All the sweat, the tears, the heart-warming pains and the back breaking gains have all culminated to this one last shot for the Championship 4 contenders to vie for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Phoenix Raceway.
Here’s an in-depth look at the championship contenders, continuing with Kyle Larson (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet)…
Larson By The Numbers:
1 – Number of career appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 (2021).
5 – Number of top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
8 – Number of top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.
9 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins in 2021 (career-high).
6.2 – Average starting position during the first 35 races of 2021 season.
8.1 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.
9.3 – Average finishing position during the 2021 season.
11.6 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.
17 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season (series-most in 2021).
19 – Number of top-five finishes in the first 35 races of the 2021 season.
25 – Number of top-10 finishes during the first 35 races of the 2021 season.
65 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021 (series-most in 2021).
72 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.
93.5 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway – eighth-best among active drivers.
111.9 – Season-to-date driver rating – series-best among active drivers.
2,474 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season (career-high).
8,688 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (97.7%).
Larson looks to cement name in history with NASCAR Cup Series championship
Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson heads to Phoenix Raceway this weekend looking to become the 35th different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win the championship and the fifth different driver to accomplish the feat for Hendrick Motorsports joining Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), and NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).
Of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 drivers, Larson is the only one making his final round debut. The Elk Grove, California native’s previous best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series final standings was sixth back in 2019.
Larson, one of the most accomplished Dirt racers on the planet, graduated from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and immediately pounced on the NASCAR national series scene. In 2012, Larson signed Turner Scott Motorsports and made four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series posting three top 10s; including a runner-up finish at Phoenix. He made the jump to fulltime racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series the next season (2013) with Turner Scott Motorsports posting nine top fives and 17 top 10s. He finished the season eighth in points. He also made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2013. He competed in four of the final six races of the season for Turner Scott Motorsports after it was announced he would drive the No. 42 Chevrolet full-time in 2014 for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Ever since 2014, Larson has been scheduled to run fulltime in the NASCAR Cup Series. He spent almost seven full seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing putting up six wins with organization from 2014-2020. But in 2020, Chip Ganassi Racing released Larson just four races into the season following his suspension by NASCAR for using a racial slur over the radio during a public iRacing event. Larson would sit out the remainder of the 2020 season. Following Larson fulfilling the requirements by NASCAR to lift his suspension, Hendrick Motorsports reached out to him to see if he wanted another shot. And as they say, the rest is history.
Hendrick Motorsports brought back the No. 5 team and paired crew chief Cliff Daniels with Larson for the 2021 season. Since joining the No. 5 team at the beginning of the year the duo has put up a series leading nine victories leading into the Championship race this weekend.
Kyle Larson is looking to cap off a career season
Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson is having a career year and not only because he made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff’s Championship 4 Round for the first time, but also because he has racked up a career-high and series leading nine victories on the season – also a career first.
Larson got up to speed at Hendrick Motorsports fairly quickly this season winning in just his fourth race (Las Vegas-1) with the organization – a team record for fewest races before a Cup win. And once Larson found his groove, the wins just kept coming. He has rallied off nine total victories this season (Las Vegas, Charlotte, Sonoma, Nashville, Watkins Glen, Bristol, Charlotte Road Course, Texas and Kansas) and became the first driver in series history to win at three different road courses in a single year. The 24-year-old also joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt (1987), Davie Pearson (1968) and Richard Petty (1967, 1971) as just the fourth driver in series history to win three or more consecutive races multiple times in a single season. In total he put up career-highs in top-five (19) and top-10 finishes this season, as well as a career-high in laps led at 2,474 laps out front this season.
And to top it all off, Larson won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship and entered the 2021 Playoffs as the No. 1 seed with 53 Playoff points to his credit.
Larson kicked the postseason’s Round of 16 off with a runner-up finish at Darlington and then a sixth-place finish at Richmond and won at Bristol to clinch a spot in the Round of 12. From there he finished 10th at Las Vegas and then followed it up with 37th-place finish at Talladega. Larson then switched it to high gear and won at the Charlotte Road Course to advance to the Round of 8. Once in the third round of the Playoffs he proceeded to win the two consecutive races at Texas and Kansas and for the first time in his career lock himself into the Championship 4 Round. He would finish 14th at Martinsville to close out the Round of 8.
Through 35 races this season Kyle Larson has put up nine wins, 19 top fives and 25 top 10s. He has led 2,474 laps and has an average finish of 9.3. He also has the series-best season-to-date driver rating (111.9) on the year.
Larson’s performance at Phoenix
The only driver of this season’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 that has not previously won at Phoenix Raceway is Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson.
Larson has made 14 starts at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, posting five top fives, eight top 10s. His average finish at Phoenix is a strong 11.6, fifth-best in the series and third-best in the 2021 Championship 4.
Larson is also near the top of the charts in several pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 11.956, ninth-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 93.5, eighth-best, 141 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best and 3,010 Laps in the Top 15 (70.1%), 11th-most.
Earlier this season at Phoenix, he started second and finished seventh.
Crew Chief Corner: Cliff Daniels
Since making his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series as a Hendrick Motorsport’s crew chief in 2019, Cliff Daniels has shown that he is one of the rising stars in the sport. During his two seasons of full-time competition, Daniels has worked with three different drivers: Jimmie Johnson (2020), Justin Allgaier (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021). But it wasn’t until this season he earned a spot in the Playoffs and won nine races. This weekend at Phoenix will mark his first appearance in the Championship 4, his previous best finish in the final Cup standings was 18th with driver Jimmie Johnson in 2020.
The Larson-Daniel pair has combined for the following achievements in 35 NASCAR Cup Series races together:
- 9 wins
- 19 top fives
- 25 top 10s
- 2,474 laps led
- 1 pole
- One NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearance (2021)
- One NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2021)
The two will look to capture their first NASCAR Cup Series championship together this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. If they accomplish the feat, Daniels will become the 42nd different crew chief in the series with a championship.
Adding to the historic legacy of Hendrick Motorsports
When it comes to winning titles in the NASCAR Cup Series, no organization does it better than Hendrick Motorsports with their series leading 13 championships among four drivers – Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).
Overall Hendrick Motorsports has 16 NASCAR national series owner championships, the all-time record in NASCAR.
And to boot, Hendrick Motorsports was the first organization in the series history to win four straight, from 1995-98 (Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1997-98; Terry Labonte 1996). And then upped their record in the series with five straight, from 2006-2010 (Jimmie Johnson). Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 of the last 26 NASCAR Cup Series championships (1995-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 50% – series-best.
But the 2021 season has been extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization has been able accomplish. Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 16 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021; Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 is the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races this season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).
The Hendrick Motorsport’s foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and
the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.
This season Hendrick Motorsports led a combined 3,918 laps; fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); 100 laps led away from a new Hendrick Motorsports team record (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.
Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 32 finishes inside the top two; currently tied with Joe Gibbs Racing (2019) for the most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 81 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 53 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 27 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.
Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, the 2021 is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 52 postseason wins, most all-time.
Kyle Larson can add to the legacy of Hendrick Motorsports this weekend by winning the title and extending the organization’s record in series championships. If he accomplishes the feat, he will be the organization’s fifth different driver that has earned a NASCAR Cup Series championship. In total, 13 different organizations have won at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, led by Hendrick Motorsports with 11 victories.