What a difference a year makes. In 2020 Kyle Larson was watching from North Carolina as Chase Elliott won the Cup title for Hendrick Motorsports. Sunday he was celebrating his own title after beating Elliott.
Larson won his tenth race of 2021 Sunday night holding off Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin and securing his first NASCAR Cup championship.
The keys to Larson’s win, and his first NASCAR Cup championship actually came in the pits Sunday and by winning the pole Saturday.
Larson won the pole on Saturday giving his team first choice of pit stalls. The team chose the closest one to the exit of pit road and that paid off during the last pit stop. Caution came out for debris from the car of David Starr on lap 283 ending a 1-2 up front from Truex and Hamlin.
The leaders pitted and with their second fastest stop of the season, combined with their pit stall position, Larson was able to come out in the lead and never looked back winning his 10th race of the season and his first Cup title by .398 of a second over Truex.
“I cannot believe it,” Larson said. “I didn’t even think I’d be racing a Cup car a year and a half ago. To win a championship is crazy. There were so many points in this race where I did not think we were going to win. Without my pit crew on that last stop, we would not be standing right here. They are the true winners of this race. They are true champions. I’m just blessed to be a part of this group. “
Hamlin was third, Ryan Blaney took fourth from Elliott in the final laps, and last years champion was fifth.
After the Hendrick drivers looked unbeatable early on, the race, and the title, seemed to belong to Truex. Truex had the lead on lap 51 and won Stage 1 which ended on lap 75.
Elliott and Larson were running first and second when fortune seemed to smile on Truex on lap 247 as he pitted under green. Moments later Anthony Alfredo crashed on the backstretch; Truex was rolling off pit road as the caution was coming out and cycled to the lead when the green came out to start lap 254.
Truex was firmly in control with the debris caution came out with 30 to go and Larson took the lead for the final time off pit road.
Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10 finishers.
The title for Larson comes over a year after he was suspended by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur and fired from his Chip Ganassi Racing team. He rebounded, was reinstated by NASCAR in October 2020, then hired by Hendrick to drive the No. 5.
Larson responded by more than doubling his career wins this season winning 10 points races, the NASCAR All-Star race and Sunday his first NASCAR Cup title.
Hendrick and Larson extended his contract, and he will once again be racing the No. 5 in 2022.
Sunday’s race also marked the final race for Ganassi Racing which sold its NASCAR assets to Trackhouse Racing. StarCom Racing also sold its charter and announced earlier this week and were shutting down. The team’s last race ended Sunday on lap 130 when Quinn Houff’s Chevy lost a tire and crashed hard. Severa; drivers also had their last races with their 2021 teams: Ryan Newman is leaving Roush to make way for Brad Keselowski who will take over the No. 6 and become part owner of the team. Newman finished 23rd. In his last race with Team Penske, Keselowski finished 10th. Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th in his last race with the Wood Brothers. The Wood Brothers No. 21 will be taken over by Austin Cindric in 2022.
Sunday’s race also marked the final one for NASCAR’s 6th Generation racecar. The new car known as the Next Gen will make its competitive debut in an exhibition race at the L.A. Coliseum in February.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race
Sunday, November 7, 2021
- (1) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 312.
- (12) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 312.
- (6) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 312.
- (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 312.
- (2) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 312.
- (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 312.
- (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 312.
- (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 312.
- (8) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 312.
- (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 312.
- (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 312.
- (15) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 312.
- (7) Cole Custer, Ford, 312.
- (16) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 312.
- (23) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 312.
- (5) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 312.
- (3) William Byron, Chevrolet, 312.
- (14) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 312.
- (20) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 312.
- (31) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 312.
- (17) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 312.
- (27) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 312.
- (19) Ryan Newman, Ford, 312.
- (28) Michael McDowell, Ford, 312.
- (26) Chris Buescher, Ford, 311.
- (29) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 310.
- (32) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 309.
- (33) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 306.
- (34) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 303.
- (37) Josh Bilicki(i), Ford, 303.
- (38) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 301.
- (24) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 281.
- (36) David Starr(i), Toyota, Brakes, 273.
- (30) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, Accident, 242.
- (22) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, Accident, 153.
- (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 140.
- (35) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Accident, 122.
- (39) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Handling, 57.
- (25) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 5.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 100.348 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 6 Mins, 33 Secs. Margin of Victory: .398 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 9 for 51 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson (P) 1;C. Elliott (P) 2-16;R. Blaney 17-48;K. Harvick 49;R. Blaney 50;M. Truex Jr. (P) 51-78;K. Larson (P) 79;C. Elliott (P) 80-119;M. Truex Jr. (P) 120-130;K. Larson (P) 131;C. Elliott (P) 132-155;K. Larson (P) 156;T. Reddick 157-160;K. Busch 161;K. Larson (P) 162-235;C. Elliott (P) 236-250;K. Larson (P) 251;M. Truex Jr. (P) 252-284;K. Larson (P) 285-312.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson (P) 7 times for 107 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 4 times for 94 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3 times for 72 laps; Ryan Blaney 2 times for 33 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 4 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 19,4,9,11,5,24,41,12,1,21
Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,9,11,19,12,4,2,18,22,24