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Special Edition Championship 4 News and Notes – NASCAR Cup Series Drivers

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: NASCAR Cup Series Championship
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Sunday, November 7
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 312 miles (312 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 190), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 312)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Saturday, November 6
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),< Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)
 
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Lucas Oil 150
The Place: Phoenix Raceway
The Date: Friday, November 5
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 150 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 (In Alphabetical Order)

All the sweat, the tears, the heart-warming pains and the back breaking gains have all culminated to this one last shot for the Championship 4 contenders to vie for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Phoenix Raceway.

Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin have worked harder, done more with what they had and minimized mistakes better in the first 35 races, all while navigating the rigors of the postseason to make the Playoffs’ final round. Now the stage is set for the Championship 4 drivers to contend for the title and the prestigious Bill France Cup trophy which will be awarded to the highest finishing driver of the four at Phoenix Raceway. Two of the four drivers are former champions – Truex (2017) and Elliott (2020) – with Hamlin and Larson looking for their first Cup titles this season.

Here’s an in-depth look at the championship contenders in 2021:

Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet)

Elliott By The Numbers:

1 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series Championships (2020).

1 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series wins at Phoenix Raceway (2020).

2 – Number of career appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 (2020, ‘21).

2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins in 2021.

4 – Number of top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

4.7 – Average starting position at Phoenix Raceway.

6 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season.

7 – Number of top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

8.2 – Average starting position during the first 35 races of 2021 season.

11.1 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.

11.5 – Average finishing position during the first 35 races of 2021 season.

14 – Number of top-five finishes in the first 35 races of 2021 season.

16.0 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.

20 – Number of top-10 finishes in the first 35 races of 2021 season.

22 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021.

101.5 – Season-to-date driver rating – third-best among active drivers in 2021.

107.1 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway – second-best among active drivers.

402 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.

858 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season.

8,738 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (98.3%).

Elliott has chance to become 11th different driver all-time to win back-to-back Cup titles

Hendrick Motorsports driver and 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott has the opportunity this Sunday (Nov. 7) in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to become the 11th different driver in series history to win back-to-back titles; joining Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Lee Petty, Joe Weatherly and Buck Baker. Elliott would be the first driver to win consecutive championships since Jimmie Johnson’s record five straight titles from 2006-2010.

Drivers with Multiple Championships (1949-2020)
Rank No. of Titles Driver Years
1 7 Jimmie Johnson 2016, ‘13, ’10, ‘09, ‘08, ‘07, ‘06
Dale Earnhardt 1994, ’93, ‘91, ‘90, ‘87, ‘86, ‘80
Richard Petty 1979, ‘75, ‘74, ‘72, ‘71, ‘67, ‘64
4 4 Jeff Gordon 2001, ‘98, ‘97, ‘95
5 3 Darrell Waltrip 1985, ‘82, ‘81
Cale Yarborough 1978, ‘77, ‘76
David Pearson 1969, ‘68, ‘66
Lee Petty 1959, ‘58, ‘54
Tony Stewart 2011, ‘05, ‘02
10 2 Kyle Busch 2019, ’15
Terry Labonte 1996, ‘84
Ned Jarrett 1965, ‘61
Joe Weatherly 1963, ‘62
Buck Baker 1957, ‘56
Tim Flock 1955, ‘52
Herb Thomas 1953, ‘51
* 16 total multiple NASCAR Cup Series champions

Elliott would also become the 17th driver all-time in the series with multiple championships and just the second active driver with more than one title, joining Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).

Family Affair: Chase Elliott keeps piling on the Elliott racing legacy

NASCAR was built by hard working and dedicated families like the Frances, Pettys, Jarretts and Earnhardts, and this weekend Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott has the chance to build on his family’s legacy by adding another championship to the family name in the highest form of stock car racing – the NASCAR Cup Series.

If Elliott accomplishes the feat the Elliotts (Bill: 1988 and Chase: 2020) would join the Pettys (Lee: 1954, 1958, 1959 and Richard: 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979), and the Jarretts (Ned: 1961, 1965 and Dale: 1999) as just the third father-son combo to win multiple NASCAR Cup Series titles.

Elliott’s talent was apparent early on in his career. The Dawsonville, Georgia native jumped in the national NASCAR scene in 2013 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a part-time basis, making nine starts and winning at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in just his sixth start. He then climbed up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsport and became the first rookie in series history to win the series championship in 2014. He ran one more season in Xfinity, finishing runner-up in the points in 2015 before moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series fulltime in 2016 with Hendrick Motorsports.

Elliott has qualified for the Playoffs all six seasons he has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, and this is the second time he has earned a spot in the Championship 4 Round (2020, 2021). Since running fulltime in the series, Elliott has made 220 starts putting up 13 wins, 73 top fives and 116 top 10s.

Mr. ‘Most Popular’ is looking to add to his championship resume

Embraced by the overwhelming cheers in his favor by the fans at the race track, there is no doubt Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott is the NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular driver. The year-end award he has taken home for that special distinction the last three seasons is just confirmation on top of the songs of fans singing his praises on a weekly basis.

The reigning 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Elliott, has answered his title winning season with quite the comparative performance heading into Phoenix Raceway this weekend. Elliott was strong out of the gate this season nearly winning the Daytona 500 (finished runner-up) and held the momentum throughout the regular season never falling out of the top 10 in points. He grabbed two wins during the regular season, at Circuit of The Americas and Road America.

Elliott entered the 2021 Playoffs as the 10th seed with 21 Playoff points to his credit.

Unfortunately, a late race incident with Christopher Bell at Darlington to open the 2021 Playoffs relegated him to a 31st-place finish to open the postseason, but Elliott was quick to rebound, finishing fourth-place at Richmond and had earned enough points following a 25th-place finish at Bristol to advance to the Round of 12.

Elliott reversed course at the start of the next round, finishing runner-up at Las Vegas but found his momentum slowed at Talladega with an 18th-place finish. He was able to secure his spot in the Round of 8 with a 12th-place finish at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course.

Elliott then turned up the wick and finished seventh at Texas and runner-up at Kansas in the Playoffs Round of 8. As a result, Elliott was 34 points up on the Championship 4 cutoff heading into the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville Speedway. Mr. ‘Most Popular’ then dominated the first two stages at Martinsville clinching his spot in the Championship 4 Round for the second time in his career.

Through 35 races this season Chase Elliott has put up two wins, 14 top fives and 20 top 10s. He has led 858 laps and has an average finish of 11.5. He also has the third-best season-to-date driver rating (101.5) on the year.

Elliott’s prowess in the Valley of the Sun

For just the second time in NASCAR Cup Series history, Phoenix Raceway will host the season finale race and set the stage for the Championship 4 to battle it out for the NASCAR Cup Series title. And the recent change could not have come at a better time for Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott, who has performed much better at Phoenix than the previous season finale venue Homestead-Miami Speedway; including winning the championship race last season and taking the title.

Elliott has made 11 series starts at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, posting one win (2020), four top fives, seven top 10s and a pole. His average finish at Phoenix is a strong 11.2, fourth-best in the series and third-best among the 2021 Championship 4.

Elliott is also near the top of the charts in several pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 8.709, second-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 107.1, second-best, 306 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best and 2,917 Laps in the Top 15 (84.5%), 12th-most.

Earlier this season at Phoenix, he started sixth and finished fifth.

Crew Chief Corner: Alan Gustafson  

Since making his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series as a Hendrick Motorsport’s crew chief in 2005, Alan Gustafson has proven that he is one of the best in the sport. Now the 2020 series crew chief champion has the chance to become the 11th different crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series to win back-to-back titles and the 16th to win multiple titles all-time. If Gustafson and the No. 9 team pull off consecutive titles in the NASCAR Cup Series, he would join fellow crew chiefs Dale Inman, Chad Knaus, Kirk Shelmerdine, Ray Evernham, Bud Moore, Lee Petty, Andy Petree, Herb Nab, Jake Elder and Carl Kiekhaefer in accomplishing the feat.

Crew Chiefs with Multiple Championships (1949-2020)
Rank No. of Titles Crew Chiefs Years
1 8 Dale Inman 1964, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’79, ’84
2 7 Chad Knaus 2006, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’13, ’16
3 4 Kirk Shelmerdine 1986, ’87, ’90, ’91
4 3 Ray Evernham 1995, ’97, ’98
Bud Moore 1957, ’62, ’63
Lee Petty 1954, ’58, ’59
7 2 Adam Stevens 2019, ’15
Greg Zipadelli 2002, ’05
Andy Petree 1993, ’94
Jeff Hammond 1982, ’85
Tim Brewer 1978, ’81
Herb Nab 1976, ’77
Jake Elder 1968, ’69
Carl Kiekhaefer 1955, ’56
Smokey Yunick 1951, ’53
* 15 total multiple NASCAR Cup Series Crew Chief champions

During his 17 seasons of full-time competition, Gustafson has worked with five different drivers: Kyle Busch (2005-2007), Casey Mears (2008), Mark Martin (2009, 2010), Jeff Gordon (2011-2015) and Chase Elliott (2016-Present). And during those 17 seasons he led his drivers to 14 Playoff appearances and to wins in 13 of the 17 seasons. This weekend at Phoenix will mark his third appearance in the Championship 4 Round, his first appearance was with NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon in 2015 when they finished the season third in points.

 

The Elliott-Gustafson pair has combined for the following achievements in 215 NASCAR Cup Series races together since 2016:

  • 13 wins
  • 73 top fives
  • 116 top 10s
  • 3,949 laps led
  • 9 poles
  • One NASCAR Cup Series Championship (2020)
  • Two NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearances (2020, 2021)
  • Six consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2016-2021)

The two will look to capture their second NASCAR Cup Series championship together this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Last season, Gustafson became the 41st different crew chief in the series with a championship.

Adding to the historic legacy of Hendrick Motorsports

When it comes to winning titles in the NASCAR Cup Series, no organization does it better than Hendrick Motorsports with their series leading 13 championships among four drivers – Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).

Overall Hendrick Motorsports has 16 NASCAR national series owner championships, the all-time record in NASCAR (13 in Cup and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – 1997, 1999, 2001).

And to boot, Hendrick Motorsports was the first organization in the series history to win four straight, from 1995-98 (Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1997-98; Terry Labonte 1996) and then upped their record in the series with five straight, from 2006-2010 (Jimmie Johnson). Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 of the last 26 NASCAR Cup Series championships (1995-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 50% – series-best.

But the 2021 season has been extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization has been able accomplish. Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 16 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021; Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 is the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races this season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

The Hendrick Motorsports foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and

the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.

This season Hendrick Motorsports led a combined 3,918 laps; fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); 100 laps led away from a new Hendrick Motorsports team record (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 32 finishes inside the top two; currently tied with Joe Gibbs Racing (2019) for the most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 81 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 53 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 27 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination-style format in 2014, the 2021 season is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 52 postseason wins, most all-time.

Chase Elliott can add to the legacy of Hendrick Motorsports this weekend by winning the title and extending the organization’s record in series championships. In total, 13 different organizations have won at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, led by Hendrick Motorsports with 11 victories.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Hamlin By The Numbers:

2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series career wins at Phoenix Raceway (2012, 2019).

2 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins during the 2021 season.

4 – Number of appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Championship 4 (2014, ’19 ’20, ‘21)

10 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season.

6.4 – Average starting position for the first 35 races of the 2021 season.

7.2 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.

8.6 – Average finishing position for the first 35 races of the 2021 season.

9.8 – Average starting position at Phoenix Raceway.

10.8 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.

15 – Number of career top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

18 – Number of top-five finishes during the 2021 season.

19 – Number of career top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

24 – Number of top-10 finishes during the 2021 season.

30 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021.

99.2 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway, fourth-best among active drivers.

109.2 – Season-to-date driver rating, second-best among active drivers in 2021.

854 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.

1,502 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season (career-high in a single season).

8,884 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (99.9%).

Denny Hamlin seeks first career Cup title

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin burst on the NASCAR Cup Series scene fulltime in 2006, and ever since he has been a force in the series year-in and year-out. The 40-year-old has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series for 16 full-time seasons, qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in a series record 15 of them (tied with Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch for series-most at 15 each). This season will mark the fourth time the Virginia has made the Championship 4 Round (2014, 2019, 2020, 2021) tied with Joey Logano for second-most appearances in the series and Hamlin is hoping this is the year he gets his first title. If Hamlin were to accomplish the feat this weekend, he would become the first NASCAR Cup Series driver from Virginia to win a championship.

In 2014, he qualified for the final round in the Playoffs, but finished seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami and ultimately third in the championship standings. Last season he advanced to the Championship 4 for the second time in his career, but a tough call on pit road in the season finale was costly for Hamlin and he finished the race in 10th and ultimately fourth in the final championship standings.

Hamlin’s best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings came in 2010 when he finished runner-up in the points behind Jimmie Johnson.

Hamlin’s 2021 championship campaign started with a fifth-place finish in the Daytona 500, and then a third-place finish at the Daytona Road Course in the opening two weeks of the schedule and as a result, he took the points lead and then held it for 22 straight races. It has been Hamlin’s relentless consistency that has made the different this season. In 35 starts, he has posted two wins, 18 top fives and 24 top 10s. His average finish this season is a stout 8.6.

The path to Phoenix almost got rocky for Hamlin

The Joe Gibbs Racing standout, Denny Hamlin, had to bank on his 32 Playoff points to help him advance to the Championship 4 Round this season after a late race incident with Alex Bowman almost derailed his Playoff hopes last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. But none of that matters now, as he has another chance at a Cup title this weekend.

Hamlin shot out of the gate this Playoffs winning the open race at Darlington Raceway, then finished runner-up at Richmond and ninth at Bristol to advance to the Round of 12. He then did it again, winning the opening race to the Round of 8 at Las Vegas and the followed it up with a seventh at Talladega and a fifth-place finish at the Charlotte Roval. Then Hamlin rallied off an 11th at Texas and another fifth-place finish at Kansas, but nearly had his postseason squandered at Martinsville after being wrecked from the lead by Alex Bowman. Bowman would go on to win and Hamlin would finish 24th nearly missing the Championship 4, but thanks to his Playoff points he earned enough to move on.

Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott are the only two drivers from last season’s Championship 4 (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) to make it back to the final round in 2021. Hamlin has finished fourth in the final Cup standings the last two seasons. Hamlin ranks second among drivers with the most NASCAR Cup Series wins (46) without a championship behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson (50).

Hamlin’s previous performance in cactus country

For just the second time in series history Phoenix Raceway will host the season finale race and set the stage for the Championship 4 to compete for the NASCAR Cup Series title. And the change in venue is a welcome one for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.

The one-mile Phoenix Raceway is one of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s best tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series, having made 32 series starts at the 1-mile track collecting two wins (2012, 2019), 15 top fives, 19 top 10s and two poles. His average finish at Phoenix is 10.781, second-best in the series and best among the Championship 4.

Hamlin also ranks in the top five in several key pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 10.989, fourth-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 99.2, fourth-best, 530 Fastest Laps Run, third-best and 7,383 Laps in the Top 15 (73.9%), third-most.

Earlier this season, Hamlin started third and led 33 laps en route to a third-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

Crew Chief Corner: Chris Gabehart

The powerful duo of driver Denny Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart are the only Championship 4 team entered this weekend that has made the Playoffs’ final round the last three consecutive seasons (2019-2021), proving they are a force to be reckoned with.

Since joining forces with Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team, Gabehart has led the crew to 15 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories (2019, 2020), three Playoff appearances and three Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020, 2021).

The Hamlin-Gabehart pair have combined for the following achievements in 104 NASCAR Cup Series races together since 2017:

  • 15 wins
  • 54 top fives
  • 68 top 10s
  • 3,376 laps led
  • 3 poles
  • Three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearances (2019, 2020, 2021)
  • Three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2019, 2020, 2021)

Under Gabehart’s leadership this season, Hamlin has earned 18 top fives, 24 top 10s and has hoisted two trophies (Darlington, Las Vegas) in Victory Lane.

If Hamlin and Gabehart win the championship this season, Gabehart will become the 42nd different crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series to win a title.

Continuing Joe Gibbs Racing’s excellence

Winning and excellence are ingrained in the foundation of the Joe Gibbs Racing and since joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 1992 the organization has collected five series championships among three drivers – Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).

Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has 10 NASCAR national series owner championships (five in Cup and five in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016).

Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last 21 NASCAR Cup Series championships (2000-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 25%. The organization also holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) record for the most wins in a single season with 19 victories in 2019.

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing has earned nine NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021. The 2021 season is the organization’s 29th straight season with at least one victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.

This season Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 2,792 laps. The team ranks second in laps led in a single season in the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Presnt) with 4,047 laps out front in 2019. Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent dominance doesn’t end there, they also set a NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era record for the most finishes (32) inside the top two in 2019; a feat Hendrick Motorsports tied this season. This season the JGR foursome of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. scored 79 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (92 in 2019, 84 in 2016), posted 51 top-five finishes; the team’s third-most (61 in 2019 and 55 in 2020) and also won 22 stages.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination-style format in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed at least one driver in the Championship 4 Round each season (Denny Hamlin: 2014, ’19, ’20, ’21; Kyle Busch: 2015-2019; Martin Truex Jr.: 2019, ’21; Carl Edwards: 2016). Impressively, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed more than one driver in the Championship 4 Round in three of the seven Playoffs with the elimination-format (2016, 2019 and 2021) and set the series record for the most drivers to earn a spot in the Championship 4 Round by an organization in a single season when Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin all made the Championship 4 in 2019.

Joe Gibbs Racing has won at least one Playoff race in 13 of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 33 postseason wins, second-most all-time. Joe Gibbs Racing is also tied with Hendrick Motorsports for the most Playoff wins in a single season with six victories each (JGR, 2019 and HMS 2007).

Denny Hamlin made his fulltime NASCAR Cup Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006 and he immediately started things on the right foot, winning the Daytona Speedweeks season-opening exhibition event, then known as the Budweiser Shootout, in his first appearance. Since then, Hamlin has earned 46 Cup points-race victories – picking up his third Daytona 500 win last season. Now the 40-year-old is looking to bring the Joe Gibbs Racing organization its sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship and his first; joining Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015 and 2019).

Kyle Larson (No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet)

Larson By The Numbers:

1 – Number of career appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 (2021).

5 – Number of top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

8 – Number of top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

9 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins in 2021 (career-high).

6.2 – Average starting position during the first 35 races of 2021 season.

8.1 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.

9.3 – Average finishing position during the 2021 season.

11.6 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.

17 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season (series-most in 2021).

19 – Number of top-five finishes in the first 35 races of the 2021 season.

25 – Number of top-10 finishes during the first 35 races of the 2021 season.

65 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021 (series-most in 2021).

72 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.

93.5 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway – eighth-best among active drivers.

111.9 – Season-to-date driver rating – series-best among active drivers.

2,474 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season (career-high).

8,688 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (97.7%).

Larson looks to cement name in history with NASCAR Cup Series championship

Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson heads to Phoenix Raceway this weekend looking to become the 35th different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win the championship and the fifth different driver to accomplish the feat for Hendrick Motorsports joining Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), and NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).

Of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 drivers, Larson is the only one making his final round debut. The Elk Grove, California native’s previous best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series final standings was sixth back in 2019.

Larson, one of the most accomplished Dirt racers on the planet, graduated from the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and immediately pounced on the NASCAR national series scene. In 2012, Larson signed Turner Scott Motorsports and made four starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series posting three top 10s; including a runner-up finish at Phoenix. He made the jump to fulltime racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series the next season (2013) with Turner Scott Motorsports posting nine top fives and 17 top 10s. He finished the season eighth in points. He also made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2013. He competed in four of the final six races of the season for Turner Scott Motorsports after it was announced he would drive the No. 42 Chevrolet full-time in 2014 for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ever since 2014, Larson has been scheduled to run fulltime in the NASCAR Cup Series. He spent almost seven full seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing putting up six wins with organization from 2014-2020. But in 2020, Chip Ganassi Racing released Larson just four races into the season following his suspension by NASCAR for using a racial slur over the radio during a public iRacing event. Larson would sit out the remainder of the 2020 season. Following Larson fulfilling the requirements by NASCAR to lift his suspension, Hendrick Motorsports reached out to him to see if he wanted another shot. And as they say, the rest is history.

Hendrick Motorsports brought back the No. 5 team and paired crew chief Cliff Daniels with Larson for the 2021 season. Since joining the No. 5 team at the beginning of the year the duo has put up a series leading nine victories leading into the Championship race this weekend.

Kyle Larson is looking to cap off a career season

Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson is having a career year and not only because he made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff’s Championship 4 Round for the first time, but also because he has racked up a career-high and series leading nine victories on the season – also a career first.

Larson got up to speed at Hendrick Motorsports fairly quickly this season winning in just his fourth race (Las Vegas-1) with the organization – a team record for fewest races before a Cup win. And once Larson found his groove, the wins just kept coming. He has rallied off nine total victories this season (Las Vegas, Charlotte, Sonoma, Nashville, Watkins Glen, Bristol, Charlotte Road Course, Texas and Kansas) and became the first driver in series history to win at three different road courses in a single year. The 24-year-old also joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt (1987), Davie Pearson (1968) and Richard Petty (1967, 1971) as just the fourth driver in series history to win three or more consecutive races multiple times in a single season. In total he put up career-highs in top-five (19) and top-10 finishes this season, as well as a career-high in laps led at 2,474 laps out front this season.

And to top it all off, Larson won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship and entered the 2021 Playoffs as the No. 1 seed with 53 Playoff points to his credit.

Larson kicked the postseason’s Round of 16 off with a runner-up finish at Darlington and then a sixth-place finish at Richmond and won at Bristol to clinch a spot in the Round of 12. From there he finished 10th at Las Vegas and then followed it up with 37th-place finish at Talladega. Larson then switched it to high gear and won at the Charlotte Road Course to advance to the Round of 8. Once in the third round of the Playoffs he proceeded to win the two consecutive races at Texas and Kansas and for the first time in his career lock himself into the Championship 4 Round. He would finish 14th at Martinsville to close out the Round of 8.

Through 35 races this season Kyle Larson has put up nine wins, 19 top fives and 25 top 10s. He has led 2,474 laps and has an average finish of 9.3. He also has the series-best season-to-date driver rating (111.9) on the year.

Larson’s performance at Phoenix

The only driver of this season’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 that has not previously won at Phoenix Raceway is Hendrick Motorsport’s Kyle Larson.

Larson has made 14 starts at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, posting five top fives, eight top 10s. His average finish at Phoenix is a strong 11.6, fifth-best in the series and third-best in the 2021 Championship 4.

Larson is also near the top of the charts in several pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 11.956, ninth-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 93.5, eighth-best, 141 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best and 3,010 Laps in the Top 15 (70.1%), 11th-most.

Earlier this season at Phoenix, he started second and finished seventh.

Crew Chief Corner: Cliff Daniels

Since making his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series as a Hendrick Motorsport’s crew chief in 2019, Cliff Daniels has shown that he is one of the rising stars in the sport. During his two seasons of full-time competition, Daniels has worked with three different drivers: Jimmie Johnson (2020), Justin Allgaier (2020) and Kyle Larson (2021). But it wasn’t until this season he earned a spot in the Playoffs and won nine races. This weekend at Phoenix will mark his first appearance in the Championship 4, his previous best finish in the final Cup standings was 18th with driver Jimmie Johnson in 2020.

The Larson-Daniel pair has combined for the following achievements in 35 NASCAR Cup Series races together:

  • 9 wins
  • 19 top fives
  • 25 top 10s
  • 2,474 laps led
  • 1 pole
  • One NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearance (2021)
  • One NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2021)

The two will look to capture their first NASCAR Cup Series championship together this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. If they accomplish the feat, Daniels will become the 42nd different crew chief in the series with a championship.

Adding to the historic legacy of Hendrick Motorsports

When it comes to winning titles in the NASCAR Cup Series, no organization does it better than Hendrick Motorsports with their series leading 13 championships among four drivers – Chase Elliott (2020), Jimmie Johnson (2016, ’13, ’10, ’09, ’08, ’07, ’06), NASCAR Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon (2001, ’98, ’97, ’95) and Terry Labonte (1996).

Overall Hendrick Motorsports has 16 NASCAR national series owner championships, the all-time record in NASCAR.

And to boot, Hendrick Motorsports was the first organization in the series history to win four straight, from 1995-98 (Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1997-98; Terry Labonte 1996). And then upped their record in the series with five straight, from 2006-2010 (Jimmie Johnson). Hendrick Motorsports has won 13 of the last 26 NASCAR Cup Series championships (1995-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 50% – series-best.

But the 2021 season has been extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization has been able accomplish. Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Hendrick Motorsports has earned 16 NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021; Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 is the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races this season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

The Hendrick Motorsport’s foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and

the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.

This season Hendrick Motorsports led a combined 3,918 laps; fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); 100 laps led away from a new Hendrick Motorsports team record (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 32 finishes inside the top two; currently tied with Joe Gibbs Racing (2019) for the most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 81 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 53 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 27 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, the 2021 is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 52 postseason wins, most all-time.

Kyle Larson can add to the legacy of Hendrick Motorsports this weekend by winning the title and extending the organization’s record in series championships. If he accomplishes the feat, he will be the organization’s fifth different driver that has earned a NASCAR Cup Series championship. In total, 13 different organizations have won at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, led by Hendrick Motorsports with 11 victories.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota)

Truex By The Numbers:

1 – Number of career NASCAR Cup Series Championships (2017).

4 – Number of NASCAR Cup Series race wins in 2021.

5 – Number of career appearances in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 (2015, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19, ‘21).

5 – Number of stage wins during the 2021 season.

5 – Number of top-five finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

8.3 – Average starting position during the first 35 races of 2021 season.

10.3 – Average finishing position during the first nine races of the 2021 Playoffs.

12 – Number of top-five finishes in the first 35 races of 2021 season.

12.3 – Average finishing position during the 2021 season.

13 – Number of top-10 finishes at Phoenix Raceway.

15.3 – Average finishing position at Phoenix Raceway.

19 – Number of top-10 finishes during the 2021 season.

29 – Total number of Playoff points accumulated in 2021.

89.7 – Career driver rating at Phoenix Raceway – 10th-best among active drivers.

96.7 – Season-to-date driver rating – sixth-best among active drivers in 2021.

187 – Total number of laps led at Phoenix Raceway.

793 – Total number of laps led in the 2021 season.

8,822 – Total number of laps completed in the 2021 season (99.3%).

Martin Truex Jr. wants to be the next multiple Cup champion

Martin Truex Jr. returns to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Championship 4 Round for a series record-tying fifth time since the inception of the elimination-style format in 2014; joining Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch with five Champ 4 appearances each. And in the process, he became just the fourth different driver to enter the penultimate race under the Playoff cutline and race his way into the postseason’s final round; joining Kevin Harvick in 2014, Denny Hamlin in 2019 and Chase Elliott in 2020.

The 2021 season marks his 16th full season in the NASCAR Cup Series and over that time the Mayetta, New Jersey native has collected 31 wins, 128 top fives and 247 top 10s.

He joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019 after two very successful seasons with Furniture Row Racing that saw him earn a Cup championship (2017) and two Championship 4 Round appearances (2017, 2018).

After missing the Champ 4 last season, Truex is back to his championship contending form this season. In 35 starts he has put up four wins (Phoenix-1, Martinsville-1, Darlington-2, Richmond-2), 12 top fives and19 top 10s. His average starting position this season is 8.3 and his average finish is 12.3. He has also led 793 laps.

Truex jumped into the 2021 Playoffs with both feet posting fourth at Darlington, a win at Richmond to advance to the next round and a seventh-place finish at Bristol. He then put up a fourth at Las Vegas, a 12th at Talladega and a 29th at the Charlotte Roval to skate into the Round of 8. From there Truex finished 25th at Texas and seventh at Kansas. As a result, he went to Martinsville either having to win or race his way in on points as he was below the cutline. The 2017 series champ answered the bell and finishing fourth and making the final round by three points over his teammate Kyle Busch.

Now the 41-year-old is looking to become the 17th different driver in series history to win multiple championships and just the second active driver to accomplish the feat joining his JGR teammate Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).

Truex’s stats in the Arizona desert

Though there have been some “rough patches” in Martin Truex Jr.’s overall Phoenix Raceway resume, his resume of late has been outstanding. Truex won at the 1-mile Phoenix track earlier this season and returns to not only get the season sweep but take home his second Cup title.

Truex has made 31 series starts at Phoenix Raceway posting one win (2021), five top fives, 13 top 10s and has led 187 laps. His average starts at the track is 11.9 and his average finish is 15.4, 12th-best in the series.

Truex is also near the top of the charts in several pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 13.889, 11th-best in the series, a Driver Rating of 89.7, 10th-best, 361 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-best and 6,659 Laps in the Top 15 (68.8%), fifth-most.

Earlier this season at Phoenix, Truex led 64 laps after starting fifth en route to his first win at the track.

Multi-team champion a possibility

Should Martin Truex Jr. claim the NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday evening at Phoenix Raceway he would become just the seventh driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to earn the season-ending trophy for multiple teams.

Truex won the Cup championship in 2017 driving for the Furniture Row Racing team. And he is one of two Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the Championship 4 this weekend in Arizona.

Buck Baker, Ned Jarrett, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte and Tony Stewart all won NASCAR’s most prestigious title for more than one team. Stewart was the last to do so – winning a Cup championship at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2002 and 2005 and then for his own Stewart-Haas Racing team in 2011.

Crew Chief Corner: James Small

Since making his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series as a Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief in 2017, James Small has proven that he is one of the rising stars in the sport to keep an eye on. He made his Cup debut with Erik Jones running two races in 2017 before moving the No. 19 and driver Martin Truex Jr. in 2020. During his two seasons of full-time competition (2020, 2021) with Truex the pair have made 70 starts posting five wins and have qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in consecutive seasons (2020-21). This is the first year Small has earned a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 Round; his previous best final Cup standings finish was seventh in 2020.

The Truex-Small pair has combined for the following achievements in 70 NASCAR Cup Series races together:

  • 5 wins
  • 25 top fives
  • 41 top 10s
  • 1,690 laps led
  • 0 poles
  • One NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 appearance (2021)
  • One NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs appearances (2021)

Small will look to capture his first NASCAR Cup Series championship this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. If he accomplishes the feat, Daniels will become the 42nd different crew chief in the series with a championship.

Continuing Joe Gibbs Racing’s excellence

Winning and excellence are ingrained in the foundation of the Joe Gibbs Racing and since joining the NASCAR Cup Series in 1992 the organization has collected five series championships among three drivers – Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015, 2019).

Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has 10 NASCAR national series owner championships (five in Cup and five in the NASCAR Xfinity Series – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016).

Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last 21 NASCAR Cup Series championships (2000-2020), putting the team’s title-winning percentage during that span at 25%. The organization also holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) record for the most wins in a single season with 19 victories in 2019.

Heading into Phoenix this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing has earned nine NASCAR Cup Series wins in 2021. The 2021 season is the organization’s 29th straight season with at least one victory in the NASCAR Cup Series.

This season Joe Gibbs Racing led a combined 2,792 laps. The team ranks second in laps led in a single season in the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Presnt) with 4,047 laps out front in 2019. Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s recent dominance doesn’t end there, they also set a NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era record for the most finishes (32) inside the top two in 2019; a feat Hendrick Motorsports tied this season. This season the JGR foursome of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. scored 79 top-10 finishes; the team’s third-most (92 in 2019, 84 in 2016), posted 51 top-five finishes; the team’s third-most (61 in 2019 and 55 in 2020) and also won 22 stages.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs elimination-style format in 2014, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed at least one driver in the Championship 4 Round each season (Denny Hamlin: 2014, ’19, ’20, ’21; Kyle Busch: 2015-2019; Martin Truex Jr.: 2019, ’21; Carl Edwards: 2016). Impressively, Joe Gibbs Racing has placed more than one driver in the Championship 4 Round in three of the seven Playoffs with the elimination-format (2016, 2019 and 2021) and set the series record for the most drivers to earn a spot in the Championship 4 Round by an organization in a single season when Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin all made the Championship 4 in 2019.

Joe Gibbs Racing has won at least one Playoff race in 13 of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 33 postseason wins, second-most all-time. Joe Gibbs Racing is also tied with Hendrick Motorsports for the most Playoff wins in a single season with six victories each (JGR, 2019 and HMS 2007).

Martin Truex Jr. is looking to bring the Joe Gibbs Racing organization its sixth NASCAR Cup Series championship and his second becoming the fourth driver for JGR to win a title; joining Bobby Labonte (2000), Tony Stewart (2002 and 2005) and Kyle Busch (2015 and 2019).

— NASCAR Wire Service —