From 1974 to 1986, the final race of the NASCAR Cup Series season was held in California—first at Ontario Motor Speedway and later on the Riverside road course.
Bill France Jr., then NASCAR president, occasionally was criticized for scheduling the race that usually determined the Cup champion on the West Coast, far from the Southeast, NASCAR’s traditional heartland.
France defended the choice as part of NASCAR’s aggressive plan to strengthen its foundation as a national sport, but the season finale eventually did return to the Southeast, moving to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1987.
Fast-forward more than three decades later, and the site of the season’s final race has become much more important because of the nature of the Cup Series playoffs. The title is decided in the finale between four drivers, with the driver who finishes in front of the other three contenders taking the championship trophy.
Phoenix Raceway, in Avondale, Arizona, has hosted the final race since 2020, taking the reins from Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Homestead’s south Florida climate and generally excellent racing conditions kept the finale there from 2002 to 2019.
Although Phoenix, which underwent extensive renovations in 2018, has been successful as the championship host, drivers generally support the idea of moving the season’s final race from track to track.
“I definitely think it should move around, but there are not a lot of places where you can schedule a race in early November (because of weather) and know that you’re going to have a race as scheduled on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern,” said 2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson. “Homestead and Phoenix are good. Texas sucks, so you don’t want to go there. You hate to decide a champion at Daytona. So it’s probably between Phoenix and Homestead.”
The idea of beginning and ending the season at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR’s flagship track, occasionally is floated, but drivers and officials generally oppose hosting the championship race at the 2.5-mile track because of the possibility of multi-car accidents taking out title contenders.
“Definitely not Daytona,” said 2022 champion Joey Logano. “I don’t think a superspeedway should ever end the season. I’m really skeptical even of having a superspeedway in the playoffs.
“But I do think the final race should move around. I think it’s like the Super Bowl. It doesn’t stay in the same city every year. It gets bidded out. Why can’t we do that?
“Being able to have a championship race at your track is great—look at Phoenix. They didn’t sell it out in years before. With all the changes they made, it’s a great venue now.”
Michael McDowell also pointed out the positives—for both tracks and host cities – of hosting the finale.
“I think moving it around would be really valuable for a lot of the different areas and tracks,” he said. “And it would help from a competitive standpoint to mix it up—to keep one team that might dominate at a track from having that advantage year to year.”
Chris Buescher, who finished seventh in this year’s playoffs, also supports a movable championship race, largely because of the fan element.
“I think if you change it up every couple of years you can bring fans to a location that may be closer to them for a finale that they can experience,” he said. “You open up that opportunity for more people.”