NASCAR Championship Weekend winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers coming out of NASCAR Championship Weekend at Phoenix Raceway…

WINNERS

Kyle LarsonThe best driver and the best team won. A great final stop from the No. 5 pit crew gave Larson the lead with 28 laps to go, and Larson held on from there to win the race and his first Cup Series championship.

Rick Hendrick – Hendrick’s decision to give Larson his second chance in NASCAR paid off handsomely. Larson’s title victory caps a superb season for Hendrick Motorsports, whose drivers earned 17 wins (third-most in modern era) and led 4,119 laps (second-most in modern era). Larson chipped in 10 wins and 2,581 laps led.

Daniel HemricHemric is officially a winner – and a champion, to boot. In his 208th NASCAR national series start, Hemric defeated Cup Series-bound Austin Cindric in a paint-swapping finish to take the checkered flag and the Xfinity Series championship.

Ben RhodesThird place enabled Rhodes to claim the Camping World Truck Series championship. After partaking in celebratory brews and bubbly, he then gave a post-race press conference that drew comparisons to Brad Keselowski’s tipsy interviews after winning the 2012 Cup title.

LOSERS

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex caught a break Sunday on the timing of a caution at Lap 249 while pitting, which helped him cycle into the lead. He looked poised to win until the caution came out again for debris with 30 laps to go. Then he fell from first to third in the pits. He couldn’t recover.

Denny Hamlin – The final restart was costly for Hamlin, who lined up alongside Larson with 24 laps to go. But while Larson easily launched into the lead, Hamlin ceded second to Truex. Great long-run speed didn’t matter in a short sprint to the finish.

Austin Cindric – With 20 laps to go Saturday, Cindric was leading by two seconds over Hemric until fellow Championship 4 contender AJ Allmendinger spun. Two more cautions followed to send the race into overtime, where Hemric narrowly edged Cindric for the win and the Xfinity title.

Zane Smith – Smith lost his grip on the Truck title with eight laps to go in Friday’s race, when Rhodes nudged him aside for fourth at the time and the lead among the Championship 4. That would be the difference.