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USA Insider Race for the Championship

Who’s In the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 Race?

Here’s a look at the quartet of drivers who’ll compete for the title in Phoenix.   

By Andrew Woodin
Split of Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, and Christopher Bell

Despite Denny Hamlin’s best efforts throughout the playoffs, and regular season winner Martin Truex Jr. fighting through mechanical misfires and personal trauma off the track, it was Ryan Blaney who found the right gear over the weekend to power him to his Martinsville victory and into the first Championship 4 race of his career. Though he didn’t need to score a win at the Xfinity 500, Blaney torched the competition down the stretch, leading the final 23 laps and 145 overall on the 0.526-mile oval to seal his fate as a 2023 championship contender.

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Here’s a look at who’ll be fighting for a NASCAR Cup Series title in Phoenix.

Kyle Larson

No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro – Hendrick Motorsports

Kyle Larson celebrating after a win

Arguably the best driver in NASCAR’s top flight and the only former Cup Series champ on the list, Kyle Larson has been a man on the mission since day one of the season as he attempts to score his second title in three years. In addition to mounting four wins on the year and 14 top-five finishes, Larson jumped behind the wheel of seemingly whatever he found to have four wheels and engine, dominating the inaugural High Limit Sprint Car Series championship – a series he co-owns with Brad Sweet – and he undertook his first laps in an IndyCar as he prepares to tackle the historic “Double” next year – running the Indy 500 in the morning the NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 that evening.

RELATED: One Year Later, Ross Chastain Reminisces about Infamous Wall Maneuver at Martinsville

“What a job done by my team,” Larson stated after his playoff win in Las Vegas. “Just a great race car. I almost gave it away there in turns 1 and 2. … I was happy to pull away as much as we did and was hoping that would be enough to maintain, which it was. But I didn’t think they’d be able to get as close as they did at the end. So nerve-wracking.”

“This is really cool to get to race for the championship in a few weeks, and really glad I don’t have to stress these next two races,” Larson added.

Christopher Bell

No. 20 Toyota Camry – Joe Gibbs Racing

Christopher Bell waves to fans as he walks onstage during driver intros

The second championship entry from HMS is Christopher Bell. Returning to the championship race in Phoenix for a second consecutive year, Bell’s hoping to turn up the heat in Arizona this weekend when he competes for a title and with good reason. Aside from stumbling in Talladega and the Charlotte Roval where he finished 14th and 15th respectively, the 28-year-old North Carolinian has been on a heater throughout the postseason. In the last eight playoff races, Bell has notched six top-10 finishes, including four top-five results and one big, juicy cherry on top: a victory at Homestead-Miami that gave him an automatic bid to Arizona.

RELATED: Ryan Blaney Says "Hack" Dig at Denny Hamlin Was Half Joking

“I’ve got the best team behind me,” Bell gushed to NBC Sports after his win at Homestead-Miami. “Honestly, I don’t know, man. That race was a whirlwind. I was ready to throw the towel in there in the second stage. I got frustrated on the radio. Adam [Stevens, crew chief] kept after it. …The guys back at the shop were working over the adjustments and gave me what I needed. Whenever we got some clean air, this thing was really good.”

Ryan Blaney

No. 12 Ford Mustang – Team Penske

Ryan Blaney putting on his helmet

Making it to NASCAR’s semifinal round for the fifth time, Blaney has been a quiet beacon of consistency throughout the year, scoring three wins and 17 top-10 finishes. Sure, there have been some bumps in the road with his three DNFs, and his incident with Denny Hamlin at Homestead-Miami left a bad taste in his mouth, but Blaney fought back and showed that his level of resiliency should allow him to go toe-to-toe with any of the competitive drivers in NASCAR’s most elite circuit. Now, his entry into the final race for all the marbles presents Roger Penske with a chance to score back-to-back titles after Joey Logano won the title last year.

“All you want is a shot at a championship,” revealed Blaney after Martinsville, according to the Associated Press. “You get your shot when the playoffs start, if you make ’em, OK, you have a shot. But then your real shot is if you get to Phoenix, right? It’s just nice to have an opportunity to actually race for a championship.”

“I don’t think you can ever count anybody else out, any team out,” Blaney continued. “It’s about peaking at the right time. Our group is doing that.”

William Byron

No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro – Hendrick Motorsports

William Byron smiles while at a race

The fourth and final contender set for Phoenix is William Byron, who last won there in the spring. While he doesn’t have the name recognition of some of his fellow contenders, baby-faced “Willy B” is quickly proving himself as a force to be reckoned with on the track. Despite owning the record for the most wins on the season with six, Byron hobbled into the Championship 4 after a disappointing 13th-place finish at Martinsville. Still, after earning bonus points throughout the season, he had enough wiggle room to stave off Hamlin’s threatening advances.

In Byron’s defense of his poor performance in Martinsville, after exiting his car at the end of the Xfinity 500 and immediately taking water and cold towels, he revealed that his helmet fan had malfunctioned and stopped working during the race.

RELATED: NASCAR's Kyle Larson Breaks Down His Sandy Slip-Up at Homestead-Miami

"We worked really hard and obviously it was the worst car we've had this year," stated an overheated Byron, according to FOX Sports. "We just dug really deep, and we just worked as hard as we could. I'm just really proud of our team and what we're able to accomplish."

In the end, NASCAR is a brotherhood of talented wheelmen, so what better way to march into the Championship race in Phoenix than alongside some “family.”

"I was really happy for him [Blaney] — brother-in-law," joked Byron, who’s currently dating Blaney’s sister, Erin. "He was really fast. But, man, we just had to hang on."

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship cruises into Phoenix Raceway Sunday, November 5, and you can catch all the high-octane action on NBC and Peacock, starting at 3 pm ET.