CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson became the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win 10 races in a single season. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE earned his final win of the season last Sunday when he took the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway, becoming the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
The accomplishment is especially impressive, given that Larson was in his rookie year with Hendrick Motorsports. While Larson hoped he would win a few races, he never dreamed that he would win 10 points-paying races and a championship this year.
“I didn’t know that we would have a season like this,” Larson said. “With Chase (Elliott) winning last year, I knew we would be strong, but I didn’t think that we would ever win double-digit races in the Cup Series. This isn’t anything that I thought I would ever do in the Cup Series, double-digit wins and winning the championship, winning half the playoff races.”
Take a look back at Larson’s biggest moments this season that led up to his storybook championship finale.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway – March 7
In just the fourth race of the season, Larson led 103 laps – including the final 30 laps – to win his first race with Hendrick Motorsports and first race on a 1.5-mile track. Before Larson’s Las Vegas win, he had only won six Cup races in his career.
Charlotte Motor Speedway – May 28
It took 11 race and four runner-up finishes, but Larson was back in victory lane after the 600-mile race at Charlotte. The victory was especially momentous for Hendrick Motorsports since it broke Petty Enterprises’ all-time wins record of 268 races. The 269th company win was Larson’s second victory on a 1.5-mile track. He dominated the event by leading 327 of 400 laps, including the final 49.
Sonoma Raceway – June 6
It only took Larson one week to get back into victory lane. He edged teammate Elliott to take the checkered flag at his hometown track of Sonoma Raceway right after his Charlotte victory. The caution-ridden race forced NASCAR overtime, but Larson maintained enough space between himself and Elliott to notch his second win in a row.
NASCAR All-Star Race – June 13
While it wasn’t a points-paying race, Larson won the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway and earned the $1 million prize. He led 17 laps, including the final eight, in the uniquely formatted race that saw six segments and multiple field inversions. It was during the sixth segment that he crushed the field and raced out front for the prestigious prize. Larson also won the All-Star Race in 2019.
Nashville Superspeedway – June 20
Larson’s dominant streak continued when he started fifth and quickly worked his way to first at the inaugural race at Nashville Superspeedway. Larson led a whopping 264 of 300 laps and won stage two before leading the final 78 laps to victory. Including the All-Star Race, Larson won four events in a row after his Nashville success.
Watkins Glen International – Aug. 8
Coming out of the NASCAR two-week break at the end of July, Larson hit the ground running and scored his second road course win of the season – and his career – by finishing first at Watkins Glen. The No. 5 pit crew’s strategy during the final stop with 33 laps to go put Larson out front and he held off Elliott in the finals laps to bring home his fifth points-paying win of the year.
Bristol Motor Speedway – Sept. 18
Larson had a rough start to the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs but he rebounded nicely with his victory at Bristol. He led a race-high 175 laps and made a critical decision 400 laps in to stay out with slight damage to his fender. The gamble paid off and Larson remained ahead of the field for the remaining 78 laps. The win at Bristol was especially exciting for Larson, who said he has always wanted to win at the half-mile track under the lights.
Charlotte ROVAL – Oct. 10
Another road course? Not a problem. Larson was playing catch up to teammate William Byron for the majority of the event, but he led where it mattered – in the end. Larson was out front the last eight laps of the 2.28-mile road course to secure the win, but the team was concerned they might not make it to the end of the race. The pit crew went to work on replacing the battery on lap 34 and the alternator belt at the end of stage two, pushing Larson to the back of the field twice. The win advanced him to the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
Texas Motor Speedway – Oct. 17
Larson’s win at Texas marked his third playoff win and second in a row after he led a career-high 256 laps at the track, surpassing his 74 total laps he led at the Fort Worth venue in his combined previous starts. Larson faced a little adversity when five of the race’s 11 caution occurred in the final 34 laps. He worked with his teammates over the radio to shoot ahead every time the race went green, and the win propelled him to the Championship 4 round.
Kansas Speedway – Oct. 24
For the second time in 2021, Larson won three races in a row when he crossed the finish line first at Kansas Speedway. Even though he was guaranteed a spot in the next round, Larson said he wanted to keep the momentum going, “lead a bunch of laps” and win at Kansas. He was out front for 130 circuits, including the final 39, to earn his ninth points-paying win of the season. The victory was extra special since it fell on the 17th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 10 Hendrick Motorsports employees and family members, including Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky.
"I want to dedicate this win to Rick and Linda (Hendrick)," Larson said after the race. "I didn’t ever get to meet Ricky or the other men and women who lost their lives that day, but I felt the importance of this race, no doubt. It’s crazy how it kind of all worked out there for me to win. I know they were all looking down and helping me out there.”
The win also made Larson the first driver since Dale Earnhardt to have two three-race win streaks in a single season.
Phoenix Raceway – Nov. 7
In the most important race of Larson’s Cup career, he didn’t have the dominant car he had driven during the Round of 8. Crew chief Cliff Daniels made several huge adjustments to the car throughout the event to try and get Larson the speed he needed, but it wasn’t until the final caution with 30 laps to go that Larson was steady out front. A stellar stop by his pit crew allowed Larson to jump from fourth to first, and he led the final 25 laps to become the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion.