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Kyle Larson Wins Late Drag Race to Claim NASCAR Championship

Suspended nearly all of last season for using a racial slur, Kyle Larson closed his comeback season in NASCAR with his first championship Sunday by with a title-winning victory at Phoenix Raceway.


Larson was in tears during his cooldown laps as he reflected on his rebuild from out-of-work NASCAR driver to Cup champion.


Larson led seven times for a race-high 108 laps but was running fourth, last among the title contenders, as teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin controlled the championship late in a pair of Toyotas.


Then a caution reset everything.


Because he won the pole Saturday in qualifying, Larson had the first stall on pit road and the shortest sprint back onto the track of the four title contenders. He silently prayed for a flawless service call from his Hendrick Motorsports crew to get the No. 5 Chevrolet back on track ahead of his three title rivals.


Larson’s crew performed its second-fastest stop of the season — a span that stretches 38 races — and Larson went from last among the final four to first.


Larson controlled the restart with 25 laps remaining, quickly cleared Truex, then held off several of Truex’s challenges. There was no stopping Larson, just as he’s been impossible to stop all season, and he drove to his 10th Cup victory of the year.


He beat Truex to the finish line by an easy .398 seconds.


Truex, the 2017 champion, finished second and was followed by Hamlin, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Hamlin is 0 for 5 in championship finales and was the only driver among the final four contenders who did not lead a lap Sunday.


Truex has finished second in the championship standings three times in the four seasons since his 2017 title.


Chase Elliott, the reigning champion and NASCAR’s most popular driver, led 94 laps but finished fourth.


Larson won five of the 10 playoff races and tied Tony Stewart in 2011 for most wins in a single playoff season.

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