Kyle Larson’s reign as NASCAR Cup Series champion ends Sunday at Phoenix Raceway as four other drivers compete for the crown, but he still has one more duty to fulfill in the coming weeks:
The champion’s journal.
It started in 2011 when Tony Stewart dethroned five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. NASCAR’s Mike Helton had the idea of having something to pass along at the end of the year to the next champion, so Johnson wrote in a journal and gave it to Stewart at the awards banquet.
Larson received the journal last year from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, the 2020 champion. As he’s not eligible to win the title again, the driver of the No. 5 is, instead, looking forward to his time to sit down to think about what his journal message will be before passing it to whoever becomes the next Cup Series champion Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC).
“I haven’t opened it since I got it,” Larson said Friday. “I think it’s so special you want to just read it once or twice. I think reading it once when you get it and then once again before I give it to the next guy. It’s an extremely special book, and I think that was the thing I was most excited about from winning the championship last year — was to receive that.
“I’m sure everybody in the final four right now feels the same way. I’m sure it’s crossed all their minds at some point this week, that journal. I look forward to…writing my little piece and giving it to them. It’s a really cool thing, and I hope I can win other championships down the road to see what’s been passed on since me.”
The journal’s contents have remained a closely-guarded secret by the drivers. It wasn’t until 2017 that the existence of the journal became known.
“I read it all, everybody’s pages, and stuck it in my safe, and it’s been sitting there for close to a year now,” Larson said. “I’ll get home, pull it out and probably practice my handwriting and make sure it looks pretty.”
Although he’s not competing for the driver’s championship, he is still hunting for two trophies — a Phoenix race win would be his fourth of the season, in addition to netting the No. 5 team the owner’s championship for Rick Hendrick.
As his time as the top guy in the series comes to a close, Larson said not much has changed for him over the last year on or off the track.
“I think what’s good about me is, yes, there are probably things I should do differently, but I’m me, and I think that hasn’t changed from winning a championship or not,” Larson said. “I’m still the same person I was a year ago this week before a championship, and I feel like that’s not a bad person.
“This year has been great on many levels, but I feel like, through it all, and throughout the ups and downs of this season, I’m still the same person and plan to be years from now. I’m me.”