Breaking down the four drivers competing for the 2021 NASCAR Cup championship at Phoenix Raceway

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Then there were four.

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 drivers are set, and they’ll compete Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in a winner (or highest finisher) take-all title race (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

The 10-race playoffs started in September with 16 drivers racing for a shot at the championship. After the first three Round of 16 races, four drivers were eliminated, and the field dropped to 12. After the next three Round of 12 races, the field shrank to eight, and when Sunday’s Round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway ended with Alex Bowman – a playoff driver who was previously eliminated – as the winner, the championship contenders were whittled to four.

In an all-Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing finale, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will race one more time in 2021 for NASCAR’s giant trophy.

Now, going into the season finale, points in the driver standings no longer matter. To win the championship, the four title contenders don’t actually have to win the race itself, though that’s often the way it goes. But whichever of the final four drivers finishes ahead of the other three, he’ll be crowned the champion.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Championship 4 drivers got here, along with their season stats and title odds, per Tipico Sportsbook as of Tuesday.

Kyle Larson

No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Kyle Larson led all NASCAR Cup Series drivers with nine wins this season.
Kyle Larson led all NASCAR Cup Series drivers with nine wins this season.

How he got to the Championship 4: After a dominant season, it’s no surprise he’s had a commanding title run with four wins through the first nine playoff races, including three in a row. Inside that winning streak, Larson locked himself into the final four by winning the first race in the Round of 8 at Texas Motor Speedway and automatically advancing. In the playoffs this year, the 29-year-old also won at Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval and Kansas Speedway. He and the No. 5 Chevrolet team have been the ones to beat all season, and that’s certainly been true through the postseason.

History at Phoenix Raceway: While Larson has, by far, the most laps led this season – he’s been out front nearly 28% of the season and is 1,000 led laps ahead of Hamlin with the next most – he led only one lap at the Phoenix spring race. He finished seventh behind winner Martin Truex Jr. and the other two remaining title contenders. In 14 Cup starts at Phoenix, Larson has never won, but he has five top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.

SEASON STATS

  • Wins: 9

  • Top-5s: 19

  • Top-10s: 25

  • Laps led: 2,474

  • Championship odds: +175

Chase Elliott

No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Chase Elliott won the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championshp.
Chase Elliott won the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championshp.

How he got to the Championship 4: Getting a chance to repeat as Cup Series champion after winning in 2020, Elliott advanced to the title race after winning the first two stages at Martinsville. The 25-year-old clinched his spot based on points, and accumulating enough points to be currently second in the standings is what got him this far. Without winning a playoff race going into Phoenix, Elliott’s best finishes through the playoffs were two runner-up spots, first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Round of 12 and then at Kansas Speedway in the Round of 8. He has had three top-5 playoff finishes this year.

History at Phoenix Raceway: After starting sixth and not leading any laps in the Phoenix spring race, Elliott finished fifth. In 11 Cup starts at Phoenix, he has four top-5 finishes and seven top-10s, plus his victory from the 2020 championship race.

SEASON STATS

  • Wins: 2

  • Top-5s: 14

  • Top-10s: 20

  • Laps led: 858

  • Championship odds: +240

Martin Truex Jr.

No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship, has won four races this season.
Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR Cup championship, has won four races this season.

How he got to the Championship 4: Truex clinched his spot and will have a chance to race for his second championship. The 41-year-old has four wins this season, including taking the checkered flag at Richmond Raceway in the Round of 16. Through nine playoff races, he has five top-5 finishes and six top-10s, including fourth at Martinsville to lock up his Championship 4 spot.

History at Phoenix Raceway: He won the spring race for his first checkered flag at Phoenix, and through his 31 Cup starts, he’s accumulated just five top-5 finishes and 13 top-10s. However, four of those top-5 finishes have come in the last five seasons.

SEASON STATS

  • Wins: 4

  • Top-5s: 12

  • Top-10s: 19

  • Laps led: 793

  • Championship odds: +330

Denny Hamlin

No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Denny Hamlin won two of the nine playoff races in the 2021 season.
Denny Hamlin won two of the nine playoff races in the 2021 season.

How he got to the Championship 4: Hamlin entered the playoffs winless, but he turned that around quickly by winning the postseason opener at Darlington Raceway. The 40-year-old then won the Round of 12 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before locking himself into the Championship 4 based on points following Martinsville. Although it took until the 27th race of the season for him to end up in victory kane, Hamlin has had one of the strongest cars and teams all season and was in contention for the regular-season championship. Through the first nine playoff races, he has had five top-5 finishes and cannot be overlooked when it comes to Phoenix, where he’ll compete for his first championship.

History at Phoenix Raceway: Hamlin started and finished third in the Phoenix spring race, and he led 33 laps in the process. In 32 Cup starts, he has two wins, 15 top-5 finishes and 19 top-10s.

SEASON STATS

  • Wins: 2

  • Top-5s: 18

  • Top-10s: 24

  • Laps led: 1,502

  • Championship odds: +270

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NASCAR 2021 championship: Four drivers racing for Cup title at Phoenix