Rick Hendrick and Kyle Larson comment after winning the race and the 2021 NASCAR championship
Last year, Kyle Larson watched the championship race from the Hendrick Motorsports war room in North Carolina. The driver was suspended from NASCAR competition earlier in the year and lost his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Related: NASCAR suspends Kyle Larson
At the time, Larson still wasn’t able to race in the sport after using a slur during an online race. However, he was already preparing for a return to NASCAR Cup Series competition as he was signed to Hendrick Motorsports just weeks prior.
Rick Hendrick signed Larson to drive the No. 5 for 2021. Hendrick would be the primary sponsor of the car, himself via HendrickCars.com.
Larson won 9 races heading into the championship race at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday. All day, he had the fastest car in a short run but he struggled in the long runs.
In the closing laps, Martin Truex Jr led with Denny Hamlin in 2nd. Larson ran 3rd and he was running out of time to make it happen.
A car lost a brake rotor on the track and brought a caution in the closing laps. That sent the leaders to the pit lane. The final pit stop with the 2nd fastest pit stop of the entire season. Larson came in 3rd and exited the pit lane with the lead.
Larson was able to hold off a charge from Martin Truex Jr. The 29-year-old claimed his first career NASCAR Cup Series champion.
With the win, Larson also tied Tony Stewart with the most playoff wins in single season, 5 wins. He won 10 of 36 races.
Kyle Larson comments on second chances
“I knew the only way we were going to win is if our pit crew got us out first. Damn, they did,” Larson said from victory lane.
“Just thinking about the journey and how tough of a road it’s been to get here. For so long, especially the last year and a half.”
“Probably the whole thing [is about second chances],” Larson added.
“Without so many people that helped me. To get me to the point where I could at least go have a meeting with Rick Hendrick. Then, for him, to work his magic.”
“NASCAR, for allowing me to come back. They had every reason not to let me come back. Thanks to them. So many people were able to give me a second chance.”
Larson added, “I’m just the luckiest human being on this planet.”
Until Sunday, Larson’s best championship effort came in 2016 when he finished 6th.
“We’ve always know he’s a wheelman,” Rick Hendrick stated.
“I never thought I was taking a risk. I know how good he is and I’m just fortunate I we were able to get him. And man, what a wheelman he is.”
“10 races won, 11 with the All-Star race. It’s unbelievable.
“When Truex was our front, we needed that caution. Our guys had an unbelievable pit stop. This thing can change on a dime. We’re just proud to be here.”
“I’m so happy for this kid. He deserves this,” Hendrick added.
Larson concludes the season with the most laps ever led in a single season at 2,581.