series start at Phoenix. In addition to the fourth-place result earned in March, he finished among the top-11 in two of his other three starts.
Of Special Interest
Be sure to check out our merch hauler at Phoenix Raceway this weekend! If you can’t attend in person, you can shop anytime at store.stewarthaasracing.com