Kyle Larson’s Favorite Victory on the Way to the Championship Was a Hot Time That Did Him No Good in the NASCAR Cup Series
- Kyle Larson became the first driver since 2007 to win 10 NASCAR Cup Series points races
- Larson’s most lucrative victory likely came in the All-Star Race, carrying a $1 million top prize
- Larson wrapped up the season championship in Phoenix but called the All-Star Race his other favorite win
There are exceptions like “The Catch” by Dwight Clark, but so many victories fade from memory if they are merely steps toward the big prize. That holds true in the NASCAR Cup Series season, where Kyle Larson’s favorite victory will likely be forgotten. In fact, it will scarcely show up in the books as time goes on.
Kyle Larson’s 10-win season could have been even better
Jimmie Johnson’s 2007 NASCAR Cup Series championship season was one for the ages. The Hendrick Motorsports star won 10 races, saving his finest work for the home stretch. Johnson won four straight races late in the playoffs en route to his second of five consecutive season championships.
Before Johnson’s big year, Jeff Gordon was the last driver to roll up double-digit victories, scoring 10 apiece in 1996 and ‘97, then 13 in 1998. That earned him the season championships in the latter two years.
Only one of the above-mentioned seasons featured a bonus victory. In 1997, Gordon also won the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a factor in why Kyle Larson’s 2021 season will go down as one of the finest in the Cup Series’ modern era.
Larson’s 10-win season nearly matched Gordon’s best effort. Preceding his three-race winning streak that began at Charlotte, Larson placed second at Darlington, Dover, and Nashville. Had a tire not gone down on the last lap in the first race of the Pocono weekend, it would have been four straight.
And, of course, Larson returned to Pocono the next day to place second. That meant he came oh-so-close to first- or second-place finishes in eight straight races.
Kyle Larson’s favorite 2021 victory didn’t help his championship cause
Winning at Phoenix Raceway to close the season was the big moment for Kyle Larson that pushed the other highlights from his comeback season to the background. That NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 triumph gave Larson 10 victories in points races and his first season crown.
However, there was an 11th victory, too. On June 13 at Texas Motor Speedway, in the midst of his hot streak, Larson negotiated the complicated six-stage format to win the All-Star Race for the second time in three years.
The Cup Series contest is considerably different than what sports fans expect from minimal-effort all-star contests in the NBA or Major League Baseball. The size of the field and the length of the race may be cut in half, but the racing is every bit as intense.
Still, there are two major differences from the 36 other races. First, the winner’s check of $1 million dwarfs nearly all other payouts. Second, the All-Star Race doesn’t count in the season standings. Hardcore fans can recite All-Star Race winners from memory, but they’ll seldom credit Larson’s two victories as part of his record, just as they don’t acknowledge Jimmie Johnson’s four or Jeff Gordon’s three.
Kyle Larson remembers it as a very hot day
Kyle Larson won the All-Star Race by means of a gutsy three-wide move with eight laps to go after the last restart as he and eventual runner-up Brad Keselowski split the difference to go around Chase Elliott. Speaking on the TobyChristie.com Garage Talk podcast, Larson said the race was his favorite contest of the year other than the championship-clinching run at Phoenix.
“I think the All-Star win was probably the most exciting and most excited I was afterwards because the format was different,” Larson said. “I was able to kind of do a crazy move there on the restart and steal the win from Chase, and (it) paid a million bucks to win.”
Larson enjoyed the festivities afterward, including donning a cowboy hat and six-shooters. But his lasting takeaway, aside from the seven-figure check, was that the race took place in brutally hot weather made worse by the postrace celebration.
“Victory lane at Texas looks really cool, but they have all these flames and stuff behind you. It was so hot, already hot, obviously, and I couldn’t wait to get out of this hot car and finally get some fresh air. It was twice as hot standing there in victory lane.”
It wasn’t over. After the awards ceremony, Larson did a radio show just on the other side of the flames.
“It was like an oven in there, too, So, it was just a hot, hot few hours.”
That’s one more reason the day will be burned into his memory forever.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.