2021 NASCAR Championship Weekend Recap

NASCAR’s top three series closed each of their seasons this past weekend (11/5-7) at Phoenix Raceway. The format of the championship races is simple and interesting to watch. There are four drivers eligible for each championship, and whoever finishes the best of those four wins the title. As I mentioned last week, NASCAR is unique because it allows certain drivers who are not eligible to win the series to still race. This aspect of racing was in the final three championships as well. 

Phoenix Raceway is known for it’s wide frontstretch where drivers can fan out to gain track position. Image from nascar.nbcsports.com

NASCAR Truck Series

The Truck Series was the first championship race on Friday evening (11/5). The championship favorite, John Hunter Nemecheck, had several issues early in the race, which put him two laps down. He eventually got back on the lead lap (where the leaders are), but he did not have enough time to race his way through the field. The battle for the championship was between Zane Smith and Ben Rhodes for most of the night. With seven laps remaining, Rhodes made a pass on Smith for third position, which put him ahead of the other three drivers competing for the championship. Chandler Smith, who was not running for the championship, won the race, and Rhodes won his first championship.

Ben Rhodes celebrates after winning the Truck Series championship. Image from autoracingdaily.com

NASCAR Xfinity Series

The Xfinity Series was the next championship race on Saturday night (11/6). The race was smooth for most of the night until championship contender A. J. Allmendinger spun with twenty laps to go. Everyone came to pit road, and the other three championship contenders restarted the race in positions one through three. There were three intense restarts to decide who the race winner and series champion would be. Austin Cindric and Daniel Hemric were the two best championship drivers, and they restarted side by side with two laps remaining. It looked like Cindric was pulling away, but Hemric closed the gap in the final corner and slightly tapped Cindric’s bumper. The two raced side by side to the finish line, and Hemric was able to get the race win and the championship. This was his first NASCAR win after finishing second ten times. His first win could not have come at a better time since he also won the championship.

Daniel Hemric (#18) won the race and championship by half a car length over Austin Cindric (#22). Image from Getty Images.

NASCAR Cup Series

The Cup Series was the final race of the weekend to decide a champion. It was a battle between Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, two of the best organizations in NASCAR. Each team had two drivers going for the championship. Martin Truex Jr and Denny Hamlin represented Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and from Hendrick Motorsports (HMS), it was Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. The race was competitive between the four drivers because the HMS cars would fire off and drive away from the field. After about twenty laps, the JGR cars would start to catch and eventually pass the HMS cars, so it was a battle of short and long runs all day. 

Kyle Larson leading the championship four. Image from gmauthority.com

The critical point of the race was when a caution came out with thirty laps to go. Every driver came down pit road for fresh tires, and Larson went from fourth to first with an incredible pit stop from his crew. It was their second fastest pit stop all season, and it gave him control of the race when it restarted. Larson got a great restart and tried to build enough of a lead because Truex would eventually start to catch him. Truex was able to close the gap, but Larson was able to hold on and win his tenth race of the season and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. It was an amazing comeback season for Larson because he was suspended by NASCAR in 2020 for using a racial slur during a streaming event. He was reinstated this year after completing sensitivity training and came back in dominating fashion to win ten races and the championship.

The 2022 NASCAR season starts February 6th with an exhibition race at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Feature image from nbcsports.com.


James Oakley

James Oakley is a writer for The Daily Runner.