He scored five more playoff points.
Larson enters the third round with 65 playoff points. Barring a catastrophe — yes, Kevin Harvick entered this round with 67 playoff points last year and failed to advance to the title race — Larson appears on his way to his first Cup championship event.
He holds a 42-point lead on the cutline heading into a round that begins Sunday at Texas, continues Oct. 24 at Kansas and ends Oct. 31 at Martinsville.
“They deserve to be in that championship race,” Kyle Busch said of Larson and his No. 5 team. “It’s just a matter of going out and beating them in that championship race.”
So, if Larson is likely to take a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix, who are the other three drivers who will join him?
Martin Truex Jr. was an early favorite to win the championship after his victories at Phoenix, Martinsville and Darlington.
Truex opened the playoffs with a win and four top-10 finishes. With Texas and Kansas ahead, he’s cautious in looking too far ahead.
“I don’t know that you can pick a clear favorite these days with the way these 550 races can go,” Truex said, referring to the 550-horsepower package that will be used at Texas and Kansas.
“Martinsville and Phoenix, I know we’ll be good at those two. Kansas and Texas, we’ve got to get through with some strong runs. We were strong at Kansas in the spring. Texas, so-so. Need to get better there. It’s so hard to predict the 550 tracks, I feel like, at least for us. I never know what we’re going to have.”
If one considers Truex a good bet to advance, then that leaves two spots.
Denny Hamlin won the most recent race with the 550-horsepower package at Las Vegas – a race where pit strategy hindered the Hendrick cars. Even with that issue, Chase Elliott finished second.
But don’t forget Busch. He won at Kansas in May. He was third at Las Vegas.
The challenge could be for Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Even though Blaney won at Michigan in August with the 550 package, Fords have been down on power compared to its rivals.
“Our speed is close enough to point your way in,” Logano said after the Roval race. “It’s hard to win where we’re at. We’ve got to be a little bit faster to be up there contending for a win, but we keep doing what we’re doing and grinding it out and focus on every point. That’s our slogan for the playoffs is every point and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do – look for every opportunity that’s there and don’t make mistakes throughout it and be in the Championship 4 again.”
“On-going soap opera”
GMS Racing will field a Cup entry next season but if it has a charter remains to be seen.
Mike Beam, president of GMS Racing, said before Sunday’s Cup race that acquiring a charter is an “on-going soap opera.”
Beam cited the changing price for a charter, which guarantees a car a starting spot in all 36 Cup points races and provides a specified payment plan to teams based on a variety of factors.
Charter prices have fluctuated based on supply and demand during a summer of intense activity.
Kaulig Racing purchased two charters from Spire Motorsports for next season.
23XI Racing will run a second car for next season but has not detailed where that charter will come from.
Trackhouse Racing, which is leasing a charter this season from Spire Motorsports, purchased Chip Ganassi Racing and acquired its two charters for next season. Trackhouse will expand to a two-car operation.
Reports state that Spire Motorsports could purchase StarCom Racing’s charter for next season.
Rick Ware Racing owns three charters and leases one from Richard Petty Motorsports. Car owner Rick Ware said Sunday that he is looking at being a two-car team, possibly three cars with proper funding, next season. He is running four cars this season.
The market for charters has grown as new owners enter the sport. The Next Gen car has led some of the movement. The Next Gen car is intended to reduce costs long-term for organizations with most of the parts supplied to teams.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my career as far as negotiating stuff,” Beam said of negotiating for a charter. “That has been a challenge. I will tell you that. I’ll leave that alone. That has been a challenge. That’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever tried so far in my life. I get it. I understand, but I don’t get. I’ll just leave it there.”
Beam later said of charter prices:
“It’s like 10 million bucks. ‘OK, well, I think I’m going to charge $12 (million) today and then it goes to 15.”
Ware said others had their chance to acquire a charter when he purchased his.
“We made decisions when we had the opportunity to get the charters,” Ware said. “All these people were in line to get charters as well. I think at the time, they really weren’t prepared to go invest in a car that was only going to be one or two years in the making and then disappear. Obviously, it has drug on a little bit. We were just, I guess, fortunate.”
In 2018, a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of BK Racing’s assets and its charter to Front Row Motorsports for $2.08 million. That is the only price for a sold charter which has been made public.
After leasing that charter in 2020, Rick Ware Racing purchased it from Front Row Motorsports before the 2021 season for an undisclosed price.
When this season’s schedule – featuring a record seven road course races – was revealed, the talk turned to how many of those races Chase Elliott would win. Three? Four? Five?
He won twice.
Teammate Kyle Larson won three of those races, giving Hendrick Motorsports victories in five of the seven road course events this year.
Hendrick cars led 49% of the 572 laps run in the road course events. Hendrick Motorsports had 10 top-five finishes and 14 top-10 finishes in those events.