AVONDALE, ARIZ. -- Kyle Larson went from fourth place to first during a perfect pit stop to take command of the final 25 laps at Phoenix Raceway and win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday.
The No. 5 pit crew posted a season-best four-tire stop of 11.79 seconds to surpass the three other Championship 4 drivers under a caution with 30 laps left in the race. Larson used his success in the short run to hold a strong lead over the second-place driver and didn't look back. His title win is the record-extending 14th for Hendrick Motorsports.
Chase Elliott also worked the Championship 4 field and led a total of 94 laps en route to his fifth-place finish. His title win last year allowed Rick Hendrick to become the first team owner to win back-to-back championships since he did so with Jimmie Johnson from 2005-10.
William Byron ran in the top 10 for the majority of the day and finished the race 17th while teammate Alex Bowman rounded out the bunch with an 18th-place finish.
Take a look below to see how the Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway played out for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers.
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Larson started the race first but lost the spot to teammate Elliott by lap two. A caution on lap seven allowed Larson to pit early and he restarted 34th. He was up to 21st by lap 15 when the second caution came out and, with other cars pitting under that caution, Larson jumped to fifth.
- He edged to fourth by lap 22, was in third two laps later and took second by lap 25. He lost a spot on lap 36 and was down to fifth on lap 43. He moved back to fourth 10 laps later but had trickled to fifth by the time stage one ended.
- After a pit stop for tires, fuel and adjustments, Larson restarted fifth and quickly shot up to third. He fell to fourth on lap 111 but a caution 18 laps later allowed Larson to pit for four tires and fuel and take to the track in third place. He took second place before the fifth yellow flag on lap 140 waved from an accident.
- Larson restarted third and quickly shot to second, where he remained until caution No. 6 occurred. A speedy pit stop for four tires and fuel allowed him get off pit road first and restart fifth. He immediately zoomed to first off the apron of the 1-mile track. Larson held off Elliott for the remainder of stage two to cross the finish line first.
- The California native restarted first and remained out front until lap 237 when Elliott took over the lead. Larson was down to third by lap 249 when an accident occurred and brought out a caution. He pitted for four tires and fuel and returned to the track sixth.
- Larson edged to fifth with 56 to go and moved to fourth two laps later. With 30 laps to go, the ninth caution dropped, and Larson was able to get fresh tires and fuel. Larson’s No. 5 crew posted a flawless stop, allowing Larson to restart first. He surged out front and led the final 25 laps to earn his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series championship.
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Elliott lined up next to Larson on the starting grid and was in second place until lap two when he took the lead spot from teammate Kyle Larson. He remained in that spot until the first yellow flag dropped on lap seven. Elliott restarted first and was there for the couple of laps before the second caution. He decided to pit for four tires and fuel before returning to the track in 10th.
- Elliott was up to fifth behind Larson on lap 23 and then up to third on lap 25. He tailed Larson until lap 34 when he gave up third place for fourth. He danced between third and fourth for several laps before settling in third by lap 53, eventually finishing stage one there.
- After pitting for fresh tires and fuel, Elliott retook first place heading off pit road. He remained out front until lap 122 when he was passed and dropped to second. Seven laps later, the third yellow flag gave Elliott the chance to pit for four tires and fuel and reclaim the top running spot.
- The Dawsonville, Georgia, native lost a spot on pit road after receiving tires and fuel. Elliott restarted sixth on lap 161 and shot to second behind Larson. He put the pressure on his teammate but remained in second for the rest of the stage.
- Elliott restarted on the front row and settled into second. He started creeping up Larson’s side on lap 235 and claimed the lead two laps later. He pitted 15 laps later under yellow for four tires and fuel and returned to the track fourth.
- Elliott moved to third with 56 to go and was in that position when the ninth caution fell. Elliott restarted fourth and snagged third with 21 laps left. He had to fend off the fourth-place driver, who took the position with 10 to go. Elliott fought hard for the spot but dropped to fifth right before he crossed the finish line.
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 RAPTORTOUGH.COM CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Byron started right behind his Championship 4 teammates in third place and dropped to fourth by lap three. He battled for the position five laps in but remained steady until the first caution on lap seven. Byron restarted third and fell to fourth within the first turn. He pitted for four tires and fuel under the second caution on lap 15, returning to the track 12th.
- Byron worked his way to 10th by lap 25 and was in seventh two laps later. Toward the end of the stage Byron made a quick move to sixth place, which is how he finished the first segment. He pitted under yellow and returned to the track in seventh.
- The Charlotte, North Carolina, native edged to sixth by lap 91 but slipped back to seventh within several laps. He capitalized on the third caution of the race on lap 129 to pit for tires, fuel and air pressure and chassis adjustments. Byron restarted fifth and was down to sixth when the fifth yellow flag waved on lap 140. He trickled to seventh when the sixth caution fell and opted to pit for tires and fuel, restarting 14th.
- Byron was back in the top 10 by lap 168 and remained 10th until stage two ended. He dropped to 11th after the stage three restart and took his time to get back in the top 10. Byron started to work his way up the track and was ninth with 70 laps to go. He pitted for tires and fuel right before a caution came out, which put him down a lap. He got back on the lead lap with 42 laps left and was 20th and was up to 19th when the ninth yellow flag waved.
- Byron pitted for tires and fuel before jumping back on the track. He was 20th with 20 laps left and shifted up a few positions to 17th before the race ended.
ALEX BOWMAN, NO. 48 ALLY CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 1LE
HOW IT HAPPENED:
- Bowman rolled off the grid 14th and was up to 12th four laps in. He was 17th when the second yellow flag dropped on lap 15, allowing him to pit for tires and fresh fuel and return back out to the track in 24th. Bowman remained around that position for the rest of the first segment and finished stage one in 23rd.
- Bowman took four tires and fuel before returning the track in the same spot. He was back in the top 20 by lap 91 in 19th, where he remained until the third yellow flag on lap 129. He pitted for four tires, fuel and additional chassis adjustments and restarted 21st. Bowman was 19th when the fifth caution fell on lap 140.
- The Arizona native opted to stay out under the sixth yellow flag and restarted second on lap 161. However, the older tires saw Bowman fall back to 17th nine laps later and slipped down to 21st before stage two concluded.
- Bowman was up to 17th 14 laps into stage three. He fell to 19th a third of the way through stage three but worked his way to 13th when a caution fell on lap 249.
- Bowman restarted 13th and was 15th when a caution fell with 30 laps left. He was 14th when racing resumed and quickly jumped to 13th. As the sun started to set and the track cooled down, Bowman trickled down the leaderboard and eventually finished the race 18th.