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NASCAR Cup Series

Locked…and Loading: NCS Edition

(Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

The NASCAR Cup Series race for the championship is jam-packed with previous champions and drivers familiar with the Playoff tracks. 

Chase Elliott clinched the regular season championship at the conclusion of the opening stage at Watkins Glen International.

(Photo: Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

Then, one week later at the season finale at Daytona International Speedway, after a lengthy rain delay, Austin Dillion clinched a spot in the Playoffs and Ryan Blaney pointed his way in. 

(Photo: Blake Ulino | The Podium Finish)

At Darlington, numerous Playoff drivers battled issues putting them behind the 8-ball heading into Kansas. Interestingly enough, no Cup Series driver locked into the Round of 12 at the Southern 500. This should undoubtedly make for even more exciting racing over the next two weekends.

With that, let’s look at the tracks and contenders, and I will give my best guess at who might take home the championship in “Locked…and Loading!”



  1. Chase Elliott – Regular Season Champion: 4 wins; 5 stage wins
  2. Joey Logano: 2 wins; 5 stage wins
  3. Ross Chastain: 2 wins; 5 stage wins
  4. Kyle Larson: 2 wins; 3 stage wins
  5. William Byron: 2 wins; 3 stage wins
  6. Denny Hamlin: 2 wins; 3 stage wins
  7. Ryan Blaney: 0 wins; 5 stage wins
  8. Tyler Reddick: 2 wins; 2 stage wins
  9. Kevin Harvick: 2 wins; 0 stage wins
  10. Christopher Bell: 1 win; 2 stage wins 
  11. Kyle Busch: 1 win; 2 stage wins
  12. Chase Briscoe: 1 win; 4 stage wins
  13. Daniel Suarez: 1 win; 2 stage wins
  14. Austin Cindric: 1 win; 1 stage win
  15. Alex Bowman: 1 win; 1 stage win
  16. Austin Dillon: 1 win; 0 stage wins

Tracks & Facts: 

Kansas Speedway 

In the last 17 races at this intermediate track, it is pretty even on winners coming from inside the top five and those coming from outside. But, what’s even more eye-catching is out of those 17 races, 11 wins have come from 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship contenders. Kyle Larson won from the pole in Fall 2021. 

NCS Winning Fact: Four of 17 wins have come from the front row starters.


Bristol Motor Speedway

Short tracks showcase short tempers. Put a championship on the line and you never know what you might get. Speaking of championship contenders, they know their way around this Half Mile of Mayhem. Since 2014, nine of 15 races have been won by drivers fighting for the ‘22 Championship. Larson won the most recent fall race (2021). 

NCS winning fact: Of the 15 recent races at this half-mile track, nine winners have emerged from the top five – six of those nine from Championship contenders. More notably, five wins have come from the pole. 


Texas Motor Speedway

Three races into the Cup Series Playoffs, we have a theme: championship contenders are no strangers to winning. At TMS, we have a bevy of previous winners vying for the title. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have both won three times in Texas. Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, and Kyle Larson each have a single win here. Larson’s most recent win (2021) came from the pole on his way to winning the championship last year.

NCS winning fact: Of 15 recent races, only six winners have started in the top five while 12 have started in the top 10.

(Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Talladega Superspeedway

As if moving Daytona International Speedway to the regular season finale wasn’t enough, drivers get to face a crap shoot at Talladega in the middle of the championship hunt. With multiple wins among the championship contenders, our theme of winning continues. Ross Chastain secured his first career win at the superspeedway earlier this season.

NCS winning fact: Since 2014 (17 races), eight winners have started from P10 or back. Denny Hamlin started P34 in 2014, proving anything can happen.


Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL

With only four NCS races to its name, we don’t have much in the way of stats to work with, but all four winners? All championship contenders. Ryan Blaney proved in the inaugural run that you need to be on your toes at all times. Chase Elliott went back-to-back and Larson snagged the 2021 win. What do they all have in common? Say it with me: All championship contenders.

NCS winning fact: Seventy-five percent of ROVAL winners have started in the top 10.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway

LVMS lists only 13 starts since 2014 with 70% of winners qualifying P10 or better. Of those nine, four are championship contenders.

NCS winning fact: No one (since 2014) has won from the pole.

(Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Of the eight races at Miami since 2014, six have been won by current Championship contenders, most recently, William Byron.

NCS winning fact: Six of the eight winners have qualified P5 or better.


Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville is a track that rarely disappoints, however, the spring 2022 race was less than exciting. No doubt, fans are hoping NASCAR has figured out the short-track package with the Next Gen car ahead of the last cutoff race. In the 17 races since 2014, only seven have been won by our championship-contending drivers – most recently Byron and Bowman.

NCS winning fact: In seventeen races since 2014, only five winners from outside the top 10.

(Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Phoenix Raceway

The new host to the NASCAR Championship Weekend has some interesting past winners. While six drivers have one to two wins (Logano, Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Elliott, Larson, and Briscoe), it is worth noting that Harvick has an impressive five wins in the desert. If The Closer can advance to the final round, could he win a second championship?

NCS winning fact: In 17 races, eight wins came from outside the top five, with five of those eight outside the top 10.

Looking Ahead:

As the stats show, this group of 16 drivers has what it takes to win, having 263 combined wins.

And unlike the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, wins mean a lot in the race for the Cup Championship. Larson’s 2021 win came after 10 wins, with five occurring in the Playoffs. Elliott’s 2020 championship came after five wins, with three in the Playoffs. 

Wins combined with consistency are what propel you to a Cup Series Title. Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, and Christopher Bell have not had those hot streaks this season. Could they hit one? Of course! But, I feel the odds are stacked against them and they will be the first four out.

Disclaimer: Just a reminder when speaking of odds, I’m not an oddsmaker. (I don’t even like math, despite all of the numbers included in this piece!) 

As I look at this group of 16 drivers, a handful stand out as consistent. 

No doubt, Larson, even with a roller-coaster season, has shown consistency throughout the year and being in the right spot at the right time.

Elliott and the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team have been running on all cylinders this season, snagging four wins. I can see him easily advancing to the final round.

Hamlin is no stranger to the championship hunt, and I see him there again this season. 

And my final pick for the Championship 4 is Logano. While his aggressive nature on track might hinder his chances, he can definitely claw his way to the front and fight for wins. 

So there you have it. My Championship 4: 

Leave a comment as we would love to hear your NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 picks!

As a life-long NASCAR fan and lover of words, I'm fortunate enough to put the two together here at The Podium Finish to bring our readers and motorsports fans news, features, and interviews from the world of wheels. Originally from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, I moved westward to graduate from Middle Tennessee State University. I now reside in central North Carolina with my husband, our three boys, and our dog, Charlotte. While my heart is at the race track, I also enjoy watching baseball, as well as college football and basketball. 

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