How one win in 76 races could spur a NASCAR title

Kyle Larson is the latest example of how one win in NASCAR's playoff system can completely change the championship fortunes of a driver.

How one win in 76 races could spur a NASCAR title


Kyle Larson is the latest example of how one win in NASCAR's playoff system can completely change the championship fortunes of a driver.

It was just a little over two months ago that Larson was anguishing over having to "race backup cars" as he wrecked his primary car in practice sessions on two consecutive race weekends, forcing him to start races from the rear of the field.

At the same time he was in the midst of what turned out to be a 75-race winless streak in the Cup Series and trying to fight his way into the playoffs.

A string of five races with finishes of eighth or better helped propel him into the 16-driver playoff field based on points.

But on Sunday, his win at Dover International Speedway not only ended his winless streak but in an instant made Larson a plausible title contender.

That's not only because of how strongly his #42 Chip Ganassi Racing team has performed of late, but also because of the setup of the 10-race playoff, which are paired into groups of three before the one-race shootout at Homestead Miami for the title.

Thanks to his win Sunday, Larson will advance to the semi-final round of the playoffs regardless of how he finishes this weekend at Talladega and the following week at Kansas.

"Obviously you can breathe a little bit easier going into Talladega, being we all know what Talladega is like.

"But I think we still have to try to put points on the board, whether it's bonus points or race win points," Larson's crew chief, Chad Johnston said.

"There's a lot of guys that have five, six wins and a lot of bonus points that are going to roll over to that next stage, so anything we can do to close the gap on that, obviously with Martinsville being in that last round, that's not the greatest place for us, but we feel like Texas and Phoenix are places we can win at."

Whatever Larson is able to carry into the semi-final round, he will likely still be at a disadvantage to the likes of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, all of whom have amassed a lot of playoff points through multiple wins through the season.

But as Johnston pointed out, Larson is likely to be in contention for wins at Texas and Phoenix and a win at either would automatically send him into the Championship 4 at Homestead.

That's where the fun could really begin.

While Larson has never been one of the four drivers to contend for the championship at Homestead, it's a track where he has put in some significant performances in his career, including leading 322 of 802 laps in the last three races.

Having the opportunity to not only race on a track where he performs well but to do it with a championship on the line is something that Larson does not want to squander, especially when the title race will move to ISM Raceway near Phoenix next season.

"To move on to the next round is special, but we're not just satisfied with being in the Round of Eight," said Larson.

"We want to go and make it into that final round of Homestead, where it's my best track.

"It's the final year for the championship race to be at Homestead [Phoenix replaces it in 2020], so I've looked at this ever since they released next year's schedule as this is my best opportunity to win the championship.

"I've got to take advantage of that."

While others have won more this season, Larson's timely win in the NASCAR playoffs has provided his own path forward to Homestead.

It may be a rocky one, but it's a plausible one nonetheless.

shares
comments
NASCAR Gen-7 Cup Series car begins track testing at Richmond

Previous article

NASCAR Gen-7 Cup Series car begins track testing at Richmond

Next article

Harvick set to pass major Earnhardt NASCAR Cup Series milestone

Harvick set to pass major Earnhardt NASCAR Cup Series milestone
Load comments
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR
Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

NASCAR
Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

NASCAR
Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

NASCAR
Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

NASCAR
Feb 12, 2021
How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career Plus

How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a shot at redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith

NASCAR
Feb 11, 2021
Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines Plus

Autosport's top 5 NASCAR machines

The American stock car scene is more famous for its close racing and occasional punch-ups, but there have been some fantastic machines too. As part of Autosport's 70th anniversary celebrations in 2020, we picked out five of its best

NASCAR
Jan 3, 2021
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Plus

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future

NASCAR
Nov 17, 2020