Kyle Larson has been one of if not, the most polarizing driver of the NASCAR 2021 season and has become one of the favorites to win the championship at year’s end.
Larson has four wins through 19 races already this year; the most of any driver this season. He has also managed 14 top ten finishes and 11 within the top five. Larson has already accumulated 42 playoff points if the season were to end today.
Even with such a historic season, Larson is only second in points behind the ultra-consistent Denny Hamlin. With four wins and five second-place finishes, Larson has closed the gap to Hamlin by only two points.
The success of Larson this year has been part of the Hendrick Motorsports dominance we have seen this year. Every Hendrick Motorsports driver has won a race and all are in the top 12 in points. Still, Larson has overtaken defending champion Chase Elliott as the team’s premier title contender.
If Larson wants to win the championship this year, he will have to continue his consistency through the playoffs and then win the finale at Phoenix Raceway. As we saw last year with Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, just because you dominate the regular season doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to do well in the playoffs.
Hamlin did make the final four, but finished last of all the remanding contenders in the finale at Phoenix, despite finishing fourth in the race. Harvick was eliminated in the round of eight after only one top-ten finish in those three races.
However, Larson has made the playoffs before and finished in the round of eight in 2019 racing for Chip Ganassi. He has also won at two of the playoffs tracks already this year, which includes Texas Motor Speedway (during the All-Star race) and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
There are tracks during the playoffs that may be a challenge for Larson. Talladega, Bristol, and Richmond are all races where he has struggled this year. Even though Talladega was an engine issue and at Bristol he was involved in a crash, Richmond was a race he was never in competition to win.
A single bad day in the playoffs can ruin a driver’s chance at the championship and we have seen favorites knocked out every year because of one poor performance. Larson has won the most races and would hope to continue contending for wins in order to make a deep playoff run this season.
The playoffs are always going to shake things up, but Larson has been at the front in almost every race and we should see the same when it truly matters. Right now, Larson is a heavy favorite to win the championship and should be taken seriously as a contender for the finale at Phoenix.