While although Kyle Larson may have only just been crowned the winner of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series, collective focus already moves on to 2022 and with next year’s schedule now being announced, plans for the next edition of the championship have already begun.
Plans that will once again see Larson take the wheel of his number 5 Chevrolet and after scooping victory at the Season Finale 500 last week, many believe that he will once again be the man to beat next time around.
While such was the confidence in Larson just days ago, that the sports betting sites had the Hendrick Motorsport team member at particularly short odds for championship victory and especially due to the run of form he took into the last race of the season.
Before the final four championship hopefuls were decided, the now 2021 champion put himself in pole position and with three consecutive playoff wins recorded, he laid down a marker for each of his nearest rivals.
Success in each of the Bank of America Royal 400, Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 and the Hollywood Casino 400 meant that it was very much advantage to the 29-year-old Larson and although a fourth straight win eluded him at the Xfinity 500, that would not matter whatsoever.
Because although he was only good enough for 14th at the Martinsville Speedway, it did not matter all that much and with a place in the final four already earned due to that aforementioned purple patch of form, it meant full focus could be placed on the season finale itself.
If anything, the fact that there was a lesser showing at the Xfinity 500, is something that arguably set him in good stead and without the need to go full throttle in Ridgeway, Virginia, it meant full focus could be applied to when it mattered most.
While it certainly would matter at the Season Finale 500, as he would be one of the awesome foursome who were hoping to get their hands on this year’s edition of the coveted NASCAR Cup Series trophy.
A foursome that would see him joined by the trio of Martin Truex Jr, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott and with the latter also a part of the fearsome Hendrick Motorsport outfit, there would be some inter-team rivalry during the final race.
Going into the event itself, it would be Larson who won pole position and somewhat fittingly, the four championship hopefuls would also be the quartet of drivers who spent the majority of the race at the front.
With Truex Jr winning Stage 1 and Larson winning Stage 2, the anticipation was building rather nicely and with 30 laps of the race remaining, it was the former who found himself in front after a David Starr-enforced caution.
At that point, it was Hamlin who then sensed an opportunity and with a 12.1 pit stop in the record books, many felt that he would put himself in a perfect position by the time the next green flag came about.
Unfortunately for Hamlin, his pit stop was fast, but Larson’s was even quicker and at 11.8 seconds – the second fastest by his pit crew in 2021, it would put the California-born pilot at the head of the field once more.
Which meant with just 25 laps left remaining, the stage was set for an incredible climax and with all four of the championship hopefuls truly in the mix, all that was left was to sit back and watch the drama unfold.
Thrilling drama that saw Truex Jr swap paint and bump bumpers with Larson and although the number 19 car tried absolutely everything, his efforts to surpass his number 5 counterpart only ended up in vain.
Which meant with the current race leader showing enough nous to steer his car over the finishing line first, it would mean a tenth race of the season and although double figures is certainly something to celebrate, there was another reason to party into the night.
A reason that comes in the shape of the 2021 NASCAR Series Cup trophy and although he was undoubtedly pushed all the way, there are very few people who can argue that this year’s champion was not the worthiest winner of all.