MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson heads into this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville looking to punch his ticket to the NASCAR Championship finale at Homestead.
Winning at Martinsville would automatically qualify Larson for the final race and put him position to win his first championship and Chip Ganassi in position to win his first NASCAR title. Ganassi has 12-IndyCar Championships and 7-Sports Car Championships.
“Chip has had an opportunity to win a championship I think one other time maybe, and I think Sterling Marlin got hurt that year,” said Larson. “He was probably going to win the championship that season had he not gotten hurt. It would be nice to get him that championship that he’s honestly probably owed.”
Larson sits in 7th place heading into this weekend’s First Data 500, the first race of NASCAR’s final three races that determine the four drivers eligible to compete for the Championship at Homestead. Win one of the next 3-races and you’re win.
“We want to go and make it into that final round of Homestead, where it’s my best track,” said Larson. “It’s the final year for the championship race to be at Homestead, so I’ve looked at this ever since they released next year’s schedule as this is my best opportunity to win the championship. I’ve got to take advantage of that.”
Taking advantage over the next three races is not going to be easy, especially considering that, statistically speaking, Martinsville is Larson’s worst track. Larson’s average finish is 22nd over 10-races with CGR. Larson’s best finish at the paper clip shaped oval is a 3rd place finish in the Spring race in 2016. He followed that up in the fall with a 14th place finish.
In 2017 Larson finished 17th in the Spring race and a disappointing 39th in the fall. 2018 was almost a repeat of the previous year, 16th in the Spring race and 37th in the Fall race. Earlier this year Larson finished 18th.
“We had bad luck early in the year, but we also made mistakes,” said Larson. “I made mistakes, our team made mistakes, our pit crew made mistakes, mostly my mistakes I feel like, but I’ve been able to clean up what I’ve been doing. There’s still areas where I can get better, but our cars have been doing a lot better, and our team as a whole has been doing a whole heck of a lot better here the last few months.”
Larson sits 35-points behind leader Kyle Busch so scoring some stage points in the races first two stages is going to be key. Larson is 12-points behind 6th place Chase Elliott, 17-points behind 5th place Kevin Harvick and 19-points behind fourth place Joey Logano. The top 10 at the end of the first two stages will score stage points in a sliding scale (10-points to 1-point) based on finishing position.
Larson’s teammate Kurt Busch sits 14th in the standing after being eliminated after the first round of the playoffs. Busch and the No. 1 Global Poker/Monster Energy team are in it for win and points from here on out. Busch sits 18-points behind 13th place Aric Almirola and 35-points behind 12th place Alex Bowman.
Practice for the First Data 500 gets underway Saturday at 9:05 a.m. with final practice taking place at Noon ET followed by Qualifying at 4:35 p.m. The race is Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and can be seen on NBCSN and heard on Motor Racing Network affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR radio.
Chase Elliott Wins NASCAR Cup Series Championship
AVONDALE, AZ (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chase Elliott knew he wanted to be a race car driver when he was growing up and on Sunday he followed in his Hall of Fame father Bill’s footsteps by winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.
Elliott passed Joey Logano for the lead on lap 270 and powered to victory in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“I’m not sure I could have sat down and drawn it up any better, you know?,” said Elliott. “So for me, it’s unbelievable. It’s something that I’m not sure — well, I know I haven’t let it sink in yet.”
Elliott, 24, started racing go-karts as a kid and slowly moved up the short track ranks when NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick signed him to a driver development deal at the age of 14.
“Just so grateful for the opportunities and the things I’ve had over the years, great people,” said Elliott. “My mom (Cindy) and dad (Bill) and their support obviously has been from the beginning. Mr. Hendrick came in and really changed my life when he wanted to help. Not to sound like a NASCAR driver, but NAPA Auto Parts, too, coming in when they did. 2014 wouldn’t have happened without them and the championship that came that season. And man, they’ve been a champion partner for years. Now they have a championship to go with it.”
Elliott and his father Bill are just the third father-son duo to win NASCAR Championships, joining Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett.
“You know, heck, this is as big as it gets,” said Elliott. “I mean, my goodness. I mean, a champion in the Cup Series? Are you kidding me? It’s nuts. It’s absolutely nuts.”
Elliott’s championship came on the same day that 7-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson ran his last race, signaling a changing of the guard at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Certainly appreciate his support,” said Elliott. “He’s been a great support system this week. I’ve talked to him multiple times. He’s reached out on a couple occasions, which is very cool. Very thankful. He’s a hero of mine. I think he’ll go down as the greatest to ever do this.”
Austin Cindric Wins Race And NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship
AVONDALE, AZ (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Austin Cindric passed Justin Allgaier on the final lap of NASCAR overtime to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert Dimond Casino West Valley 200 at Phoenix Raceway and capture the 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
The victory was Cindric’s sixth of the season and his first in six starts at the one-mile Arizona speedway and his 100th NASCAR Xfinity Series start.
“This was an amazing effort by Brian Wilson and everybody back at the shop,” said Cindric. “There was a lot of work put into this Ford Mustang. I’ve got to thank Roger Penske and everyone from Team Penske plus the Menards family who put so much support into racing itself. It’s awesome to get them a championship in NASCAR, to be a champion in NASCAR, and do it in front of all these great people cheering us on at championship weekend. Thanks to Ford Performance, Doug Yates, and everybody at Roush Yates Engines. I’m speechless. I’m pretty humbled by the effort for sure.”
Allgaier took the final green flag from the outside of the front row with Cindric behind him and Ross Chastain on the inside. Allgaier’s teammate Noah Gragson was inside of Cindric. Allgaier cleared Chastain with Cindric in tow coming off turn four. Gragson was on the inside of Cindric and could have helped his teammate but elected to dive low heading into turn one. That gave Cindric room to get around Allgaier, who was helpless to hold him off.
“I’m disappointed; this racetrack for me lost a lot when we put PJ1 down, and I felt like if we had been able to run the bottom like normal and not run stuck in that high groove, I felt like we definitely would have had the best car,” said Allgaier. “So I’m disappointed in that, but at the end of the race today we were on old tires. I knew it was going to be sketchy at best. To be honest with you, to finish the race, it actually really surprises me that we were that close. Austin got that pass and ran through the middle of 3 and 4, and my teammate did a great job of trying to pull up and obviously race for the win. That’s what he needed to do. He needed to end the season strong. But I thought if he could have just got up a little bit in front of the 22 and been able to block that run, we may have had a little bit more of a shot, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Gragson finished second followed by Brandon Jones. Michael Annett finished fourth followed by Allgaier.
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Championship Preview
AVONDALE, AZ (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – NASCAR’s Championship 4 Weekend gets started Friday night with the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series title fight.
Four drivers (Sheldon Creed, Grant Enfinger, Brett Moffitt and Zane Smith) are eligible for the Championship in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway.
Sheldon Creed (No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet):
- Creed is tied for the series lead with 4-wins this season. Creed also has 8 top-five and 12 top-ten finishes. Creed also has a series-high 11 stage wins. Creed locked himself into the Championship 4 with a victory at Texas Motor Speedway two weekends ago. Creed has two NGOTS starts at Phoenix with a tenth place finish in 2018 and a 12th place finish in 2019 where he led 16-laps.
Grant Enfinger (No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford):
- Enfinger is tied with Creed for the series lead with 4-wins in 2020. Enfinger also posted 8 top-five and 13 top-ten finishes this season to go along with a stage win. Enfinger locked himself into the Championship 4 with a win last week at Martinsville Speedway. In three NGOTS starts at Phoenix Raceway, Enfinger has two top-five finishes (4th 2018; 5th 2019) and has led 10-laps (2018).
Brett Moffitt (No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet):
- Moffitt has one win in 2020 (Kansas Speedway). Moffitt has also posted 10 top-fives, and 15 top-tens, 2nd best in each category for the series. Moffitt is looking to become just the fifth driver in series history to win multiple NGOTS championships, joining NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. (1996, 1998, 2007, 2009), Matt Crafton (2013, 2014, 2019), Jack Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001) and Todd Bodine (2006, 2010). Moffitt has two series starts at Phoenix posting a win in 2018 en route to his championship and a 10th place finish in 2019.
Zane Smith (No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet):
- Smith is looking to become just the second rookie to win the championship joining Erik Jones, who accomplished that feat in 2015. Smith captured two wins, 6 top-fives and 12 top-tens in 2020. Smith will be making his NGOTS debut this weekend at Phoenix.
The race starts at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. Television coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on FS1. The race can be heard on Motor Racing Network affiliates and on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.