Championship 4 Vow to Race Respectful and Hard at Phoenix
There was no trash talk or sound bytes from Thursday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Media Day at Phoenix, but all four drivers seem comfortable with the track, and battling each other. They plan to race hard, yet be respectful as they decide a championship on Sunday.
The four drivers that make up the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 are without a doubt the deserving four this season. They've all excelled on the track, and they've come through when it has mattered most. It also turns out that they're among the most respectful group in the entire garage area.
On Thursday at NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day, while all four drivers carried an overall feeling of confidence, there was not one sliver of trash-talk or mental games that were detected between any of them. It was in a word orderly.
Seemingly gone are the days of Tony Stewart sparring with Carl Edwards heading into the season finale, or Dale Earnhardt Sr. attempting to bend the minds of his competitors into a pretzel leading into the final races of a championship push. At least for this year.
Among the juiciest of topics that were touched upon and turned into sound bytes on Thursday were what it was like for William Byron to fly commercial to the race track, and whether Erin Blaney will have a vested interest in who wins if it comes down to her brother Ryan Blaney and her boyfriend Byron.
Other than that, there weren't any other real cracks in the walls for the four stoic drivers that will duke it out over 312 laps around the 1-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday afternoon. To be honest, Media Day was kind of anticlimactic. However, that is okay.
Everyone is focused. And part of the lack of trash-talking could be that only one of the four drivers -- Kyle Larson -- has collected a NASCAR Cup Series championship in the past. And even Larson admitted that he doesn't feel winning a championship in the past is much of a mental advantage over the competition.
"I don't think that matters," Larson stated when asked how much his 2021 championship run brings to the table.
It also is important to note that none of the four contenders have any lingering beef with one another.
"Yeah, I don't know. I really don't know. Yeah, I kind of think -- haven't had really run-ins with these guys at all," Ryan Blaney said. "I mean, unfortunately for you guys, there is no, like, bad blood, bitter rivalry in this Championship 4. I was thinking about that earlier this week. I'm like, Damn, right, no rivalry. No one is mad at each other in this one.
"But I don't think that's going to make it any less of a good show. All of us race really hard on the racetrack with each other. Me, William, Kyle and Chris have raced the hell out of each other before, but just never have ended in an incident to where it's like no one's mad at each other. It's just one of those Championship 4s where no one has like any beef. Doesn't matter."
While Media Day was very lackluster, the action on the track in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race will likely be anything but.
After all, the drivers in the hunt for this championship (William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Christopher Bell) have combined to win 15 of the 35 races so far this season, and they all have solid histories at this race track.
Byron won the race at Phoenix Raceway in the spring, which was the second of his six wins so far this year. Larson took the win in the Phoenix Championship race in 2021 to secure his NASCAR Cup Series title. Blaney finished runner-up in this race a season ago, a race where his teammate Joey Logano won and took home the championship. And Christopher Bell has recorded four top-10s in his seven starts at the 1-mile oval.
All four drivers are comfortable around the 1-mile race track, and all four drivers are comfortable battling with one another on the track.
"We definitely have a good, respectful group that I guess doesn't have any history of having wrecks or anything like that," Christopher Bell stated. "So that's good."
Byron knows that all four drivers will race cleanly, but when the chips are on the table, they'll do whatever it takes within reason to score the win.
"I feel like we'll race with respect, but I feel like we'll all race really hard. If the carrot is out there to go get, you're going to try to do the best you can and do the best you can for your team. Whatever is within limits," Byron said.
Byron's teammate Kyle Larson echoed that sentiment and said that the Championship is totally up for grabs between the four drivers and their teams.
"Yeah, I think you can make a case for any of us four to win the championship," Larson stated. "Yeah, I think we all respect each other on the racetrack. We all respect each other's abilities, teams' abilities. Yeah, it should be a fun race. Obviously, I would love to come out on top, but I also understand it will be tough. Everybody's going to have a shot."
While there was no true wow moment from NASCAR Championship 4 Media Day, there's a chance that Sunday's Championship race could be an epic, clean battle between four of the young emerging talents in the sport today.
Photo Credit: James Gilbert, Getty Images