Kyle Larson. That is a name that many people in the racing world know that name very well, whether it be for good reasons or bad reasons. Everyone has known that if Kyle Larson would be able to get into the right equipment with his NASCAR career, he would become a champion. Everyone who has followed his journey, especially since April of 2020, knows that his journey has been a long one and not an easy journey. He has had to overcome the hardships caused by himself and regain the shape of who he is. After the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Season, Larson would go on to win the 2020 Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, the first of his career. People would wonder if 2020 was going to be Larson’s year or not. That question would soon be answered to everyone on April 12th, 2020.
Last time on Championship Seasons, we dove into Joey Logano’s 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Now, we will explore the story behind Kyle Larson’s 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship. This is Championship Seasons: Kyle Larson.
A Year of Change:
In 2020, the world changed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and life changed as we know it, and Kyle Larson’s life would change forever. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, NASCAR had halted all its events for the time being. They soon announced they would use iRacing to entertain fans during the brief break in the season. On April 12th, 2020, Larson would participate in an iRacing event and was heard using a racial slur over one of the communication channels. The next day, Chip Ganassi Racing would put Larson on suspension without pay and would eventually fire the driver. NASCAR would put Larson on suspension and would require him to complete sensitivity training. Matt Kenseth would replace Larson for the remainder of the 2020 season in the #42 Car. Throughout the Summer, Larson would go up and above what NASCAR wanted him to complete with his sensitivity training.
He participated in several classes to learn more about the African American Community. Throughout the Summer and Fall of 2020, Larson would have a dirt season of a lifetime. Larson would win 46 races in 97 attempts throughout several different series across the country. In October of 2020, Larson would post a letter on his website explaining his actions and accepted all the accountability for his actions. On October 20th, 2020, Larson was officially reinstated. Larson would be eligible to compete in NASCAR events on January 1st, 2021. On October 28th, 2020, it was announced that Larson would drive for Hendrick Motorsports in the #5 car. It was also announced that Hendrickcars.com would be Larson’s primary sponsor. And thus, Kyle Larson’s journey back to the Cup Series was nearly complete. All he was focused on now was reclaiming who he was with people.
The Regular Season:
Larson would make his first Cup Series start for Hendrick Motorsports in the 2021 Daytona 500 on February 14th, 2021, and would go on to finish 10th in the event. Larson would have his breakthrough moment at the Las Vegas Speedway on March 7th, 2021, where he led 103 laps and would win both stages. This was Larson’s first win in just his fourth start for Hendrick Motorsports. This was the fastest for anyone who has raced for Hendrick Motorsports. Throughout April and May, Larson would have very good runs but did not have the wins to back them up, until the Coca-Cola 600. Larson would lead 327 laps and win every stage in a dominating performance. This was Rick Hendricks’s 269th Cup Series win as a car owner, the most all-time.
This win would set the tone for the competition that Kyle Larson was beginning to finally break out. Larson would go on to win the next three races at Sonoma, Texas, and Nashville. By this point in the season, Larson would have four wins and win the All-Star Race at Texas. Larson would go on to win at Watkins Glen after holding off his teammate and two-time Watkins Glen winner, Chase Elliott. This would be his first at the historic Road Course and his second Road Course win of the year. A few weeks later, Larson would go on to win the Regular Season Championship at Daytona. This would make Larson the #1 Seed in the playoffs.
In the first round of the playoffs, Larson would immediately advance to the second round, midway through the Richmond event. This was due to having Larson so many extra points accumulated throughout the year. The next week, at Bristol, Larson would win his first Bristol Night Race. This was thanks to teammate Chase Elliott and rival Kevin Harvick. The two drivers made late-race contact with each other with 33 laps to go. Larson was able to pass Harvick with five laps to go for the win, his sixth of the year. Just three weeks later, Larson faced the possibility of being eliminated from the playoffs at the Charlotte Roval. Larson and his crew faced Alternator Belt and Battery issues early in the race. But thanks to the calmness of crew chief Cliff Daniels and the pit crew, they were able to overcome the issues.
Larson would go on to win his seventh race of the year. This was the tone of the #5 team. Never give up. The next week, Larson would lock himself into the Championship race with a win at Texas after leading 256 laps. On October 24th, 2021, Larson would win his third race in a row but this time at the Kansas Speedway. This was on the tragic anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash at Martinsville. Larson would become just the second driver in history to win three races in a row twice in the same year, the last being Dale Earnhardt Sr. The stage was set. November 7th, 2021, at Phoenix International Raceway. The Championship 4 was set. Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, and Kyle Larson.
A Year of Dominance:
Throughout the early to middle portions of the Championship race, Larson did not have the best car of the Championship 4. But a late-race caution gave the #5 pit crew their moment to shine. The pit crew dealt out their second fastest pit stop of the year on the last pit stop of the year. This got the #5 car in the lead. Larson was able to hold off a hard-charging Martin Truex Jr for the last 25 laps and would win his first Cup Series Championship. Larson would finish the 2021 Cup Series Season with 10 Wins, 20 Top 5’s, 26 Top 10’s, 2 Poles, 2,581 Laps led, and the Cup Series Championship. The most dominant season anyone has seen since Jimmie Johnson.
As of March of 2023, Larson is currently 30 years old and still has a tremendous amount of talent. Larson may not have had the 2022 season that he was hoping for, but he did have a solid season overall. Larson has at least 10 years of racing ahead of him. But only time can tell if he can join the legends of NASCAR and become a multiple-time champion. People have always known that Larson has a ton of talent, some people have called him the best racecar driver in the world. But to him, he still has so much to prove to people as to who he is. Kyle Larson will always be known as “Yung Money.” But to some, he will always be “The California Kid.”
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