Two races remain in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season and seven drivers are vying for the final three open spots in Championship Four.
Joey Logano is the lone driver locked into championship contention in the season finale at Phoenix on November 6.
On October 30, three more drivers will join him based on where they finish in the standings following the penultimate race of the 2022 season at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
Ross Chastain, Chase Eliott, and Denny Hamlin sit above the Championship Four cutline following Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. These three drivers will need to drive defensively next weekend to remain above the cutoff.
William Bryon, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Blaney, and Christopher Bell all will need to put together a strong performance at Martinsville in order to keep their hopes of winning their first NASCAR Cup Series title alive.
While Logano and Elliott already know what it’s like to win a Cup title, the remaining six contenders have never been Cup champion before.
When asked how he feels about being in the hunt with two races to do, Chastain said, “I don’t know. What’s it supposed to feel like? I’ve never been here. For Trackhouse (Racing), we’re learning all this together; we’re experiencing this together.
“We’ve got a lot of knowledge in our shop and I’ll lean on a lot of teammates, both in the GM camp and inside our shop of how to approach it. But I’m a racer. We’re just going to race. Go practice as well as we can; we’ll go qualify as best we can. And I’m late all the time, so a grandfather clock (the prize race winners at Martinsville receive) might do me a little good for the rest of my life.”
Chastain still remains one of the favorites to win it all, but for other drivers, their chances are admittedly smaller.
Blaney, who has yet to win a points-paying race all season, is one of the drivers who may be eliminated next weekend. Blaney’s No. 12 Ford finished 17th at Homestead after he spun on pit road because, as he self-described his actions, he “downshifted like a dumbass.”
The winner of this year’s Daytona 500 as a rookie, Blaney knows what he has to do at Martinsville.
“We will go try to have a good run,” he said. “I thought we had a race-winning car there last time and I just hope we have that same speed and can put ourselves in a position to win. That is what we have to do.”
Another Ford driver who will likely need to win to stay in title contention next weekend is Chase Briscoe.
The 27-year-old Hoosier retired from Sunday’s race after his car suffered damage when it scraped the outside wall in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 160.
“It is really frustrating to have it be something of my own doing,” Briscoe said of the accident. “I am better than to be crashing by myself.
“It is really unfortunate. It makes our job easier next week I guess. We don’t have to worry about points. We gotta go to Martinsville and win.”
But perhaps no driver will face a more uphill battle to advance to the Championship Four than Christopher Bell.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was in the wrong place at the wrong time during the race at Las Vegas on October 16. In that race, an angry Bubba Wallace took out Kyle Larson after being upset at how Larson raced him.
Unfortunately, Larson’s car hit Bell’s as it slid across the track, and Bell finished 34th. He had a better showing of 11th at Homestead, but still remains eighth overall and will need a miracle to advance to the Championship Four.
“I’m disappointed with our performance today, but at least that is in our hands,” Bell said after Homestead. “Last week, I was emotional about it because it was out of our hands, and we were performing well.
“Today, it was in our hands, and we just didn’t step up to the bat and do what we needed to do. That was disappointing but we will move to Martinsville. We ran well in the spring. I definitely feel better about winning there than I did at the Charlotte road course.”
The penultimate round of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series takes place at Martinsville Speedway this Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.