Podium Preview: Season Finale 500 at Phoenix

For one last time, Jimmie Johnson wheels the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro. (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

For one last time, Jimmie Johnson wheels the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro. (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

It has come down to this. Oh, if we only had Don LaFontaine or Smosh narrating this first paragraph for our Season Finale 500 at Phoenix preview.

Truly, after 35 races in a competitive, unpredictable NASCAR Cup Series season, we’ve arrived at the moment that’s as anticipated as the Daytona 500. Indeed, today’s Season Finale 500 marks the end of Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer’s full-time NASCAR Cup Series efforts. However, it’s a celebration of their fantastic careers and for the likes of Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin, the possibility of crowning a first-time NASCAR Cup Series champion,

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists, consisting of columnists, photographers, and fans, preview the racing action. This weekend, Ashley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMatteo MarcheschiMichelle Raynor, Terra Jones, and yours truly discuss our Championship 4 favorites and our favorite memories of Jimmie Johnson.

Podium Preview: Season Finale 500 at Phoenix
Question 1
Could Joey Logano bring his second NASCAR Cup Series title home in 2020? (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

Could Joey Logano bring his second NASCAR Cup Series title home in 2020? (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

This year’s Championship 4 features Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin. Which of these four stands the best chance at winning the Cup on Sunday at Phoenix? And why? Defend your answer!

Sisoler :  You sure I can’t pick Kevin Harvick? OK, but I’m thinking another Ford will carry its driver to championship glory on Sunday, and that will be the No. 22 of Joey Logano. He’s got the talent, the car, and the team on and off pit road to help him to his second championship.

Jones :  Joey Logano and the No. 22 team have had weeks to prepare after winning at Kansas – weeks to prepare mentally, weeks to prepare the car. Time is so very valuable. However, this way the current Playoff system runs, he doesn’t have to win, but he needs to have zero mistakes.

The bonus? He’s won there a few times, even as recently as this past Spring. I expect with the calm demeanor of Paul Wolfe atop the pit box, TJ Majors as his eye in the sky, the stellar pit crew tweaking all night, and the talented and focused driver that Joey is behind the wheel, we’ll see that Championship trophy sitting in the Team Penske shop after next weekend. 

Tiongson :  Joey Logano is having a Jimmie Johnson-like season, well if we want to reflect on the latter’s 2016 efforts. A hot start was slowed and impeded by a summer swoon before victories and consistency were rediscovered when it truly mattered.

Logano has expressed confidence with his No. 22 team’s 750 horsepower, low downforce package since Richmond. Needless to say, that confidence is not unfounded but rather supported by the strong finishes during the postseason at short tracks. Yes, Phoenix isn’t a short track. But it’s certainly not your average intermediate venue. Getting back on track, I have to give the nod to Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe to bring the Cup to Team Penske’s campus from Phoenix.

Marcheschi :  I’m going to stick with my championship pick I made at the beginning of the playoffs: Brad Keselowski will take the championship Sunday at Phoenix. Keselowski has never won at Phoenix. But three of his four wins this season have been at tracks shorter than a mile, using the 750 horsepower package. Keselowski has a knack for performing when it matters. And he will break through to grab his second career NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Torres :  What Joey Logano has than anyone out of that quartet is momentum. Not because he was the first one to punch his ticket in the Championship 4 at Kansas, but his entire race team seems more prepared for the 312-lap war zone. It helps that Logano last won at Phoenix in March, but compared to the rest of the competition, he has the complete package. 

Brad Keselowski is consistent, but not a real threat when it matters most. Denny Hamlin’s performance has waned while Chase Elliott’s crew are real sketchy. And while he won at Martinsville, I’m not confident with their crew to give Elliott the crown like I am with Logano. 

You cannot make any mistake in the title race and Logano is the least prone to it in recent races. That’s why I see him capturing his second Cup title in three years.

Question 2
By all means, Jimmie Johnson's legacy will echo beyond his 20 years of excellence. (Could Joey Logano bring his second NASCAR Cup Series title home in 2020? (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

By all means, Jimmie Johnson’s legacy will echo beyond his 20 years of excellence. (Could Joey Logano bring his second NASCAR Cup Series title home in 2020? (Photo Credit: Landen Ciardullo/TPF)

Sunday marks the final full-time Cup start for Jimmie Johnson. What is your favorite memory of Johnson and how much do you foresee the sport missing his presence once the checkered flag waves at Phoenix?

Raynor : He will be one of the greatest drivers in the history of NASCAR. Very underrated for sure. I’ll miss his laid back attitude and his poise he’s brought to the sport. He was always so generous and humbled.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with him and talking with him. And he was so attentive and kind and really cares what you have to say and has shown respect to his teammates and fellow competitors. I hope we see him around the sport in the years to come. 

Hobbs :  For starters, we are losing the best driver of the modern era with Jimmie Johnson. He has been one of the best ambassadors for the sport. His calm presence on and off the track will certainly be missed. While some may call him “vanilla.” there is nothing plain about our seven-time NASCAR champion! If you do not think we will be missing Johnson, you are mistaken.

Naming a favorite memory is difficult as Johnson has a hall of fame career to choose from. But, I would be crazy not to say winning his fifth championship in a row certainly sticks out for me.

That was history and I doubt we will ever see that kind of dominance again; not just in NASCAR, but in any sport. He leaves NASCAR with a huge legacy and while he may not be around full time, I hope we see him occasionally, and his presence remains with the sport forever.

Thank you Jimmie Johnson for giving all of us a fantastic ride through your career. I am excited to follow your journey to IndyCar and beyond.

Lambeth :  My favorite memory of Jimmie Johnson certainly has to be the year he claimed his seventh Cup title. He joined an exclusive club, consisting of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. At the end of the day, he will be remembered as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers in history. Although the final years of his full-time Cup career might be considered a disappointment, Johnson should still smile because it does not take away any of his major accomplishments. 

The sport will miss him dearly. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see who takes his place as the “voice in the garage.” Johnson has displayed tremendous leadership and many respect him. When he comes to the checkered flag to complete his final race as a full-time Cup driver, he deserves a huge round of applause and should take a bow. What a career!

Shoppe : The sport will greatly miss this era’s greatest driver! Jimmie Johnson has been the most prolific winner for the first two decades of NASCAR in the 2000’s. With this success, Johnson has been placed in the position of the sport’s ambassador whether he wanted that pressure or not. With this exposure, Johnson has been one of the most kind, down to earth, and fan-friendly drivers to ever be the face of the sport. 

My favorite memory of Jimmie Johnson was witnessing him win his seventh cup title, definitely setting himself apart from those he’s competed against and firmly placing himself as one of the all-time greatest drivers! 

Suffice to say, the entire TPF team wishes Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer the very best with their next endeavors and also, thank you! Next, here’s how we all fared last Sunday night for Round 35 at Martinsville!
Double M chose quite wisely.

Double M chose quite wisely.

However, the machine wins the title.

However, the machine wins the title.

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers in a way that might make Steve Konacki of MSNBC ponder about watching today’s Season Finale 500 at Phoenix!
First, here's how your favorite team fares in the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix.

First, here’s how your favorite team fares in the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix.

Interestingly, Chevrolet gets the nod for this race.

Interestingly, Chevrolet gets the nod for this race.

Since 2004, the Season Finale 500 race winner has an average starting spot of 6.6, led an average of 112.6 laps, started within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 81.25 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the Season Finale 500 race winner has an average starting spot of 6.6, led an average of 112.6 laps, started within the top-five 50 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 81.25 percent of the time.

Notably, Logano loves Phoenix.

Notably, Logano loves Phoenix.

Next, here's the trends at Phoenix's fall race since 2010.

Next, here’s the trends at Phoenix’s fall race since 2010.

Now, here's the trends in the Season Finale 500 since 2015.

Now, here’s the trends in the Season Finale 500 since 2015.

Would the machine go any other way?

Would the machine go any other way?

Not by much, Logano seems like the clear favorite at Phoenix.

Not by much, Logano seems like the clear favorite at Phoenix.

Although the championship’s decided, we are all going for one thing – the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix win! Here’s our picks for the final race of 2020.
By all means, this looks like a Championship 4 in the future.

By all means, this looks like a Championship 4 in the future.

Tiongson :  Yes, he’s felt like a lot of us journalists doubted. However, I did not, which I made known during last Sunday’s post-race presser to this driver. Needless to say, I not only think Joey Logano wins at Phoenix, but he will win his second Cup title on Sunday!

Jones :  Chase Elliott will ride the momentum from his Martinsville win into Victory Lane at Phoenix, securing the 2020 Championship.

Shoppe :  While I have used up my Championship 4 picks, Alex Bowman is more than simply just the best I can do. The “showman” put himself on the map leading laps in 2016 subbing for Dale Jr here and has been one of the hottest drivers to close out this year!

Raynor :  I’m going with Kevin Harvick. He’s so good at this track and last year won this race.

Torres :  Since I’ve already gone with Joey Logano in these playoffs, it leaves to the one guy I’ve purposely left for the finale. That guy being Kevin Harvick. Unfortunately, it won’t be for a second Cup title.

But, I’m still confident he can become the first man since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win 10 Cup races in a year. He’ll crash the Championship 4 party to get it done. And while he’s not the same Harvick that owned Phoenix, he’ll come into the finale with a sense of urgency to end the year on a positive.

Marcheschi :  Kevin Harvick may have been eliminated last weekend at Martinsville, but come on. Harvick has a whopping nine wins at the Desert Mile. And he is currently on a streak of fourteen consecutive top-ten finishes there, stretching back to his fourth win at the track in the fall of 2013. Harvick will take victory at Phoenix, his tenth win of the season.

Hobbs :  Like many, I pegged Kevin Harvick to win the race and the championship this weekend; guess we’ll just have to settle for a race win. While he is out of contention for the championship, that will not stop the best driver in 2020 from going for an outstanding 10th win of the season.

Lambeth :  While the No. 4 team is disappointed about being eliminated from championship contention, they can still end the season on a high note with a Kevin Harvick victory at Phoenix!

Sisoler :  I felt so confident that Kevin Harvick would have the best odds of the Championship 4 going to a track that’s seen some of his best races. While he can’t win the title, I expect Happy Harvick to smile a little bit at the end of Sunday’s race. That No. 4 team will finish off the 2020 season with their 10th checkered flag of the season.

TPF Stats :  One would normally take the stats for what they are. But this being the Championship race can change all of that. However, I am just a machine and stats are what I know. While Harvick may not be one of the 4 going for the Championship, his Phoenix Raceway stats are superior and he will win the race.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Season Finale 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into this today’s race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  Please stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season. There’s more content coming during the upcoming offseason as we prepare for 2021!

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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