NASCAR: Larson outduels Truex Jr and Hamlin to win Cup title

Kyle Larson, the best American driver of this era, and the man who completely dominated the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, did it again on Sunday at Phoenix, winning his 10th race of the year (11th including the All-Star race) and with it his first Cup title.

Larson’s pit crew gave him the lead on the final pitstop with 28 laps to go and Larson did the rest by getting the jump on the Toyota of Denny Hamlin and then out dueling the Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. to win by 0.398s in his #5 Hendrick Chevy.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 BetMGM Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney passed the other title contender, Chase Elliott, late to take the 4th spot ahead of a defeated Elliott.

Larson finished ahead of his fellow Championship 4 contenders — defending champion Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin — at the 1-mile track to claim the crown in his first season driving the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

It is the 3rd time Truex Jr. has finished second in the championship.

For a while late in the race, it did not look like Larson had the speed to win when running in dirty air, but his car ran better in clean air and his pit crew got him the lead and the clean air he needed to drive to the win on the last pitstop.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, and and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A caution with 65 laps remaining for Anthony Alfredo appeared to put Truex in good position. Truex and the No. 19 team elected to hit pit road early to start the cycle, but the yellow flag waved as he entered his stall. But when the field was frozen after the caution, Truex was still scored on the lead lap, which gave him the lead for the following restart.

Larson, 29, from Elk Grove, California, took his career to a new level in 2021. The veteran driver more than doubled his career wins total this season, entering ’21 with six since his first full-time season.

By essentially every measure, 2021 marked Larson’s best season — and one of the best in modern NASCAR history. He’s one of just 17 drivers to win eight or more times in a year at the top level, joining a host of NASCAR Hall of Famers to do so.

This was the Kyle Larson who watched last year’s Cup championship race from afar after drawing a suspension from NASCAR and losing his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur during a non-NASCAR-related virtual race in April 2020.

But after Larson did yeoman work to earn reinstatement, team owner Rick Hendrick hired the virtuoso driver, who won 46 dirt races in multiple divisions during his absence from NASCAR.

Hendrick’s decision paid immediate dividends and culminated in the 14th series championship for the organization (series-most).

Larson started out the 2021 season with a 10th-place finish at the Daytona International Speedway before picking up his first win since 2019 just three races later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. From there, it quickly became evident he would be a force this season.

The No. 5 driver put together the best three-race stretch of anyone this year from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Nashville Superspeedway, winning a crown jewel, his first road-course victory and the inaugural Cup race at the Music City track.

He added another over the summer, holding off Hendrick teammate Chase Elliott for another road win at Watkins Glen International before scoring another three in the playoffs (Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Roval, Texas Motor Speedway) leading up to Phoenix. Larson also won at Texas earlier this year in the All-Star Race.

Larson is signed on again to drive for Hendrick next year, along with his three ’21 teammates, positioning the longtime organization to once again compete for the title as NASCAR enters its Next Gen era.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, celebrates with his his wife, Katelyn, son,Owen and daughter Audrey after the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Post-Race Quotes

Kyle Larson

Here he is, climbing out of the car, celebrating with his team, Kyle Larson. Congratulations. You are a Cup Series champion.

KYLE LARSON: Let me get a drink here real quick. I can’t — I cannot believe it. I didn’t even think I’d be racing a Cup car a year and a half ago. To win a championship is crazy.

I’ve got to say first off thank you so much to Rick Hendrick, Hendrickcars.com, Jeff Gordon, NASCAR, every single one of my supporters in the stands, watching at home, my family. I’ve got so many of my friends and family here. My parents, my sister, my wife and kids. Owen had been giving me crap a month and a half ago about how I can’t win a Cup race when he’s there, so that added a lot of pressure.

Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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. Every single man or person, man and woman at Hendrick Motorsports, this win is for all of us, and every one of you.

This is unbelievable. I’m speechless.

When you crossed the finish line with those tears in your eyes, did you think about that day your dad brought that go-kart home without telling your mom and that moment led to this?

KYLE LARSON: I had a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts there those last — really since before intros, right before intros it all hit me. I had tears running down my face just doing the ride-around. The crowd was cheering loud, and it was just a different atmosphere than I’ve ever been a part of.

A crew member of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, driven by Kyle Larson reacts to a pit stop during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

This event was crazy. This format is wild. I’m glad we were able to get it done. And yes, a big shout-out to my parents for getting me involved in racing, my dad for everything he did, building my go-karts when I was young to get me playing around, my mom for videotaping every lap I ever raced and giving me something I could look at and study and get better.

Gosh, so cool, I cannot believe it.

Martin Truex Jr.

He was probably the one that gave the biggest challenge to Kyle Larson there late, got so close in those waning laps. What more did you need to go and pass that 5?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I don’t know, the clean air seemed to be a good bit of an advantage. Whoever got out front was good for 20, 30, 40 laps, and then the long run cars would start coming around.

I don’t know, ultimately we needed to beat him off pit road. It’s unfortunate, but we win and lose as a team. And really proud of our efforts this year. Just big thanks to everybody that makes it possible, Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners, Reser’s Fine Foods, Toyota TRD, Sherwin-Williams, Oakley, Textron, Noble Aerospace, all our partners.

That’s three times we’ve been second, and that sucks. Second hurts I’m not going to lie, especially with the car we had and the job the guys did.

That’s racing, as they say, and sometimes you’re just not on the right end of things. We were on the right end to things to get the lead there and weren’t able to hold on to it. If we could have had the lead, I think it would have been over, but that’s kind of how the 5 did it, too. So they had a hell of a season and congrats to them.

Gosh, second sucks. I hate it.

I saw you take a moment there in the car and just sort of collect your thoughts. What was going through your mind when you pulled up here to a stop?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Just how close we were again, ’18, ’19, ’21, three years we were right there. Had a car capable of winning, and just — you know, for whatever reason, it didn’t go the way we needed it to.

Then at the end there, not quite enough speed to get to the 5 and then around him. I thought if he’d have stayed on the bottom a little bit longer, I’d have had a shot. But he moved up, and I couldn’t do anything on the bottom.

It is what it is. They did a great job, they had a great season, like I said, congrats to them, and come back and try next year.

Denny Hamlin

A piece of debris changed everything. How close were you to getting this done?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, certainly I really liked where we were at with about 25 to go. We were just exceptional in the long run, which wasn’t too surprising, but started running the 19 back down there and got within a couple car lengths and obviously that debris caution changed a lot.

Special congrats to Larson and his team. Those guys, any time you can win 10 races in a year, you’re absolutely a deserving champion. They did a great job on the last pit stop and got him out there, and it was just set sail after that.

Proud of my team. Really great effort adjusting on the car all day, getting it so much better, and thank our partners in Toyota, FedEx, Coca-Cola, Jordan Brand. Just a really good year. A really, really good year, and things just didn’t pan out.

We needed that thing to go green those last 25 laps, and it didn’t.

Chase Elliott

You led 94 laps today, and once you lost the lead when that caution came out, couldn’t get it back. What more did you need to do battle at the end?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, maybe just the right set of circumstances. I felt like our NAPA Chevy was really good, and I thought our team did a really good job preparing this week. I was really proud of our group. I thought we brought a really good car and did a lot of things that we were wanting it to do today, just didn’t work out, and the sequence of the way all that went certainly was unfortunate for us.

But look, proud of our team, a lot to build on, and also congrats to Kyle and Cliff. What an amazing season. Very, very deserving champions, and glad to see Kyle have success.

When you’re a good driver and a good person and you surround yourself with good people, success is warranted. It’s good to see that. But we’ll be back stronger next year and try to give them a run.

Race Results

Fin Str No. Driver Team Behind Laps Led Status
1 1 5 Kyle Larson (P) HendrickCars.com Chevrolet 0.000 312 107 Running
2 12 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) Bass Pro Shops Toyota 0.398 312 72 Running
3 6 11 Denny Hamlin (P) FedEx Express Toyota 1.193 312 0 Running
4 4 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Jack Links Ford 3.304 312 33 Running
5 2 9 Chase Elliott (P) NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 3.925 312 94 Running
6 18 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Ford 5.452 312 0 Running
7 13 18 Kyle Busch M&M’s Toyota 7.572 312 0 Running
8 9 4 Kevin Harvick Busch Light #BuschPitBoss Ford 7.668 312 1 Running
9 8 20 Christopher Bell DEWALT Toyota 8.238 312 0 Running
10 11 2 Brad Keselowski Discount Tire Ford 10.020 312 0 Running
11 10 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 10.193 312 0 Running
12 15 21 Matt DiBenedetto Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford 10.330 312 0 Running
13 7 41 Cole Custer HaasTooling.com Ford 10.790 312 0 Running
14 16 42 Ross Chastain Clover Chevrolet 11.763 312 0 Running
15 23 3 Austin Dillon Dow Coatings Chevrolet 13.406 312 0 Running
16 5 1 Kurt Busch Monster Energy Chevrolet 13.687 312 1 Running
17 3 24 William Byron Raptor Chevrolet 14.269 312 0 Running
18 14 48 Alex Bowman Ally Chevrolet 15.717 312 0 Running
19 20 8 Tyler Reddick BetMGM Chevrolet 16.200 312 4 Running
20 31 37 * Ryan Preece Kroger Chevrolet 17.481 312 0 Running
21 17 99 Daniel Suarez Good Sam Chevrolet 17.839 312 0 Running
22 27 43 Erik Jones Rellevate Chevrolet 18.332 312 0 Running
23 19 6 Ryan Newman Castrol GTX Full Synthetic Ford 19.948 312 0 Running
24 28 34 Michael McDowell Love’s Travel Stops Ford 20.272 312 0 Running
25 26 17 Chris Buescher Fastenal Ford -1 311 0 Running
26 29 77 Justin Haley(i) Peacock – Streaming Now Chevrolet -3 310 0 Running
27 32 78 BJ McLeod(i) Pala Casino Ford -3 309 0 Running
28 33 51 Cody Ware(i) Nurtec ODT Chevrolet -6 306 0 Running
29 34 53 Joey Gase(i) DonateLife Chevrolet -9 303 0 Running
30 37 52 Josh Bilicki(i) Boom Ford -9 303 0 Running
31 38 15 Garrett Smithley(i) Carpets of Arizona Chevrolet -11 301 0 Running
32 24 7 Corey LaJoie Schluter Systems Chevrolet -31 281 0 Running
33 36 13 * David Starr(i) Bob Menery Ripper Magoo Toyota -39 273 0 Brakes
34 30 38 Anthony Alfredo # Boot Barn Ford -70 242 0 Accident
35 22 14 Chase Briscoe # HighPoint.com Ford -159 153 0 Accident
36 21 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet -172 140 0 Accident
37 35 0 Quin Houff CREEK Enterprises Inc. Chevrolet -190 122 0 Accident
38 39 66 * Timmy Hill(i) Coble Enterprises/Darn Transport Toyota -255 57 0 Handling
39 25 23 Bubba Wallace Door Dash Toyota -307 5 0 Accident
# DENOTES ROOKIE
(i) NOT ELIGIBLE FOR POINTS
(*) REQUIRED TO QUALIFY ON TIME

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

 

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