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Stat Sheet: Winning Streaks on the Line at Phoenix

The NASCAR Cup Series’ season finale at Phoenix Raceway. It’s the chance to win a championship, it’s the chance to make history; it’s the chance to be forever immortalized in the record books.

And for the 32 drivers that won’t be racing for a title on Sunday (Nov. 5), Phoenix is the perfect opportunity to take a solid or disappointing year and enter the 2023-2024 offseason on a high note.

See also
Entry List: 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Everyone has something to fight for in the 312 laps under the Arizona sun. Every team sets out to win as many races as possible at the start of each season, and there’s no worse feeling than going a full year with a goose egg in the win column.

The season finale is the Hail Mary for winless teams and drivers; more often than not, it’s the place where winning streaks come to a screeching halt.

After Joey Logano took the checkered flag at Phoenix to end the 2022 season – a season that tied the single-season record of 19 winners – three drivers had long winning streaks come to an end. Brad Keselowski missed the playoffs and went winless for the first time since 2010, while Martin Truex Jr. missed the playoffs and went winless for the first time since 2014. Ryan Blaney made the playoffs, but he could only sit and watch in Logano’s tire tracks at the final race as he went winless for the first time since 2016.

Winning streaks only come to the forefront when a driver is chasing history (like Kyle Busch breaking the all-time record with 19 consecutive winning seasons) or when a driver pulls off a late season win to keep the streak alive. Except for those moments, all the focus turns to the ones that are wiped away at season’s end.

Two drivers and one team will have their backs against the wall heading into the Phoenix.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott had a long wait to score his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Watkins Glen International in 2018, but he’s been automatic ever since. In the five-year span ranging from 2018 to 2022, Elliott won 18 races, the 2020 championship and the 2022 regular season championship to go along with three Championship 4 appearances.

That’s what makes his 2023 all the more shocking.

After missing seven races between a snowboarding leg injury and a one-race suspension in the first half of the season, Elliott has no wins and sits at season lows in laps led (195) and top-five finishes (eight).

Elliott and the No. 9 team put up a fight last Sunday (Oct. 29) at Martinsville Speedway, as they led a season-high 83 laps through pit strategy late in the race and were running in the top five until the No. 9 car was forced to pit for fuel with just under 30 laps remaining.

Close but no cigar last week, and Elliott will go winless for the first time since 2017 if he doesn’t take the checkered flag at Phoenix.

Alex Bowman

Alex Bowman‘s 2023 has been a tale of two seasons. He had six top 10s in the first seven races, and he sat as the points leader until a penalty at Richmond Raceway wiped out his lead. Bowman then broke his back in a sprint car accident on April 25, and he’s had just four top 10s in the 22 races since his return.

It’s an injury that takes a long time to recover from (see Denny Hamlin‘s 2013 season after his Fontana crash), and Bowman will have one last chance at a 2023 win this Sunday. Otherwise, he will go winless for the first time since 2018.

Stewart-Haas Racing

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Stewart-Haas Racing, which formed in 2009, has won two Cup championships and a total of 69 Cup races. The team won a record 12 races in 2018, but flash forward five years and SHR is now at risk of going winless for the first time ever.

After a combined four wins in the last two seasons, nothing has gone SHR’s way in 2023.

With a five-second lead with under 10 laps remaining, Kevin Harvick looked poised for his 10th win at Phoenix seven months ago until a late caution and a four-tire pit stop ended Harvick’s bid. And in his second-to-last race as a full-time driver at SHR, Aric Almirola came so close to being the hero for SHR at Martinsville on Sunday. Almirola took the lead with 89 laps to go and held it until Blaney powered by the No. 10 car with 23 laps to go.

The team now enters Phoenix – the final race of Harvick’s career and the final race for Almirola at SHR – with one last chance of achieving 15 consecutive winning seasons.

See also
Up to Speed: Aric Almirola’s Grind to the Top

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That’s what’s on the line for the 2023 finale. Only one of the streaks can possibly continue, and it’s more likely that all of them will end.

However, the Hail Mary has been successfully pulled off before. Since the beginning of NASCAR’s modern era in 1972, a Cup driver has scored their first win of the year in the final race on nine different occasions.

DriverYearTrackNotes
Denny Hamlin2013HomesteadKept 8-year streak intact
Robby Gordon2001New HampshireFirst career win
Jerry Nadeau2000AtlantaFirst career win
Bobby Labonte1997AtlantaKept 3-year streak intact
Bobby Labonte1996AtlantaKept 2-year streak intact
Mark Martin1991AtlantaKept 3-year streak intact
Morgan Shepherd1990Atlanta
Ricky Rudd1985RiversideKept 3-year streak intact
Bill Elliott1983RiversideFirst career win

What doesn’t bode well, however, is that Hamlin in 2013 is the only one to have pulled it off in the last 22 years. The other elephant in the room is that ever since Cup went to the elimination-style playoff format in 2014, the season’s champion has gone 9-for-9 in winning the final race.

Prior history says that one of William Byron, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell or Blaney will end up in victory lane while Elliott, Bowman and SHR will leave empty handed in the 2023 finale. I will be shocked if that isn’t the case. But if there’s anything that NASCAR and all other sports have shown, it’s to always expect the unexpected.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Bill B

I hope none of them win. That way I won’t have to hear about their streaks ending again next year.

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