NASCAR President Steve Phelps believes the Cup Series championship race will be the single best championship weekend the series has ever had. He made that confident statement during his “State of the Sport” address on Friday as he believes the four challengers are going to put on “a hell of a show for us.”
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are ready to do just that. The players for the showdown at Phoenix Raceway were finalized a week ago in a chaotic final elimination race. The time for talking is over with media day and media center obligations complete. Practice and qualifying are in the books. All that is left is to settle the 2021 champion, and it’ll be determined between four drivers who hold each other in high regard.
“I can’t speak on how they feel about me, but I respect the heck out of the three competitors and their talents,” said Larson. “I’m really looking forward to battling each of them; I feel like the best four teams are in the final four.”
No one has disagreed that the four best teams are the ones left standing. Hendrick Motorsports goes to battle with Larson and reigning series champion Elliott. Truex is also a former series champion. Hamlin, like Larson, is seeking his first.
“Chase and Martin being past champions,” Larson said when looking at his competition. “Denny being as close as he’s been a few different times to winning a championship, and how consistent he’s been this year. Yeah, I think we all respect each other a lot. At least I feel like I respect everybody a lot.”
The calm, cool, and collected Elliott doesn’t have anything bad to say about the other three. Elliott anticipates a “fine” race between them.
“I think we can all go race really hard and put on a good race and race clean and all the things,” he said.
There haven’t been any recent major issues between these drivers or any lingering hard feelings. Hamlin and Elliott have had previous run-ins, but all seems well between them now.
Hamlin spun Elliott at Martinsville Speedway in 2017, but Elliott got even two weeks later at Phoenix by moving Hamlin out of the way and then contact off the corner. Hamlin later cut down a tire and didn’t make the Championship 4.
Elliott and Truex collided at Darlington last year when neither gave an inch racing for the win. Both moved on quickly.
Larson spent the elimination race last weekend at Martinsville Speedway making sure he didn’t anger anyone. Having been the fastest driver in the Cup Series all season, few have been able to keep up, let alone challenge him.
“A high level of respect from me towards all those guys,” said Truex. “Chase has been a champion already as young as he is. Larson, amazing driver, obviously, with what he’s done with this season. And then Denny, I’ve raced with him since 2003. I’ve run a lot of laps with these guys, never had any issues. Race very clean. So, from my standpoint and the way I gauge and judge my respect for them is, how do they race on the racetrack? What are they capable of? Honestly, it’s three of the best guys out there to be racing with, and three of the best guys out there that you have to beat on a weekly basis, let alone for a final race heads-up.”
Hamlin said any of them would be deserving champions.
“I have a huge amount of respect for all of them,” said Hamlin. “I think they’ve all accomplished a lot in their careers. They’ve all had their own special techniques and specialties that they’re really, really good at. They all bring an equally big challenge for any team that thinks they’re going to go out there and just beat them.”