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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Vol. 42: NASCAR Cup Series Champion?

Today’s question: Who will win the NASCAR Cup Series championship this Sunday at Phoenix?

Curt Cavin: Not sure how anyone can pick against Kyle Larson, who has won three of the past four races, four of the past seven in the playoffs and nine for the season. But I’ll take Chase Elliott to again win Phoenix and the title in one victory lap.

Zach Horrall: I’m inclined to say Kyle Larson earns his first NASCAR Cup Series championship after nine wins this season (10 if you include the NASCAR All-Star race), but this style track just isn’t suited for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Of all Larson’s wins this year, only one comes at a track smaller than 1.3-miles – when he won at half-mile Bristol in September, which is very different than the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway. In fact, of the four championship drivers, Larson had the worst performance of the four at this track in the spring when he finished seventh. I’m putting my money on Denny Hamlin, who finished third here in the spring and whose Joe Gibbs Racing team has proven to be strong on the short, flat tracks in 2021. Hamlin has quite the reason to be motivated: Four previous times he has been in contention for the NASCAR Cup Series championship in the final race but failed to convert. Plus, he made quite the statement after a frustrating end to Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, when contact with Alex Bowman sent him spinning in the late stages of the race. He’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders, but I think this time, Hamlin ends on top.

Paul Kelly: I’m not a big fan of the Playoffs, instead preferring to reward the driver who has been the best for an entire season instead of just 10 weeks. No Cup Series driver has been more dominant in 2021 than Kyle Larson, whose series-leading nine wins this season are more than twice as many as his closest competitor. But NASCAR wants “postseason drama” for its final race, and that wish will be granted since Larson – much like Kevin Harvick in 2020 – won’t win the title despite being the most dominant driver of the season. This Sunday, I think fortune shines upon Denny Hamlin, who will win his first title in Phoenix. I think the incident with Alex Bowman last Sunday at Martinsville only served to steel Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team for Phoenix, where they will win the race and the Cup.

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