Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson did not qualify for an opportunity to defend his driver’s title in Sunday’s NASCAR Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway – but he will still be racing for the owner’s trophy.
With his victory at Homestead, Fla. in the penultimate round of the Playoffs – and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott not winning a race during that three-race final push; Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet is owner’s title eligible, while Elliott competes for the driver’s championship.
“I honestly don’t view it any differently,” Larson said. “I come here with a much focus as I did last season when racing for both championships. Maybe if I hadn’t won last year and didn’t have a championship under my belt already, then I’d come in here with a different mindset. But knowing that I have that on my resume already, it allows me not to be careless with the weekend.
“We’re extremely focused and would love to win that Owner’s Championship for Rick (Hendrick) and bring that big paycheck home too.”
Larson led 107 of 312 laps to win at Phoenix from pole position in last year’s Championship Race- securing his first series title. An engine problem this March relegated him to a 34th-place finish – snapping a six-race streak of top-10 finishes at the one-mile track.