Heading into the final race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, there is good reason to believe Kyle Larson will win his second Cup Series championship.
Larson's Path to the Championship 4
Larson qualified for the playoffs with his win at Richmond Raceway in the spring with interim crew chief Kevin Meendering. Larson followed that performance with a win two weeks later at Martinsville Speedway with crew chief Cliff Daniels back atop the pit box. Along with those two wins, Larson amassed three stage wins and a seventh-place finish in the regular season standings.
Larson opened up the Round of 16 with a win in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to lock himself into the Round of 12.
The Round of 12 would be the toughest round for Larson. Larson was on his way to a win in the opening race at Texas Motor Speedway before a late-race caution came out. This allowed Bubba Wallace to restart to the outside of Larson, and the two battled until Larson spun out and wrecked in Turn 1 with fewer than 20 laps to go. Larson followed up that 31st-place finish with a 15th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway and a 13th-place finish at the Charlotte Roval. Larson scored enough points to keep himself in the top 8 in points.
The Round of 8 opened up just like the Round of 16 did for Larson. Larson dominated and scored the victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to lock himself into the Championship 4.
REPOST to congratulate @KyleLarsonRacin!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 15, 2023
Why Larson Will Win the Championship
Larson is the odds-on favorite to win the championship by the sportsbooks who have listed his championship shot at +150. There is no reason to think that the bookmakers have it wrong heading to Phoenix this week.
Larson has been in this exact position before. Back in 2021, Larson won the first race in the Round of 8 to punch his ticket into the Championship 4. This gave the team the extra two weeks to focus on setting up the car for Phoenix. The winner of the opening race in the Round of 8 has gone on to win the championship three out of the last five seasons.
This season, Larson is tied for having the most top 5 finishes this season with 14. Along with that, Larson is tied for having the most stage wins this season with eight.
In the last two races at Phoenix, Larson has finished ninth (2022 fall) and fourth (2023 spring). In the first race with the Next Gen car at Phoenix in the spring of 2022, Larson was running inside the top 10 before an engine failure ended his day, resulting in a 34th-place finish. Larson has had good runs at Phoenix in the Next Gen car, but this will be the first time it really counts for him and the No. 5 team.
Why Larson Will Not Win the Championship
There is really only one thing that will stop this team from winning the championship: the failure to execute. It has been checkers or wreckers for Larson in 2023. If Larson isn't finishing in the top 5, he is most likely walking out of the infield care center. Larson has a whopping eight DNFs (did not finish) in 2023. His three championship foes have nine combined among the three of them. All eight of the DNFs have been a result of wrecks, so the car will not be the issue come Sunday at Phoenix.
If Kyle Larson keeps the car pointed in the right direction, it is going to be really hard to beat him for the championship. With the No. 5 team firing on all cylinders, Larson is the favorite, and he has earned every right to be so. If everything goes according to plan, Larson will leave Phoenix with his second NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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