The 2021 NASCAR season wrapped up on Sunday afternoon. The NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race (yes, that was the actual name of the race) was held in Avondale, Arizona. A sold-out Phoenix Raceway hosted the final race of the season for the second straight year. The Championship 4 found themselves in front for most of the day, and all four drivers displayed various strengths and weaknesses throughout the race. In the end, it was only fitting that Kyle Larson cap off a dominant season by earning his tenth win and capturing his first career NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
NASCAR Cup Series Recap | Kyle Larson Wins at Phoenix
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Stage 1
This week, NASCAR actually had practice and qualifying for the first time since Indianapolis. Kyle Larson was able to win the pole position after being the fastest car in both practice and the qualifying time trials. Hendrick Motorsports teammate and fellow Championship 4 contender Chase Elliott qualified second. They led the field to the green flag to start the final race of the 2021 season.
Just a few laps in, Bubba Wallace got turned by Corey LaJoie and sent up into the wall. That ended his day early. Elliott was able to pass Larson for the lead just before that first caution came out. Cliff Daniels, crew chief for the No. 5 car, made the interesting decision to pit just six laps into the race. Larson lost a ton of track position as a result but the move didn’t prove costly in the end.
After going back green, Corey LaJoie went for a spin to bring out another caution. Ryan Blaney took over the lead after staying out during the ensuing pit stops. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick wasted no time in getting around Blaney and they battled for the lead for several laps. Truex had the best long-run car all afternoon and went on to win Stage 1. All of the Championship 4 drivers finished the first stage in the top-5.
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Stage 2
Chase Elliott won the race off of pit road and took the lead away from Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 team. The race stayed green for a while, and Truex took advantage of that again thanks to his long-run speed. He eventually took the lead back from Elliott and began to pull away from the field.
That was until Quin Houff finished out the last NASCAR Cup Series race for StarCom Racing in the garage after a tire went down and led to him wrecking out. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would also cut down a tire and hit the wall. Chase Briscoe suffered a similar fate several laps later to bring out another caution.
Kyle Larson won the race off of pit road following the caution for Briscoe’s wreck. Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and Daniel Suarez all stayed out but none were able to maintain their newfound track position on the restart. Larson and Elliott passed them to get back to the front of the pack. Larson held off the No. 9 car to pick up the Stage 2 win.
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Final Stage
Kyle Larson held serve on pit road during the break and led the field back to the green for the final stage of the 2021 season. Chase Elliott came from a full second back to take the lead away from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. About halfway through the final stage, Anthony Alfredo had a tire go down and hit the wall hard to bring out a caution. Martin Truex Jr. lucked out and was on pit road when the caution came out. He took over the lead as a result after the other lead-lap drivers pitted during the caution.
Running in cleaner air, Truex quickly got away from the rest of the Championship 4 and appeared to be on his way to winning his second NASCAR championship. Unfortunately for the No. 19 and Joe Gibbs Racing, David Starr’s brake rotor exploded and caused a caution for debris with just under 30 laps to go. Larson’s pit crew redeemed themselves after a bad stop the previous time by getting the No. 5 out in front of the other four championship contenders.
Larson may have restarted with the lead, but all of the Championship 4 drivers were right there with 20 laps to go. Truex gained on Larson late in the race as he had during long runs all day but it was too little, too late. The Larson Redemption Tour ended in victorious fashion on Sunday with two trophies. Larson earned his tenth race win of the season and hoisted the NASCAR Cup Series Championship trophy in the process.
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race Final Thoughts
The most deserving driver in the Championship 4 was able to finish off a historic season by winning the title. Kyle Larson went from sitting on his couch during this race last season to winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship. I understand that a lot of people are going to hate this, but none of us are perfect. We all deserve second chances in life. Larson made a mistake last year and has owned up to it. He paid his dues and now he is back and better than ever.
Larson, the No. 5 team and all of Hendrick Motorsports look like they are going to be tough to beat going forward. We’ll see if they can maintain their success from this season in 2022 as NASCAR debuts the Next Gen Cars.