Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of four stories examining why each driver could win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Tuesday: Kyle Larson
Wednesday: Chase Elliott
Thursday: Martin Truex Jr.
Friday: Denny Hamlin
Kyle Larson will win the 2021 championship because …
He’s Kyle Larson in 2021.
Larson’s first year in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been one for the record books. His nine victories this season are more than double the totals of each of the three other Championship 4 drivers of Chase Elliott (two), Denny Hamlin (two) and Martin Truex Jr. (four). He’s finished in the top 10 in 25 of the 35 races. His 2,474 laps led is now the most in a single season since NASCAR moved to a 36-race schedule in 2001, surpassing Jeff Gordon’s previous mark of 2,320 during his 2001 championship season.
The regular-season champion has won four races in the playoffs, including three of the last four starting with the Charlotte Roval. If you need any more convincing as to why Larson is the lead candidate for title glory, he’s also the odds-on favorite in the BetMGM sportsbook at 7-5.
RELATED: Betting odds for Phoenix title race
But even with all of the success backing Larson, you can throw those statistics out the window now. It all comes down to one race, one pressure-packed moment to decide who will lift up the Bill France Cup after Sunday’s season finale at Phoenix (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App/Peacock, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Pressure is a concept that Larson and company, led by crew chief Cliff Daniels, have proven they can handle, though. The biggest example of that occurred four weeks ago when an alternator issue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval nearly threw a whole season’s worth of work away. But a calm-and-cool Daniels didn’t let it shake them, methodically giving his team marching orders when a lesser leader could have panicked.
And the end result? Another No. 5 car parked in Victory Lane.
Whatever this Sunday will throw at Larson and Daniels, those two can handle it. But it should not surprise anybody at this point if Larson is out front for the duration. His five straight top-10 finishes at the 1-mile oval back it up even further.
This is why Larson will win the race and the championship on Sunday. He’ll hoist season-ending hardware for the first time in his career in his first Championship 4 appearance and earn Hendrick Motorsports its 14th Cup Series title.
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