Split title? Larson’s Homestead win clinches a championship repeat bid for No. 5 team

Kyle Larson was eliminated from repeating as the NASCAR Cup Series drivers’ champion in the Round of 12, but his triumph Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway opened the door for a potential team owners title for his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports group next month.

The possibility of a split championship exists for the first time in the Cup Series’ modern era when the sun sets on the 2022 season Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

Joey Logano and his Team Penske No. 22 Ford team clinched a unified berth in the Championship 4 fields with a victory in the Round of 8 opener a week ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Three title shots remain open in the driver playoffs, but just two exist on the team owners’ side after Larson locked the No. 5 team in.

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The divide opened near the end of the regular season when Kurt Busch withdrew his name from playoff contention as his recovery from a concussion stretched into the postseason. His No. 45 23XI Racing team retained its eligibility for the team owners’ title, thanks to Busch’s win in May at Kansas Speedway. The team, which shifted Bubba Wallace into the No. 45’s seat for the playoffs, was knocked from contention after the Round of 12.

Ryan Blaney clinched the 16th and final spot in the drivers’ playoffs in the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, but his No. 12 Team Penske Ford team was one spot shy of reaching the owners’ playoffs. Blaney would qualify for the driver’s crown if he advances to the Championship 4 round after Sunday’s Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Martinsville Speedway.

Two Hendrick Motorsports drivers — Chase Elliott and William Byron — remain alive in the drivers’ championship. They also carry the hopes of the No. 9 (Elliott) and No. 24 (Byron) teams with them, which would secure the 15th championship on the team owners’ side for NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick.

“I certainly think they’re both important,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. “Obviously one has a different financial impact than the other one does, as we know the points fund is based largely on the owner points, but certainly for the driver as well as the team that that driver is associated with. That’s equally important to us, to be able to go there and compete for that and try to get that accomplished.”

Larson captured his first Cup Series championship last year at Phoenix, but says he still has aspirations for a repeat of sorts for his No. 5 bunch.

“I view myself as … if I say we were to win Phoenix, like my name isn’t going to be on the championship, but having our team be the champion I think is honestly better than … like I would hate to be in Ryan Blaney’s position,” Larson said. “I think he’s the one that’s only in on driver, not owner. I would hate to be in his position, and say he wins the championship and he is credited with a championship but not his team. If I was to have it one way or the other, I would rather be out on my end and be able to celebrate the team championship.

“I’m happy that we get to go compete for that again, and honestly that’s the paycheck, too. We’re going to go for that, and we’re fired up about it.”