Kyle Larson ends dream season with Cup Series title and victory in Phoenix
AVONDALE, Arizona – At the end of an almost legendary season came the quintessential story of redemption.
Taking advantage of timely caution and an extremely quick pit stop from his No.5 Chevy crew Hendrick Motorsports, Larson stood up to Martin Truex Jr. in a 24-lap green flag race to the finish of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race.
RELATED: Race Results | Phoenix track photos
The victory – Larson’s 10th of the season and 10th on a track he had never won before – made a deserving series champion from the 29-year-old Californian, who honed his racing skills in cars at open wheels on the earth.
As Larson slowed down his car for the recovery lap, tears began to flow.
âI can’tâ¦ I can’t believe it,â Larson said after getting out of his car. âI didn’t even think I’d be driving a Cup car a year and a half ago. Winning a championship is crazy. First of all I have to thank (team owner) Rick Hendrick, Hendrickcars.com, Jeff Gordon, NASCAR, every one of my supporters in the stands, watching at home and my family.
âThere were so many points in this race where I didn’t think we were going to win. Without my supply team on this last stop (on lap 285) we wouldn’t be standing here. They are the real winners of this race. They are real champions. I am just blessed to be a part of this group. Every man and woman at Hendrick Motorsports, this victory is for all of us, and for all of you.
“It’s amazing. I’m speechless.”
RELATED: Kyle Larson Ends Dominant Season With Cup Championship
This is the Kyle Larson who watched last year’s Cup championship race from afar after being suspended from NASCAR and losing his race with Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur in a virtual race unrelated to NASCAR as of April 2020.
But after Larson worked to secure his reinstatement, team owner Rick Hendrick hired the virtuoso driver, who won 46 gravel races in several divisions during his absence from NASCAR.
Hendrick’s decision paid off immediately and culminated in the 14th series championship for the organization (the most series).
Until round 282 of 312, however, Larson’s chances of winning were virtually nonexistent. He was fourth among the drivers in Championship 4 and was ahead of Truex, the leader at the time, by more than four seconds.
But in the race-changing lap, the brakes on David Starr’s No. 13 Toyota exploded and dropped a rotor into the low lane of Turn 3. Under the resulting warning, the ninth in the race, Larson’s crew made their second fastest stop. of the year and took Larson off the pit route at the top of pit # 1, which the driver had won by taking pole in Saturday’s qualifying.
Larson restarted from the outside on lap 289 with Hamlin by his side. Truex, who lost two positions on the pit lane, lined up behind Larson, with defending champion Chase Elliott inside. Larson took the lead and Truex followed, passing Hamlin.
Truex contested the lead early in the race before Larson established a more comfortable margin. But Truex was closing in and was just 0.398 seconds behind when Larson last crossed the bar for the 16th victory of his career.
RELATED: Martin Truex Jr. Finishes Second Again
âI don’t know what the warning was for, but just a warning for us and I lost two spots on the pit lane, and that was racing,â said Truex. âThere are twenty (laps) to go, you won’t overtake one of the fastest cars. We just haven’t had the short-lived speed all day, and then certainly with 20 to go, it’s going to be tough to pass someone in front in the clean air.
âI think if we had had the head we could have held it back. But looking back, it’s 20-20, and we didn’t have the lead, so here we are. Really proud of our team and our season. Come back here as an underdog and try your luck, so that was fun.
Before the lap 282 warning, Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota Joe Gibbs was closing in on Truex, but the yellow flag foiled a well-executed game plan by Hamlin’s team.
âI really liked where we were at with about 25 to go,â said Hamlin, who was third ahead of Ryan Blaney and Elliott. âWe were just exceptional for the long haul, which wasn’t too surprising, but we started to bring the 19 (Truex) back there and got closer to a few car lengths, and obviously that precaution against the debris has changed a lot.
âSpecial congratulations to Larson and his team. These guys, whenever you can win 10 races in a year, you are absolutely a deserving champion. They did a great job on the last pit stop and got him out, and that’s right after that he set sail. “
Had he won, 25-year-old Elliott would have become the youngest driver to win multiple Cup championships, but his No.9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had neither the track position nor the necessary speed in the last one. handle.
âI felt our Chevrolet NAPA was really good and I think our team did a really good job of preparation this week,â said Elliott, who led 94 laps, just behind Larson’s 107. âI was really proud of our group. I thought we brought a really good car and did a lot of the things we wanted to do today. It just didn’t work out, and the chain of everything that happened was certainly unfortunate for us.
âBut look, proud of our team, a lot to build on, and congratulations also to Kyle and (foreman) Cliff (Daniels). What an amazing season. Very, very deserving champions, and happy to see Kyle be successful. When you are a good driver and a good person, and you surround yourself with good people, success is guaranteed. It’s good to see that.
“But we will come back stronger next year and try to give them a chance.”
MORE: Chase Elliott Post-Race Interview
Notes: The post-race inspection as well as vehicle and engine teardown confirmed that Larson was the winner and the race champion. Driver Kyle Busch’s # 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was found to have two unsafe and secure lug nuts. Toyota n Â° 11 Joe Gibbs Racing of driver Denny Hamlin, Team Penske Ford n ââÂ° 2 of driver Brad Keselowski, Ford n ââÂ° 21 Wood Brothers Racing of driver Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota n Â° 19 Joe Gibbs Racing of driver Martin Truex Jr. and Larson’s # 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet each had an insecure and secure lug nut. Fines imposed on these respective team leaders will be assessed on the NASCAR Penalty Report, which is typically released on Tuesday.