Hendrick vs. Gibbs, Chevrolet against Toyota

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR’s champion has actually boiled down to a set of Hall of Popularity group owners, 2 Chevrolets versus 2 Toyotas, racing in the Arizona desert for the sport’s leading reward.

Rick Hendrick, the winningest group owner in NASCAR history, is sending out Kyle Larson and ruling Cup champ Chase Elliott to Phoenix Raceway next Sunday searching for a 14th title for magnificent Hendrick Motorsports.

Joe Gibbs, a member of both the NASCAR and NFL Hall of Fames, will counter with Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. Gibbs has actually won 5 previous Cup champions (and 3 Super Bowls) however none with Hamlin or Truex.

It is a winner-take-all conclusion at sold-out Phoenix, where Elliott’s success a year ago clinched the very first Cup champion for NASCAR’s most popular motorist. Hendrick will be the preferred behind nine-race winner Larson and its on-track supremacy this season: Alex Bowman’s win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway was the 4th in a row for Hendrick and 16th through 35 races.

However Bowman’s win triggered stress that must finish the week and into Sunday’s ending. Hamlin, a Virginia native and five-time Martinsville winner, was spun from the lead by Bowman to the surprise satisfaction of what need to have been Hamlin’s house crowd.

When he later on drove his cars and truck to the frontstretch to avoid a Bowman success event — Hamlin turned both middle fingers at Bowman through his windscreen — the crowd muffled his interview over the general public address system with definite boos.

Hamlin blamed the reaction on NASCAR’s most popular motorist.

“It’s just Chase Elliott fans, man. They don’t think straightly,” Hamlin stated of the crowd.

Elliott, the very first motorist in a minimum of a years to go toe-to-toe and door-to-door with Kevin Harvick and triumph, made fun of Hamlin’s spoken jab.

“I’m going to lose so much sleep tonight. I might not sleep at all, that’s how concerned I am,” Elliott stated. “My fans don’t care either, by the way.”

This champion is Hendrick vs. Gibbs in head-to-head competitors, however 4 motorists will be separately racing for NASCAR’s leading reward. Hamlin, loser in 3 previous champion fights, took an aggressive method as quickly as Bowman attempted to commemorate a Martinsville success Hamlin felt had actually been drawn from him.

“Don’t poke the bear,” Hamlin published on social networks after Martinsville. “See y’all in Phoenix.”

Hamlin led the Cup standings for 22 successive weeks however lost the routine season champion to Larson over the last 3 weeks. Larson has actually controlled the year — he represents 9 of the 17 wins amongst the last 4 motorists — however the removal format playoffs that NASCAR presented in 2014 has actually made the real champion winner a crapshoot.

It’s something to make it into the 16-driver playoff field. However getting to the champion, through 3 3 rounds of removal followed by a 10th race ending, is a task that permits really little mistake. Then winning the Cup? Simply be finest Sunday at Phoenix.

Hamlin concurs with the structure of the last 4 however likewise kept in mind a various title format may have developed a remarkable fight in between buddies Hamlin and Larson. Rather, both might lost in Phoenix.

“I’ve said for many, many weeks now that it would be a disservice if someone other than the two of us didn’t win. He’s obviously probably the most deserving over the course of the year that he’s had from start to finish,” Hamlin stated. “The format, you simply never ever understand. It’s the very best 4 that you might potentially put in that race. I believe all of (us) would be deserving champs, clearly Kyle would make one of the most sense.”

Larson was given a second chance this year in Cup by Rick Hendrick when NASCAR lifted Larson’s 2020 suspension for using a racial slur while racing online. His win in the $1 million exhibition All-Star race sent Larson to victory lane 10 times this year, and he twice strung together three-race win streaks.

And it was Larson in May who celebrated the record-breaking 269th Cup victory — in Hendrick’s backyard of Charlotte Motor Speedway, no less — that pushed Rick Hendrick past Richard Petty as the winningest owner in sport history.

It’s overshadowed Elliott’s championship season, but he was a late bloomer last season, when he ended Hendrick’s three-year losing shutout from the championship race. As seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson drove his final NASCAR races, Elliott stepped up for Hendrick and won three of the final five races for his first Cup.

Larson has been the star, but Elliott has remained in the mix. He’s won two races, both on road courses, but had a monthlong spat with Harvick during the playoffs. Elliott held his ground both on the track and off, and now will race to defend his title.

“Certainly hasn’t been pretty. At the end of the day, having a shot next week is really all that matters,” Elliott said. “Frankly, I feel like you make it to Phoenix, it’s anybody’s game.”

Truex, who quietly had collected four wins this season, drove a battered car at Martinsville into the fourth and final slot in the playoff field. Just making it through the round of eight, which was cut to four Sunday, was a win for Truex.

“It’s the eight best guys of the year trying to whittle it down to four. You know it’s going to be tight, close, every spot is going to matter,” Truex said. “You boil down to Martinsville, you understand it’s going to be a nail-biter, which it was.

“Next week it’s an honor and pleasure to get to race for championships. Only four of us get to do it. It’s a fun week. It’s definitely a lot less pressure than trying to go eight to four.”

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.