Championship 4 predictions with Matt and Max

It’s the final race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, and it’s all come down to Phoenix. We were promised the “best season ever” and while that’s up for some debate, it’s been a no doubt memorable 35 races to this point. With all that in mind the boys from The Slow Restart,, and MotorMax held a little wager at the start of the Playoffs to see who could make the most accurate final 4 bracket and take the honors of hosting this final article for the season. With a three out of four correct Jake from The Slow Restart beat out Matt and Max’s 2/4 to win the day and secure the article. It’s time to lay it all on the line and make our final pick for the 2021 champion. Let’s let wonder boy Jake lead things off…

Somehow, I managed to get the most championship 4 drivers correct out of the group with 3 out of 4 drivers right. The only thing I got wrong here was I predicted Kyle Busch to get in but instead Denny Hamlin put together a great playoff push and got himself in on points ruining my perfect 4/4 predictions. My champion guess, unlike some of my competitors, is still in contention to win it all on Sunday down in Phoenix. This year could be the closest final race in a long time and could make for some great racing. 

Kyle Larson is the clear favorite to win this year’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Larson totaled 9 wins on the season and has been far and away the best driver all year, especially in the mile and a half tracks. Although he has not been as dominant at the 750 HP package as he has been in the 550 HP package, Larson has started to figure out the 750 HP package and almost started the playoffs with a win at Darlington. If Larson hits a stride this Sunday, look out, because he will hit a stride and not look back. 

Chase Elliott, my champion choice to go back to back for 2020 and 2021. Chase has had a slight fall off from last season but is still one of the best drivers in the field. Chase is my champion choice due to the speed he has shown at Phoenix this year and last year. Expect NASCARs “golden boy” to spend a lot of time up front on Sunday and when it’s all said and done, that #9 car will be doing burnouts on the front straight after the checkered flag. 

MTJ, Martin Truex Jr. the second most winning driver left in championship contention, has also been the most dominant driver in the 750 package winning Darlington, Phoenix and Richmond early in the season. He has since cooled off but has still been running up at the front for most races and has been a quiet playoff driver that keeps pointing himself into the next round and has made it all the way here and could be a sneaky win. 

Denny Hamlin, the driver with the most to lose this year without a doubt, Dennys legacy gets questioned every year as he has never won a championship, and the way his luck is going, it looks like he may be the best driver without a championship when his career ends. This is Dennys best chance to win one given the momentum he has built up throughout the playoffs and the face that this is the last race with this car so Gibbs will pull out all the stops to make this car the best it can be. Denny does have to watch out for the #48 of Alex Bowman, a driver who had a moment with Denny after Martinsville after dumping him for the win. Bowman has nothing to lose and Denny has a lot so things could get ugly for Hamlin. 

(Tehben As it turns out Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott would be my only two picks to successfully make the final, but given the turbulent Playoff format I’m still happy to be half right. Anyway, all four drivers heading into Phoenix have a legit shot this year, and none of them would be considered an upset in a vacuum for this one particular race. Haters of the Playoff system would be best to root for Truex Jr, as his 2021 performance would typically be categorized the least dominant of the bunch. Hamlin has been in the thick of it all season, but his head seems to be elsewhere at the oddest of times. I’d like to think he’d be more worried about winning the elusive championship, but if Alex Bowman ends up in his crosshairs in a brief moment of weakness I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Chase Elliott proved last year he has what it takes to win it all at Phoenix, and could just as easily do it again. That said, whenever Chase seems just a bit off the leader, there’s only been one remedy…put a 5 on the side of it. 

Kyle Larson has been the man to beat all year. It’s astounding what brought us to this moment but the fact of the matter is all the stars really did align for this 2021 campaign. Phoenix is just the sort of track to cater to Larson’s current dominance and so long as there’s no unforeseen change of circumstance (note that we have practice and qualifying for this race) it appears to be Larson’s race to lose. For me, I won’t fight it, I’ll embrace the year long favorite and call it one of the most dominant seasons we’ve seen, certainly in this new era. Like it or not, Larson looks to be the leader of the pack that’s bridging the gap to the Gen 7 and the next chapter of American stock car racing. It’s been a wild one, and I’m hoping for another great race to cap it off! 

(MotorMax Another brilliant season has come and passed. We’ve weeded the playoff field from 16 down to just four. This year may have been the wildest in a long time, too. All the way back in February and March when almost 7 different drivers won in 7 races, all throughout the spring and summer, when we were introduced to new tracks like Road America, Nashville, and COTA. But we’ve finally made it to the 36th and final race of a memorable 2021 season. The four drivers left in the title fight are, in no particular order, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr.

My initial prediction for the championship was Alex Bowman, but a dismal round of 12 ended his playoff hopes. His two teammates, regular season champion Kyle Larson and 2020 Cup Champion Chase Elliott, both find themselves in this title fight. I’ll first start with Chase Elliott. As mentioned above, Chase is the defending Cup champ. He’s back for a chance to repeat as champion for the first time since Jimmie Johnson, former Hendrick teammate, did so from 2006-2010, winning a NASCAR record 5 championships in a row. In the March phoenix race, Elliott placed in the top 5 after winning the fall edition (and the championship) last season. His season has been relatively quiet yet consistent, winning only twice but making the final four on points. Though he’s come in clutch at Phoenix before, I don’t believe he’ll complete the repeat.

Denny Hamlin was the definition of quiet consistency in 2021. The three-time Daytona 500 champion failed to win a race during the regular season, yet managed to lead the regular season points standings for a majority of the season and ultimately finish second to Kyle Larson. He came alive in the playoffs snagging a pair of wins and pointing his way to Phoenix, however, his late incident with Alex Bowman at Martinsville really riled him up, and I don’t think he’ll be entirely calmed come Sunday.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 11: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Hamlin’s teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. had an explosive start to the season, collecting three early wins. However, as the season moved into the summer, Truex sort of fell off. He had a string of poor finishes and he’s only won once in the playoffs. He regained consistency as the season moved toward the playoffs and managed to point his way to Phoenix. Truex won the spring race at Phoenix, so he seems like a reasonable pick for Sunday as well. Truex is a one-time Cup champ when he took the title in 2017. Though he’s won Phoenix already this season, his performance since then has been a bit off, and I don’t see a sudden resurgence in the last race.

Lastly, there’s Kyle Larson. Larson was arguably the biggest unknown heading into 2021. After his usage of a racial slur during an iRacing event in 2021, he was fired from his ride at Chip Ganassi Racing and suspended from NASCAR for the remainder of 2020. Hendrick Motorsports shocked many fans when Larson was signed to drive their #5 car in 2021. He won early in Las Vegas and then exploded in the summer, racking up three straight wins (four if you count the All-Star race). He clinched the regular season title and won 4 playoff races en route to his berth in the Final 4. He’s been the clear favorite to win and thus my pick to win the title. He shocked the racing world with his incredible comeback, and it’ll be capped off in the most fitting way, with a championship. 

As the 2021 season comes to a close, we will look back on this season as one to remember. From all the parody early on with first time winners, to Larsons dominance down the stretch, this season was surely one to remember. There is just one question left to ask, who do you think will take home the 2021 Cup Series Championship?

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