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NASCAR season has been chaotic since Daytona 500: Don't expect anything different at Phoenix

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. will compete Sunday at Phoenix (3 p.m., NBC) for a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during practice Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports
USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX -- Perhaps more than any other in recent memory, the 2021 NASCAR season has been the year of chaos.

It all started with the fireball in Turn 3 of the Daytona 500, when teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano collided on the final lap, allowing Michael McDowell (remember him?) to win the biggest race of the season.

Since then we've seen the first dirt race in four decades, more road races than you could imagine, and enough bruised egos to hold you over until next February.

Drivers have left the track angry (looking at you, Kevin), emotional (nice win, Bubba!), and, in Denny Hamlin's case, a little bit of both.

"I live in chaos. My life is chaos. I thrive under chaos," a blunt Hamlin said earlier this week. "Honestly, you can ask Kyle (Busch). The more sh** is stirred up around me, the more I come at it. I don't mind things like that.

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"To me, it's fuel. Like, I have so much fuel in my tank right now from just motivation. There's a lot of motivation there."

Who are the NASCAR Championship 4 drivers?

Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. will compete Sunday at Phoenix (3 p.m., NBC) for a NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Larson comes in the obvious favorite after winning a career-high nine races this season, while some will consider Hamlin his biggest challenger.

Still, those two are searching for their first career championships, while Elliott (the defending champ) and Truex (2017) already have one title under their belts.

"It's hard to believe it was a year ago already. That's kind of nuts to me," said Elliott, who won two races this season and finished runner-up seven times. "The great news is, we don't just have to come and enjoy it and be done with it. We have another opportunity to try to do it again."

Will Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick feud play a role?

Elliott, NASCAR's Most Popular Driver, has been thrust into the spotlight throughout these playoffs thanks to his ongoing feud with veteran Kevin Harvick. The two got into it at Bristol back in September, and then Harvick wrecked Elliott at the Charlotte Roval a few weeks later.

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While the feud appears to have simmered a bit over the past month — with a little help from the boys over at the NASCAR hauler, no doubt — don't be surprised if it plays a role on Sunday. After all, these things are never truly settled, right?

Is Kyle Larson the championship favorite?

While Hamlin and Elliott come in surrounded by drama (Hamlin and Elliott's teammate, Alex Bowman, got into it last week at Martinsville), Truex and Larson enter Sunday's race relatively quiet.

Larson, who has led a staggering 2,474 laps this season, has won three of the past four races, while Truex won this very race back in the spring.

"Luckily, I haven't been in any confrontations here lately," Truex said. "It's always good to not have enemies when it comes to a race like this. I think it's my fifth time (in the championship race), so yeah ... I just honestly feel lucky to have a chance, to have the opportunity at another championship. Winning here in the spring really makes us feel good about this weekend.

"We've got a lot of confidence."

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott during practice Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, for the Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway. Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports
USA TODAY Sports

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At the end of the day, though, nobody should have more confidence than Larson. The No. 5 Hendrick Chevy has been the car to beat nearly every week since February, and it's hard to envision that changing on Sunday.

Still, this will be Larson's first time racing for a championship, while the other three have advanced to this race at least once before.

Does experience trump speed, though?

"I think Chase proved last year that it doesn't matter," Larson answered. Last year was Elliott's first, and only, championship race.

"We've won the most races this year. So, yeah, I don't know, I just try to treat it as another race," Larson added. "I think I'm just really excited for the opportunity. This is something you always dream about, being in this position to win a championship.

"I'm just very happy, thankful, lucky to be sitting where I am right now talking to you guys and speaking about a championship."

©2021 www.news-journalonline.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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