NASCAR Phoenix: Larson beats Truex to win 2021 Cup Series title

Kyle Larson secured his first NASCAR Cup title with victory in Phoenix finale, his 10th win of the season after returning to the series following his suspension in 2020.

NASCAR Phoenix: Larson beats Truex to win 2021 Cup Series title

Having won out in the 'regular season', Hendrick Motorsports' Larson continued his impressive form throughout the playoffs, and capped off an excellent season with a strong defensive drive from Martin Truex Jr, who was looking to claim his second Cup Series title.

Larson led the most laps at Phoenix, but had fallen out of lead late on. However, a late caution for a broken brake rotor from David Starr's car on the track on lap 283 of 312 prompted all the lead-lap cars to visit the pits for new tyres.

Had won the pole on Saturday to claim the first pit stall, Larson just edged Denny Hamlin off pit road – picking up three spots and moving into the lead when the race restarted on Lap 289.

For the final 23 laps, Larson deftly held off a determined Truex and took the checkered flag by 0.398 seconds to win his career-best 10th win of the 2021 season.

“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,” Larson said. “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.

“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.”

Larson was indefinitely suspended from NASCAR and fired from Chip Ganassi Racing in March 2020 for using a racial slur over the radio during a public iRacing event.

He sat out the remainder of the 2020 season, with a return to NASCAR never a certainty.

After fulfilling the requirements by NASCAR to lift his suspension, Hendrick Motorsports opted to add Larson to its four-driver Cup team for the 2021 season.

Larson and his #5 Chevrolet team quickly showed they would be a factor for the championship this season, winning the season’s fourth race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Champion Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Champion Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

He won the regular season title and four races in the playoffs that helped him advance to the Championship 4 - eventually snowballing into his first NASCAR title.

Larson said as he drove around the track after taking the checkered flag, he had tears welling in his eyes.

“The crowd was cheering loud, and it was just a different atmosphere than I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “This event was crazy. This format is wild. I’m glad we were able to get it done.

“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."

Larson won the second stage of the race having pounced on cars ahead of him who had elected not to pit following a caution for Chase Briscoe's crash, following the Stewart-Haas Racing driver sustaining a puncture from contact with Kyle Busch.

When the race returned to green on Lap 162, Tyler Reddick – among those who stayed out – led the way, followed by Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Larson, but the latter used a three-wide move on the restart to quickly power into the lead as Chase Elliott - also in the Championship 4 - followed him into second.

Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Truex all diced for the lead in the final stage as either one of them could secure the title, but Larson's leap from the pits after Starr's debris caution stacked the odds firmly in his favour.

Hamlin finished third in the race and the championship standings, as Ryan Blaney crashed the party amid the top four to claim fourth place.

2020 champion Chase Elliott finished fifth, and fourth in the final series standings.

Aric Almirola finished fifth ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell and Brad Keselowski, who was in his final race for Team Penske ahead of his move to Roush Fenway Racing after taking a stake in the team.

NASCAR Cup Series Phoenix race results - 312 laps

Cla Driver Manufacturer Time Gap
1 United States Kyle Larson Chevrolet 3:06'32.873  
2 United States Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 3:06'33.271 0.398
3 United States Denny Hamlin Toyota 3:06'34.066 1.193
4 United States Ryan Blaney Ford 3:06'36.177 3.304
5 United States Chase Elliott Chevrolet 3:06'36.798 3.925
6 United States Aric Almirola Ford 3:06'38.325 5.452
7 United States Kyle Busch Toyota 3:06'40.445 7.572
8 United States Kevin Harvick Ford 3:06'40.541 7.668
9 United States Christopher Bell Toyota 3:06'41.111 8.238
10 United States Brad Keselowski Ford 3:06'42.893 10.020
11 United States Joey Logano Ford 3:06'43.066 10.193
12 United States Matt DiBenedetto Ford 3:06'43.203 10.330
13 United States Cole Custer Ford 3:06'43.663 10.790
14 United States Ross Chastain Chevrolet 3:06'44.636 11.763
15 United States Austin Dillon Chevrolet 3:06'46.279 13.406
16 United States Kurt Busch Chevrolet 3:06'46.560 13.687
17 United States William Byron Chevrolet 3:06'47.142 14.269
18 United States Alex Bowman Chevrolet 3:06'48.590 15.717
19 United States Tyler Reddick Chevrolet 3:06'49.073 16.200
20 United States Ryan Preece Chevrolet 3:06'50.354 17.481
21 Mexico Daniel Suarez Chevrolet 3:06'50.712 17.839
22 United States Erik Jones Chevrolet 3:06'51.205 18.332
23 United States Ryan Newman Ford 3:06'52.821 19.948
24 United States Michael McDowell Ford 3:06'53.145 20.272
25 United States Chris Buescher Ford 3:06'53.858 1 Lap
26 United States Justin Haley Chevrolet 3:06'58.005 2 Laps
27 United States B.J. McLeod Ford 3:06'39.178 3 Laps
28 United States Cody Ware Chevrolet 3:06'39.711 6 Laps
29 United States Joey Gase Chevrolet 3:06'33.608 9 Laps
30 United States Josh Bilicki Ford 3:06'56.071 9 Laps
31 United States Garrett Smithley Chevrolet 3:06'52.075 11 Laps
32 United States Corey Lajoie Chevrolet 3:06'55.813 31 Laps
33 United States David Starr Ford 2:48'07.234 39 Laps
34 Anthony Alfredo Ford 2:27'04.352 70 Laps
35 United States Chase Briscoe Ford 1:33'50.831 159 Laps
36 United States Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chevrolet 1:25'37.501 172 Laps
37 United States Quin Houff Chevrolet 1:13'06.314 190 Laps
38 United States Timmy Hill Toyota 56'24.135 255 Laps
39 United States Bubba Wallace Toyota 2'22.055 307 Laps

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