AVONDALE, Ariz. – One year after sitting out most of the NASCAR season, Kyle Larson has been crowned the NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Larson won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship race to earn his first series championship behind the wheel of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. It is Hendrick Motorsports’ 14th NASCAR Cup Series championship.
“I cannot believe it. I didn’t even think I’d be racing a Cup car a year and a half ago,” said Larson, who was suspended by NASCAR for most of last season and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing following his use of a racial slur during an iRacing event. “To win a championship is crazy.”
The 29-year-old native of Elk Grove, Calif., entered Sunday’s finale as the favorite for the championship and he lived up to the hype. He started from the pole and led the first lap, but struggled through the first stage and part of the second before his Cliff Daniels-led team made the right adjustments to his race car.
He led the final 29 laps of stage two and started first at the beginning of stage two, but it was a late caution and pit stop that ended up elevating him to the Cup Series title.
A caution with 65 laps left just as Larson’s championship rival Martin Truex Jr. was pitting allowed Truex to jump to the race lead while Larson had a bad pit stop and faded to fourth on the track.
However, another caution with 30 laps left for debris from the car of David Starr setup the final round of pit stops. Larson entered pit road fourth, but a blistering fast pit stop by Larson’s crew got him off pit road first.
Larson held the lead during the restart that followed and despite the best effort of Truex in the final laps, Larson crossed the finish line first to win the race and the championship.
“Thank you so much to Rick Hendrick, HendrickCars.com, Jeff Gordon, NASCAR, every single one of of my supporters in the stands, watching at home, my family, I’ve got so many of my family and friends here,” Larson said. “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.”
Larson’s first NASCAR Cup Series championship comes in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports and his seventh full season at NASCAR’s top level. He earned 10 wins, 20 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes along the way. He won four of the final five races this year as well as the NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway.
He is the 35th driver to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship in 72 seasons.
The NASCAR Cup Series championship is the latest accolade for Larson this year, who captured the 60th running of the Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, the Prairie Dirt Nationals at Fairbury (Ill.) Speedway and the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals at Tulsa (Okla.) Expo Raceway.
Truex ended the day second in the championship standings, with Denny Hamlin finishing third in the race and the championship. Chase Elliott, who entered the race as the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, faded to fifth at the checkered flag and finished the year fourth in the standings.