CONCORD, N.C. – In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson delivered.
The 2014 Rookie of the Year, who was assigned to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet starting with this season’s DAYTONA 500, won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship on the heels of capturing numerous checkered flags, earning a berth in the playoffs and having a Cliff Daniels-led team providing fast Chevrolets each and every weekend.
“I didn’t know that we would have a season like this. I thought — 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,” Larson said. “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.”
Let’s take a look back at the moments that defined Larson’s 2021 astonishing season.
DOUBLE DIGIT WINS
It didn't take long for Larson to bring home his first Hendrick Motorsports win. The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet took the checkered flag at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in just the fourth race of the season, making him the fastest driver in team history to secure his first win.
"It was such an awesome race car," Larson said in victory lane. "Cliff and everybody did a great job preparing this piece. It was so much fun to drive. I could go wherever I wanted to. I knew we had a really good car once we would kind of get single-filed out; but just drafting early in the run was tough.”
The wins didn’t stop there.
His next three, which came back-to-back-to-back, were distinguished victories in different ways.
Larson mastered the longest race of the season – the Charlotte 600 – and earned the 269th win for the organization, making Hendrick Motorsports the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history. The Elk Grove, California, native followed up that historic win by hoisting a trophy at his hometown track in Sonoma, California before making some noise in Music City where he drove to victory lane at the inaugural event at Nashville Superspeedway.
Deep in the heart of the playoffs, Larson once again went on a three-race winning streak, taking the checkers at the ROVAL, Kansas and Texas events, bolstering the 29-year-old driver to the Championship 4 for the first time in his career.
"This is unreal," Larson said after winning at Charlotte’s road course. "I knew we had a good shot to win today, and our car was amazing. Thanks to everybody on this No. 5 team, HendrickCars.com, Rick Hendrick; this is so cool. ... We get to go race for a championship in a few weeks. This is crazy."
And crazy it was.
At the season finale and championship-deciding race in Phoenix, Larson’s fairytale season ended on a high note after leading 101 laps, including the final 25 circuits when his pit crew posted its second-fastest stop of the year that advanced Larson from fourth to first for the closing laps. Larson won the race and his first title, becoming the fifth different driver to win a championship for Hendrick Motorsports and the first driver to reach 10 wins and win the championship in a single season since Jimmie Johnson in 2007.
“I cannot believe it,” Larson stated after climbing out of his Chevrolet. “I didn’t even think I’d be racing a Cup car a year-and-a-half ago. To win a championship is crazy.
“There were so many points in this race where I did not think we were going to win and without my pit crew on that last stop, we would not be standing right here. They’re the true winners of this race. They’re the true champions. I’m just blessed to be a part of this group.”
HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR
Momentum was on the organization’s side heading into the 2021 All-Star Race as a result of its drivers winning four races, leading 842 of 946 laps (89%) and recording an average result of 5.7.
Larson, the organization’s most recent race winner, also knew a thing or two about winning the spectacular event. He won the All-Star Race in 2019, having to race his way into the event via the Open before he led the final 13 laps to capture the victory.
In 2021, he sat on the pole.
The move from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Texas Motor Speedway for this season’s event also didn’t seem to bother Larson as he shined bright and cashed in on the $1 million prize after mastering a unique racing format with six rounds that saw the field inverted several times.
The two-time All-Star Race winner joined the ranks of Elliott and Jimmie Johnson as drivers who won the all-star event and championship in the same season.
Larson was one of 16 drivers who entered the 2021 championship hunt, but it was his execution that played out perfectly.
Win and advance was the name of the game and that is how he played.
He advanced to the Round of 12 by winning at Bristol, moved on to the Round of 8 by virtue of his ROVAL win and earned one of four Championship 4 spots by being victorious at Texas. Larson was then crowned the season’s champion when he crossed the stripe first at Phoenix.
In a single season, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet is now tied with Tony Stewart for the most wins in the playoffs all-time with five and owns the record for the most laps led in the playoffs all-time with 1,015. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is second with 986 laps.