Wednesday, March 6, 2024



Friday, November 3, 2023

Micah Roberts' Top-10 Finish Prediction: 2023 NASCAR Cup Championship Race at Phoenix

Read my full article at

The 36th and final race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season comes to a close at Phoenix Raceway’s 1-mile flat layout on Sunday with four of the drivers racing for the season Championship. Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, and Christopher Bell are the contenders with only Larson being a past Cup Champion (2021). This race also marks the final start of 2014 Champion Kevin Harvick who won a track record nine times at Phoenix.

Here’s what I’m thinking for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race with odds offered by Caesars Sportsbooks:

1 #19 Martin Truex Jr. (28/1) - Let’s close out the season with an explosion of good fortune and bet the JGR Toyota to win the race at 28-to-1 odds. Truex has three wins and nine top-fives on the season and his 2021 season at Phoenix was his best with a win and a runner-up. NASCAR doesn’t give the Championship 4 any extra horsepower from the other drivers anymore. Notice how it’s possible all these years that the eventual champion wins the race? It’s not a coincidence. They got about 10 extra horsepower. I don’t think the sportsbooks know this and have lowered the Championship 4 drivers to unbettable prices. I think we’ll see several drivers racing for the lead. Truex is my choice at this nice price, and it’s also because he won at New Hampshire in July. The combination of Phoenix, New Hampshire, and Richmond is the group I put together on the schedule because the same drivers do well. Truex dominated at New Hampshire leading 254 laps and the tire Goodyear used in that race is being used this week at Phoenix.

2 #20 Christopher Bell (9/2) - In seven Cup starts at Phoenix he has four top-10s with a best of sixth in March. He went on to finish fourth at Richmond in April. Two wins and 10 top-fives on the season and I guess I’m saying he wins the Championship. He also won the 2018 Xfinity Series race at Phoenix.

3 #5 Kyle Larson (9/5) - He’s been ninth or better in eight of his last nine Phoenix starts which includes his 2021 win and NASCAR Championship. In the spring he dominated the race leading a race-high 201 laps and finished fourth. He’ll lead laps here, but I’d bet against him before I bet on him. Two-way price Caesars?

4 #22 Joey Logano (20/1) - He won from the pole last fall to win his second Cup Championship. He has three Phoenix wins, eight top-fives, and 908 laps led in his 29 starts. I placed him this high because he was runner-up at New Hampshire and fourth in the second Richmond race. Phoenix is next up on the similar track list.

5 #4 Kevin Harvick (13/1) - He’s been racing at Phoenix in all West Coast racing stops on his way to the NASCAR Cup Series and he’s perfected the track with a track-best 8.6 average finish among his 41 starts. Nine wins and 20 top-fives. He’s led 1,699 laps. He’s the best driver Phoenix has ever seen. He was fifth in the spring race and led 36 laps. He was also fifth at the first Richmond race and fourth at New Hampshire and then 10th in the second Richmond race. Those are the three tracks with similar traits. If a driver is good on one during a season they’ll likely do well on the others. A win would certainly be the best way to walk away from a career, win No. 10 too.

6 #11 Denny Hamlin (22/1) - It was sad to watch him come to the realization last week that he’s not going to be champion again. He’s got three Daytona 500s, but no titles. And every year it’s the same tired questions. He’s got good cars and a couple of years left so maybe we shouldn't say say never but time is running out. Phoenix is his type of flat track. He’s got two wins and 16 top-fives in 36 Cup stars there, The reason you might bet him this week is that he was runner-up at Richmond in July.

7 #9 Chase Elliott (40/1)
- He missed the spring race because of being injured due to a snowboarding accident, a sign for a non-win 2023 that he never found a groove in. Maybe this is his wake-up call. He won the 2020 Championship with a win at Phoenix and has five top-fives in 14 starts.

8 #6 Brad Keselowski (50/1)
- He’s got two Xfinity Series wins at Phoenix but none in 28 Cup starts there. He has a 13.9 average finish and eight top-fives with 284 laps led. I placed him in this position because of led a race-high 102 laps and finished sixth at Richmond in July. His teammate Chris Buescher ended up winning the race. Why can’t he win on a mile-flat track?

9 #14 Chase Briscoe (55/1)
- Last spring he won his first NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix in the first year of the NextGen car and he followed that up with a fourth in the fall. He was seventh this spring and is working on quite the Phoenix resume, and knows it. He’ll be very competitive this weekend.

10 #17 Chris Buescher (65/1) - In 15 Cup starts at Phoenix he has a 22nd-place average finish with no top-fives and one top-10. But I listed him here because he won at Richmond in late July and Richmond is one of the two other tracks I associate with Phoenix along with New Hampshire.

.......

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Chase Elliott is 40/1 to win 2023 Phoenix Finale





Age: 27 (Nov. 28, 1995)


Hometown: Dawsonville, Georgia


Resides: Dawsonville, Georgia


Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson


Standings: 17th



No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1


WINNING MOMENT: Chase Elliott has one win at Phoenix Raceway, which he captured in the 2020 season finale to secure his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. The five-time National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver started the race at the rear of the field and maneuvered his way to the front, leading a race-high 153 laps en route to the victory. 

PHOENIX 411: The driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will make his 15th Phoenix Cup Series start this Sunday. In his previous 14 races at the track, he’s amassed one win, five top-five finishes and eight top-10s. Elliott has paced the field for 546 laps at the 1-mile oval, which is his second-most on active tracks and places him with the third-most laps led among current Cup drivers at the track since the start of stage racing in 2017. Additionally, the 2020 Cup champion’s average start of 5.57 at the desert oval is his second-best on active tracks with more than two starts, only trailing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (4.67).

EVERY MILE A MEMORY: In 55 Cup starts on tracks measuring 1 to 1.37 miles in length (Darlington Raceway, Dover Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix and WWT Raceway), Elliott has four wins. His first came at Dover in 2018 and was followed by his championship-winning performance at Phoenix in 2020. His two most recent victories came last season at Dover and Nashville. Accompanying his wins are 22 top-five finishes, 29 top-10s and 1,246 laps led across those starts on tracks in this range.

GUSTAFSON AT PHOENIX: On Sunday, Alan Gustafson will call his 38th Phoenix race as a Cup Series crew chief. In his previous 37 starts there, the veteran team leader has collected four wins via four different drivers (Kyle Busch in 2005, Mark Martin in 2009, Jeff Gordon in 2011 and Elliott in 2020). He is tied with Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus for the second-most victories by a crew chief at Phoenix. Gustafson has also tallied 12 top-five results, 24 top-10s and 977 laps led. In his most recent race at the track, working with fill-in driver Josh Berry, the Ormond Beach, Florida, native led the No. 9 team to a 10th-place result.

PIT STOP POWER: With one race remaining in the 2023 season, the No. 9 pit crew holds the ninth-fastest average four-tire pit stop time of 11.237 seconds. In two races this season, the over-the-wall squad had the fastest four-tire pit stop in the field, most recently laying down a time of 9.409 seconds at Texas Motor Speedway in September. The 2021 Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew award-winning group is comprised of Chad Avrit (rear-tire changer), Jared Erspamer (tire carrier), John Gianninoto (fueler), Nick O'Dell (front-tire changer) and T.J. Semke (jackman).

HEADING HOME: Gianninoto will compete in front of his home-track crowd at Phoenix on Sunday. The Tucson, Arizona, native graduated with honors from Catalina Foothills High School and went on to play as an offensive lineman for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2006 - earning his first letter in 2007 and becoming a team captain in 2010. In 2012, he participated in the NFL’s Carolina Panthers training camp before signing with Hendrick Motorsports that September. Gianninoto set a Guinness World Record in 2018, teaming with Sunoco for the most vehicles refueled by an individual in one hour (148).

GET UP AND GO: NAPA Auto Parts is on board the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the season finale this weekend at Phoenix. The Atlanta-based company has been Elliott’s primary partner for eight of his 14 Cup starts at the desert oval, including his 2020 victory. This season marks NAPA’s 10th year partnering with the Dawsonville, Georgia, native dating back to his first season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Get a closer look at the 2023 paint scheme here.

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on what he values most about his team: "They're top notch. Just a really good group. I enjoy going to work with them each week. There’s not a lot of ego. They enjoy having fun, putting in the work and showing up prepared. Ultimately, as a teammate and a competitor, that’s all I can ask for. If we are all showing up and we are as best prepared as we can be and go and give it our best effort each week, that’s all I can ask for from my side. I try to give that back to them as well. I think we all know each other well enough at this point that when we show up we are going to give it our best effort and give it our all. I don’t question that out of them and they don’t question that out of me."

Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on the keys to performing well at Phoenix: "The corners are quite a bit different, so getting those as similar as you can is key. Having comfort and security on corner entry, with good center turn and drive off is also important. The fact that the corner entries are significantly different make it challenging, but that's also what makes it fun and unique."

William Byron is 7/2 to win 2023 Phoenix Finale





Age: 25 (Nov. 29, 1997)


Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina


Resides: Charlotte, North Carolina


Crew Chief: Rudy Fugle


Standings: 1st - Tied



No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1


Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, will be available to members of the media at the Phoenix Raceway media center on Friday, Nov. 3, following NASCAR Cup Series practice.

William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, will be available to members of the media at the Phoenix Raceway media center on Saturday, Nov. 4, following NASCAR Cup Series qualifying. 

: For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, William Byron has earned a spot in the Championship 4 for the sport's season finale at Phoenix Raceway. The No. 24 team rallied to secure enough points at Martinsville Speedway to advance through the Round of 8. Entering as the youngest competitor of the final four, Byron won the most recent race at Phoenix on March 12. The driver who won on that same date went on to win the championship in three of the prior four times, including twice by Hendrick Motorsports drivers (Jeff Gordon in 1995 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006). If Byron were to win this weekend, he would become only the sixth driver to win a championship in his first Championship 4 appearance. The 25-year-old would also be the fourth-youngest Cup champion of all time.
CAREER SEASON: Heading into the season finale for the Cup Series playoffs, Byron continues to add to his already impressive 2023 stats. After 35 races, Byron leads the series in wins (six), average finishing position (11.17) and top-10 finishes (20). He is tied for the most top-five finishes with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson (14) and is in a three-way tie along with Larson for the most stage wins (eight) this season. Byron has also led a single-season career-best 921 laps, which is the third-most in the series. In addition, he ranks second for the season in average running position (10.37), laps run in the top five (3,784) and third for laps run in the top 10 (5,387). In the playoffs, his average finish (6.33) is the fifth-best mark in the elimination-style postseason (first started in 2014). 

SIMILAR IN SIZE: This Sunday’s race at Phoenix will mark Byron’s 43rd start on tracks 1 to 1.37 miles in length (Darlington Raceway, Dover Motor Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix and WWT Raceway). In his previous 42 starts, he has collected one pole award, two wins (2023 victories at Darlington and Phoenix), nine top-five finishes, 18 top-10s and led 440 laps. 

VENTURING TO THE VALLEY OF THE SUN: Heading to a track where he has found success at every level of NASCAR competition, Byron will return to Phoenix for the 12th time in his Cup career. Across his 11 Cup Series starts at the 1-mile oval, Byron’s best showing came earlier this year when he took home the victory. He has earned six top-10s and led 91 laps. His five top-10 finishes since 2020 are tied for his second-most at a track behind only Kansas Speedway with six. With three Next Gen races (since 2022) taking place at Phoenix, Byron leads all drivers with laps run in the top five (621) and ranks third in laps run in the top 10 (840). The Charlotte, North Carolina, native also has two NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix on his résumé, both coming in 2017. He started on the front row and finished in the top four in both races, including a win in November 2017. With that victory, he became the youngest winner ever at Phoenix in the Xfinity Series at 19 years, 11 months and 13 days. The following week he earned the Xfinity Series championship.

DYNAMIC DUO OUT WEST: In 2016, Byron was behind the wheel for the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race in Arizona with crew chief Rudy Fugle atop the pit box. The duo won the pole and went on to lead 112 laps. Unfortunately, an engine failure while Byron was leading with 10 laps to go ended his night early and his chances to advance on to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – where they ended up finding redemption and winning the next weekend.

RUDY’S PHOENIX PERFORMANCE: Going to Phoenix for the sixth time in his Cup Series crew chief career, Fugle has one win (March 2023), one top-five finish, three top-10s and 76 laps led in those previous five races. Aside from his Cup Series starts, Fugle has three Xfinity Series starts and eight Truck Series starts under his belt at the 1-mile desert oval. In those eight Truck Series races, Fugle has four pole awards and his drivers have led a total of 471 laps. While Fugle has only one Truck Series win at Phoenix, he has two runner-up results, four top-five finishes and six top-10s. 

PIT ROAD PROWESS: After 35 races in the 2023 season, the No. 24 pit crew remains in the top spot with the fastest average four-tire pit stop time of 10.963 seconds. The No. 24 pit crew consists of Spencer Bishop (jackman), Jeff Cordero (front-tire changer), Orane Ossowski (rear-tire changer), Ryan Patton (tire carrier) and Landon Walker (fueler). In the middle race of the Round of 8 at Homestead-Miami, the No. 24 team had the fastest average four-tire pit stop time of 9.986 seconds.

AT IT AGAIN WITH AXALTA: For the season finale, Axalta will be back onboard Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This is Axalta’s 31st year of partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. The company has been a primary partner for two of Byron’s wins this year – the May victory at Darlington and the July triumph at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on preparing for Phoenix: "I wanted this opportunity bad and I wanted it really bad for our team. We have all worked so hard for the chance to run for a championship and we have as good of a chance as anyone. We’ve worked hard this week to get ready between going over data, film and time at the Chevy sim. We’ve done all we can to prepare here before we get to Phoenix (Raceway). Being able to have a full 50-minute practice session is nice though, so we can really work on some changes and be even more prepared for Sunday. It will be about maximizing every chance we have and I am confident that we will be at our best on Sunday."

Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on his mindset of racing for a NASCAR Cup Series championship: "This is about capitalizing on the opportunity. The opportunity to run for a championship at the top level of motorsports in North America is what we dream of doing. I know the whole team feels the same way. We’re going to put our full effort into it and we will know that after the race Sunday, we will have put everything we have on the line. There will be no regrets. We have an amazing team, pit crew and support system back at the shop. We’re going to use every ounce of intelligence, effort and athleticism that we have to make it happen."


Kevin Harvick is 13/1 to win final NASCAR race at Phoenix (Great Quotes)



Phoenix Season Finale Advance

No. 4 Busch Light HARVICK Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing



Event Overview


●  Event:  NASCAR Cup Series Season Finale (Round 36 of 36)

●  Time/Date:  3 p.m. EST on Sunday, Nov. 5

●  Location:  Phoenix Raceway

●  Layout:  1-mile oval

●  Laps/Miles:  312 laps/312 miles (502 kilometers)

●  Stage Lengths:  Stage 1: 60 laps / Stage 2: 125 laps / Final Stage: 127 laps

●  TV/Radio:  NBC / MRN / SiriusXM NASCAR Radio


Notes of Interest


●  Who owns Phoenix Raceway? NASCAR or Kevin Harvick? NASCAR owns the facility, at least on paper, but Harvick owns the track. The driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) has won a record nine Cup Series races at the desert mile. No other active Cup Series driver has won more than three races at Phoenix. Former fulltime Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson is the closest to Harvick with four wins at the track.


●  Phoenix will mark Harvick’s 826th career NASCAR Cup Series start as well as his final Cup Series start. His 23-year career will culminate at the end of Sunday’s 312-lap race. Harvick’s accolades are many:

  • His 826 career starts (including Phoenix) ranks eighth all-time.
  • He won the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series championship (in the inaugural season of elimination-style playoffs).
  • His 60 points-paying wins ranks 10th all-time.
  • His 63 runner-up finishes ranks sixth all-time.
  • His 251 top-five finishes ranks ninth all-time.
  • His 443 top-10 finishes ranks fifth all-time.
  • His 309,318.958 miles completed ranks fourth all-time.
  • His 16,035 laps led ranks 11th all-time.
  • His 1,299 starts (including Phoenix) across NASCAR’s top-three series – Cup, Xfinity and Truck – is the most all-time (and 85 more than the next-best driver in this category, Kyle Busch, who has 1,214 starts).
  • His 121 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series ranks third all-time.
  • His 29 wins after turning 40 ranks third all-time.
  • His 37 wins since 2014 (when his career with SHR began) are the most of all drivers.
  • His 784 consecutive starts (including Phoenix) is the third-longest streak in NASCAR Cup Series history.

●  It’s all Harvick at Phoenix. Literally. His No. 4 Ford Mustang will feature the familiar colors of longtime partner Busch Light, but instead of “Busch” adorning the car, it will be “Harvick.” The veteran racer and future NASCAR Hall-of-Famer has been a part of the Anheuser-Busch family since 2011, with Budweiser serving as a sponsor before Busch Light took the wheel in 2016. That “Harvick” is emblazoned on the No. 4 at the track where Harvick long ago set the record book ablaze is an exceptional tribute in a season full of fitting tributes.


●  Harvick hasn’t finished outside the top-10 in his last 20 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix. When he finished fifth last November in the season finale, he set a new record for the most consecutive top-10s at a single racetrack with 19. Previously, Harvick had been tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who earned 18 straight top-10s apiece at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. Harvick’s 20th straight top-10 at Phoenix came by way of his fifth-place finish in March.


●  The last time Harvick finished outside of the top-10 at Phoenix was March 3, 2013, when he finished 13th. That was more than 10 years ago, when the San Francisco Giants were the reigning World Series champions, the Baltimore Ravens were just a month removed from winning Super Bowl XLVII, the Lebron James-led Miami Heat were marching toward their second straight NBA championship, and the Chicago Blackhawks were on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup. Chase Briscoe, Harvick’s teammate at SHR who won his first Cup Series race at Phoenix on March 13, 2022, still wasn’t old enough to enjoy a Busch Light (he is now 28), and Austin Cindric, last year’s NASCAR Cup Series rookie of the year, was in eighth grade.


●  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 in November 2015, but when the series returned to the track in March 2016, Harvick won again. He’s 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 41 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Harvick has earned an average finish of 8.6, the best of any active Cup Series driver. Kyle Busch is next best with an average finish of 10.6 over 36 Cup Series starts.


●  Harvick’s best average finish at Phoenix comes from running up front. He has led 1,699 laps in his 41 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the track, dwarfing that of any other driver. Next best in this category is Kyle Busch with 1,190 laps led, 473 fewer laps than Harvick. That deficit represents more than a full race-and-a-half distance at Phoenix as Sunday’s race is 312 laps.


●  To finish first, one must first finish. Proving this mantra is Harvick’s lap-completion rate of 99.8 percent at Phoenix. In fact, of the 12,804 laps available to Harvick at Phoenix, he has only missed 21 of those laps. Harvick’s first career NASCAR Cup Series start at Phoenix came on Oct. 28, 2001, when he started 37th and finished 17th. 


●  With the Estrella Mountains as its backdrop, Phoenix Raceway is a picture-perfect racetrack. Harvick has also been perfect at the desert mile. He has scored a perfect driver rating (150.0) there on three occasions – November 2006 when he started second, led 252 of 312 laps, and won; November 2014 when he started third, led 264 of 312 laps, and won; and March 2015, when he started first, led 224 of 312 laps, and won.


●  Harvick has also been successful at Phoenix outside the NASCAR Cup Series. He owns a NASCAR Xfinity Series win (April 2006) and four NASCAR Truck Series victories (November 2002, October 2003, November 2008 and November 2009). In fact, that Truck Series victory in November 2002 was Harvick’s first career Truck Series win and the first win for his race team, Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI). Today, Harvick has 14 career Truck Series victories, 13 of which came with KHI. From 2001 through 2011, KHI earned 43 Truck Series wins and two championships (2007 and 2009 with driver Ron Hornaday Jr.).


●  Harvick has two NASCAR Winston West Series starts at Phoenix. His best effort came in his first Winston West start at the track, when he won the pole for the 1998 Phoenix 150 and led twice for a race-high 74 laps before finishing second to Rich Woodland Jr., by just .016 of a second.


●  Before Cup and Xfinity and Trucks and Winston West, Harvick competed at Phoenix while on the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour. He made six starts between 1994 and 1999, with his last start being his best. Harvick qualified fourth and finished fourth as part of the 1999 Copper World Classic. Finishing just behind Harvick in fifth was an up-and-coming racer named Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and winner of 34 Cup Series races who retired earlier this year.


Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light HARVICK Ford Mustang 


A NASCAR Cup Series champion will be crowned Sunday at Phoenix. As a former Cup Series champion, what do you think winning a championship says about you?

“I think it says a lot about our team. For me, leaving RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and coming to SHR was a huge risk, and breaking out of my comfort zone and being open-minded to new people and new cars and new things is something I’ve always looked back on and said, ‘That’s why that change was good.’ Don’t ever give up on the evolution and the change of what you need to do to progress with the sport because our sport has an incredible progression rate, as far as how the car progresses, how the rules progress, how the tires progress, how the team progresses, how your driving style progresses – it’s kind of evolve or die, and I think that’s important to remember.”


What makes a championship memorable beyond just winning a title?

“I would tell you desire and grit, and that ability to not let the outside world affect what you do, and how you do things and why you do things, and believing in the process and the things that you do. Believe in the people around you, but don’t be afraid to change things along the way. For me, the biggest thing is just learning how to do that as an adult. But professionally, which is something that I didn’t do great at RCR (Richard Childress Racing), I think as Rodney (Childers, crew chief) came into the picture and we were able to evolve with the team, and each of us was able to evolve as a person, really helped the communication and the things that happen with the team, to be able to keep that cohesiveness of the group, to be able to be productive and work forward through good times and bad. Sometimes, the good times were harder to progress through than the bad times. In the bad times, you know you have to get better. In the good times, you can be a little bit slow to react. You have to balance these things. That’s why you always hear me talk about balance, because it’s not really just about good times and bad times, it’s also about the circle of life and your team and everything that goes with that to get the maximum potential out of the mental thought process and things that come with being good and being a communicator. I’m not the fastest driver in the world, but I feel like I can out-think a lot of situations and help my team think forward to figure things out. That’s part of what we’ve done well.”


With all of your success at Phoenix, is it safe to say it’s your favorite racetrack?

“Results-wise, I would say yes. Phoenix has always been a good racetrack for me. Growing up on the West Coast, that was really the facility that you wanted to win at the most because we always had our biggest Southwest Tour races there. And in the Winston West Series, they actually had provisionals that would get you into the Cup Series race at that particular time, so you had a lot of Winston West guys who would go over and try to participate in the Cup race. I’ve been able to race in front of fans that I started racing in front of in 1994. I’ve been there through reconfigurations and grandstands moved around and start-finish lines moved, but Phoenix has always been a successful spot for us. And I’m fortunate for that because as a kid I dreamed of going there and winning Late Model races, and then you’re coming back and winning Cup races. So it’s fun to be able to live out a lot of those childhood dreams, and I also remember that while I’ve been successful at Phoenix, it really didn’t start that way. I crashed a lot of cars and Trucks there leading up to finally being successful at that particular racetrack. I think I wrecked in ’94 and ’95, in ’96 we didn’t race, ’97 we did OK, ’98 was OK, and we always just kind of did OK with everything that we had.”


Twenty straight top-10 finishes at Phoenix. How have you been able to be so dominant?

“We’ve probably dominated Phoenix because we spent so much time there learning and tearing stuff up and doing the things you’re not supposed to do at the racetrack. But flat tracks, in general, have always been pretty good for us, just because of the fact that I grew up on so many flat tracks. I’ve spent a lot of time at Phoenix. I know the configuration has changed over the years, but it’s a big part of why the flat-track results have been so good throughout the years because it’s a racetrack that I spent a lot of time on growing up in the early part of my career. It’s a racetrack that we put a lot of emphasis on throughout the years because of the fact that we felt like some of our best racetracks were the flat tracks, and Phoenix was one of those. And for me, it was always kind of a sense of pride to go there and run well because I know I have a lot of fans and friends that come to that racetrack. It’s always fun to tell war stories about Phoenix and the things that you did wrong after you’ve won a race in modern time.”


One of those fans who would come to Phoenix to watch you race was your grandfather. Talk about that.

“My grandpa and my uncle would always go to Phoenix every year to watch the Cup race. When I started racing there, I guess 1994 was the first time, my grandpa would go there three weeks early, and he’d drive his motorhome there and he’d park it right in the same spot. He’d be in the very corner next to the chain-link fence on the exit of what would’ve been turn two at that particular time before they flipped the racetrack. You used to come over the racetrack – there was no tunnel or anything to drive through – so you had to sit out there while they were waiting for practice to end or they cleared everybody to open the garage. I drove the truck and trailer, and every time I’d get there, my grandpa would be smoking a cigarette, leaning against the chain-link fence, waiting for me to drive in and race. I knew if I didn’t go over and talk to my grandpa, he’d yell obnoxiously loud until I came over there, and he knew exactly when I was going to get there, when I was going to drive by, what time the garage opened, whatever it was, you were not escaping Grandpa. While he was alive, he was always the first one there and the first one you’d see every time you drove in.”


Phoenix marks your final race as a NASCAR Cup Series driver. What’s it like to leave while still at the top of your game?

“That’s really one of the things I’m most proud of. Somebody asked me when did I ever feel like I’ve made it. This is really the only time that I’ve ever felt like I’ve made it because I got to choose how I ended it. I know that that’s rare, and as you look at it, I got to plan my last year and say this was it, and then we were still competitive, and then we went out and did what we were supposed to do. It’s really the first time I felt comfortable saying that I’ve made it.”


You’ve had a tremendous career, but was there ever a moment in the early part of your career where you felt vulnerable?

“As a racer trying to progress through the ranks, you’re always on edge. You take a certain responsibility of making the car perform. The car needs to perform, and if it doesn’t perform, you need to survive. Making something out of a day, consistently, is a must, and going back to the shop to try to solve a problem with the guys is also absolutely necessary. I went from a family-owned race team to stepping out of that saying if I wanted to succeed at this, I needed to go to the next step, to go to work with Wayne and Connie Spears as a mechanic hoping they would give me the shot to drive. That was 1996, and that didn’t go over well from the family side of things. And then you go to the Spears organization, and then you get the next opportunity, and being able to say this is what I need to do and make the hard decision to move forward, those are just yearly decisions, because if you sit and you’re content with everything – and I tell my guys this today, you either evolve or die in this particular sport, and if you’re not willing to evolve and change and make the hard decisions, then you’re just going to get stuck. Fortunately, we had the guts to go and keep making those decisions and wound up where we did at RCR. And I think in 2000, the pivotal moment was probably winning that (Xfinity) race in St. Louis because I’d torn up a few cars up until that point and I had to sit down in the boss’s office and have him tell me that I needed to quit wrecking stuff, and when Richard tells you that, you know that you need to get your stuff together and you need to start finishing races, and we went out the next week and won. There’s just a lot that you have to do to continue to grow and evolve and keep track of. And I think, for me, that’s really the part, at the point of saying, ‘OK, I’m done,’ of just letting go of that competitive mindset because it consumes so much of my mental capacity to go and make those decisions and be willing to have the hard conversations, and think a year in advance or six months in advance or two years in advance, or this situation pops up and then you have to address this. And it’s just like, man, there’s a lot that goes into it to be able to stay competitive and keep progressing and doing the things that you need to do. It just takes a lot of mental capacity and time to do it right.”


When racing becomes a job, what changes?

“That’s the part that’s tough. When you become a professional racecar driver, it becomes work and it becomes a business, and in order to do it well, you can’t think about a lot of other stuff. You have to be able to compartmentalize everything and you have to be very strategic in the things that you say and the things that you do. It’s a 24-7 mindset in order to be good at it because, in order to be good at it, you need to have your hands kind of in everything that’s going on in order to have a pulse on when it’s good, and before it gets bad, you need to address it. That could be competition, that could be sponsors, that could be a performance flaw, it could be personnel, it could be anything. When you’re in the middle of all this, you just never know what’s going to be on the other end of that phone call that’s coming in, or what’s on the other side of that e-mail from whoever it is in the topic line. It’s something that you just learn to deal with, but not like a robot, because I have enjoyed what I do. I like the grind. I like to beat you. I don’t like getting beat. I like being with my guys and the week-to-week battle and the challenge of the setups and all the things that come with that. But in order to do that well, you have to be very ingrained in it, and you also have to put these barriers up to not let people know too much about you. This year, I haven’t had to do that, so it’s been fun.”


Was there ever a day this year when, among all the tributes, you finally felt like you made it?

“Gosh, that’s a tough question because I’ve always felt like, and I still tell my guys this today, it’s evolve or die. If you want to be successful at this, you have to evolve with it, and whether that’s a car or a tire or a team or a racetrack or a dirt track or a road course, there are just so many things that make up this evolution of trying to make yourself better. I’ve never let myself get too comfortable and thinking that I didn’t need to get better or not do something because I didn’t have to. But I also think that’s what’s kept us relevant for so long. I’ve just never felt comfortable that you were going to be here forever, and to be able to sit in this chair and say I’m going quit at the end of this year and I’m going to do it this way, for me, there is some sort of closure to that, to be able to say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do for the last year, and when I get to this day, it’s over.’ There are just not too many who get to go out on their terms, and I think being able to do that, that’ll probably be the first time that I say I’ve actually made it because I got to end it. Everything else in-between, there’s always somebody who wants your job, there’s always somebody who wants to beat you, there’s always somebody who is probably better at something than what you do, and you’re always having to go try and recreate yourself in order to keep yourself relevant. Just like with this new car, you had to recreate your driving style in order to be competitive and do the things that you needed to do to learn a new car and learn all the things that come with it. It’s always something, and it’s been that way for my whole career – there’s always new cars, there’s always new tires, there’s always new rules, there’s going to be different racetracks, there’s always something that you just have to get better at. For me, and my wife will tell you, I’m always worried about this: did we do good enough, or how do we get better? Because that’s just what we do. I think if you’re comfortable enough to say we’ve made it, then your career expectancy is pretty short. The end is near, in my opinion.”


How has this year been in compartmentalizing all that you’ve done with all that you still want to do on the racetrack?

“This year has been very productive for me from just trying to grasp, really, what my career has been. It’s been fun to hear the fans tell their stories, and people showing up at racetracks they’ve never been to before to see you race for the last time and telling you why. And when you take that all into perspective this year, it’s been fun because I can let my guard down and listen to all these stories and tell stories and be a part of these videos and conversations and feel OK about it. There’s no reason to hide from it. I’ve been very fortunate to have a great career and win a lot of races and go out on my own terms, but it has been a ride. And you look back – they showed me a picture of me, I think when I was 7 or 8 years old in my leather go-kart jacket and sitting in my go-kart and they asked, ‘What would this Kevin tell the Kevin of today?’ And I’m like, I have no idea because that Kevin was having way too much fun and didn’t give a crap about what all the things that come with this means when it becomes a job. But I think being able to, as a kid, riding around in your backyard on your Big Wheel and talking about winning the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500 or winning a race or whatever that is out there in fantasyland, being able to actually live out the things you’ve dreamed about as a kid is something that I’m very lucky to have. There’s no reason to hide it anymore. Be proud of being fortunate and successful and, this year, all the people have been the ones to bring that out.”


Has anything about this final season surprised you?

“The surprise to me has been just how much I’ve actually enjoyed it. Knowing that you announced your retirement before the season started, and then worked through the season and were competitive, and now here we are at the end of the season, and I know how excited I am for everything that I have going on in the future. We’ve been working on restructuring companies and starting new companies, so it’s been a lot of work, but now we’re at the point where you’re starting to see all the plans start to transition into what’s going to happen next. That would be no different if I was still going to race next year – the planning would have already started for next year as we go forward – but I’ve really enjoyed the celebration of the last season because of the fact that, in the years past, you’re always so closed-minded to hearing people’s stories or talking about the things that you’ve done. And I think for me, personally, I get so embedded into the day-to-day grind of the process that you lose sight of the impact you have on people. And the impact that you have on people’s daily lives are the things that you do on Sunday, or the things that you say during the week, or the things that you post on social media. And for me, it’s been fun to hear the stories of people who grew up and watched me win my first race at Atlanta and now they’re bringing their kids to the racetrack, or somebody who was struggling through COVID to make it on a day-to-day basis and would turn on the races on the weekends and get their mind off of things. You hear so many of those types of stories and, to me, that has been a lot of fun because you realize the impact that you have on people. In the past, I really hadn’t been as open-minded to wanting to take all of that in. This year, whether it’s a celebration of the success that you’ve had at a racetrack, or hearing the fans’ stories, or bringing your kids to the racetrack and letting them see the #4EVER signs on the turn-four walls, or the banners and murals and different things that have been at each particular racetrack, it’s been fun for us as a family.”


You seem very much at peace with Phoenix being your last race. Are you?

“For me, going into this year knowing that you could just let your guard down, to where it didn’t matter if somebody saw you having fun, it didn’t matter if somebody saw you hugging your daughter, it didn’t matter if somebody saw you giving your son a high-five. It’s been fun to go out and compete and not be this really uptight, ‘I’m going to knock you out’ type of personality and instead be able to just let that guard down and go out and race hard and not have to worry about the show as much as you have in the past.”