The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season has really lived up to the hype of the “best season ever” that it was being promoted as at the beginning of the year by Fox before the Daytona 500. The early stages of the season saw a wild start with Michael McDowell pulling inches ahead of Chase Elliott on the final lap of the Daytona 500 before a caution flew and ended the race right before the start/finish line. The madness continued when Christopher Bell pulled away from Joey Logano late in the Daytona Road Course race to grab his first win in the season. Other notable storylines this year have been, Harvick and Hamlin, the 2 drivers that won just about half the races the year before, went winless throughout the whole regular season. There were over 10 different winners this season. This season has truly been one of the most unpredictable seasons that we have seen as NASCAR fans.
Things started to slow down in the summer months and we saw the rise of Kyle Larson. From rideless halfway through last year for a thing he said on an Iracing live stream, to singing to one of the best teams in NASCAR, then being the best driver on the team and getting 5 wins on the season and edging out Denny Hamlin for the regular season championship. The summer would not just belong to Kyle Larson, but all of HMS, HMS Summer if you will. Alex Bowman was the other star at Hendrick amounting 3 wins this season and being the second winningest driver in the garage.
As Hendrick faded away it became evident that whatever NASCAR allegedly asked them to take out of their front end was really a big help in their success as all of their drivers aside from Larson went back to the top 10 drivers they were early on as Lasron continued domination of the season no matter the track or the package. As the summer came to an end it was becoming pretty clear that there were 2 teams that are going to produce a Cup Series Champion, Joe Gibbs Racing, and Hendrick Motorsports. As Hendrick faded, the likes of Busch and Hamlin started slowly creeping their way up the ranks. Hamlin, despite not getting the regular season championship, flew out to a lead at Darlington and didn’t look back until the end where he held off an insane late race push from Kyle Larson to win his first race of the year and lock himself into the next round.
On the flip side for Hendrick at Darlington they did not have the electric day that Gibbs had, Larson needing to wreck the whole right side to even get close to Hamlin, Bowman finishing outside of the top 20, and Elliott and Byron both crashing out and getting minimal points and pushing them dangerously close to the playoff cut line.
This past weekend at Richmond was all Gibbs start to finish. Early on MTJ got sent to the back of the field for jumping the opening restart when Hamlin did not get off fast enough. The race looked to be set for Kyle Busch to coast to a win after a fast pit stop sent him out back in front of Truex and gave him a 2 second lead that he was maintaining, until the NASCAR officials called Busch back to the pit lane for a speeding penalty cycling him back to 10th.
At the end of the night it was one of NASCARs best short track drivers, Martin Truex Jr. coming through and grabbing a win securing another Gibbs driver into the next round of the playoffs. This just about solidified Joe Gibbs racing as the best team currently in NASCAR right now as 2 of their drivers have won the only 2 playoff races and all their drivers are above the cut line whereas Hendrick only has 2 drivers above the line and has 0 wins in the playoffs so far heading into Bristol.
Even though they do not have the best team I still believe that the Cup Series Champion will come from the Hendrick Motorsports garage and it will be the defending champion, Chase Elliott. Chase has shown that when the lights are on he is the most clutch driver in the series and if he is ever in a must win he becomes dominant and takes the field by storm. Last year he dominated coming down the stretch and expected him to do the same, but just know a winner will not come from the best team in NASCAR.