The crowning of the NASCAR Cup Series champion took on a new dimension in 2014 when officials, seeking to juice the final weeks of the season with a new twist, decided on an elimination format, trimming the field as the playoffs progressed.
In part, the idea was designed to create “Game 7 moments,” or super-exciting finishes, as drivers competed to advance through the playoffs and, ultimately, to win the series championship.
The final races of the season since that change haven’t produced the electrifying, side-by-side, fender-banging finish between contenders that NASCAR might prefer, but most have seen emotional highlights.
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The tightest margin of victory over the stretch occurred in 2021, when Kyle Larson outran Martin Truex Jr. by .398 of a second to win the title. Close behind was Jimmie Johnson’s .466 of a second win in 2016.
NBC Sports ranks the eight championship races since 2014:
1. Martin Truex Jr., champion, 2017 — The Homestead-Miami Speedway victory lane excitement following Truex’s championship run reached an emotional peak rarely seen in NASCAR. Truex outran a charging Kyle Busch to win the race (and the championship) by .681 of a second, ending what had been a trying season for the Furniture Row team. Sherry Pollex, Truex’s long-time girlfriend, went through a tough battle with cancer, and Barney Visser, the team owner, suffered a heart attack, forcing him to miss the season finale.
2. Kyle Busch, champion, 2015 — Busch’s prospects looked poor indeed when he suffered a broken leg at Daytona International Speedway in February, putting him on the sidelines for 11 races. He rallied to make the playoffs and won the championship race at Homestead by 1.55 seconds over Kevin Harvick.
3. Kevin Harvick, champion, 2014 — The title race produced tension in the closing laps as Harvick held off Ryan Newman, who was seeking his first win of the season, in a three-lap run to the finish. Harvick advanced from 12th to first over the final 15 laps, winning by .50 of a second.
4. Jimmie Johnson, champion, 2016 — Johnson led the race’s final three laps despite starting in the rear because of a pre-race inspection failure. The championship was Johnson’s seventh, tying him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most in series history. Playoff contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano crashed late in the race.
5. Kyle Larson, champion, 2021 — Larson ended a spectacular 10-win season by outrunning Martin Truex Jr. by .398 at the finish.
6. Chase Elliott, champion, 2020 — Elliott’s car failed pre-race inspection, putting him at the back of the field for the start. That proved to be a non-issue as he won by race by 2.74 seconds over Brad Keselowski, sparking a wild celebration for the sport’s most popular driver in the first title race at Phoenix Raceway.
7. Joey Logano, champion, 2018 — Logano led the final 12 laps to breeze to his first Cup championship, finishing 1.72 seconds ahead of Martin Truex Jr.
8. Kyle Busch, champion, 2019 — In statistically the biggest runaway in the playoff era, Busch outran Martin Truex Jr. by 4.57 seconds to claim his second championship.