Kyle Larson caps return from suspension with first NASCAR Cup Series title

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Kyle Larson won.
This was the expected outcome of NASCAR's season-ending championship racing, right?

Larson finished his NASCAR comeback season with his first title Sunday. He had been suspended for nearly a year and was able to complete his return with a win at Phoenix Raceway.

"I can't believe it," Larson said, his voice quivering. "I never thought I would be racing a car one year and a quarter ago. To win a championship Crazy!"

Larson led seven times in the race, which was a record 108 laps. However, he finished fourth among title contenders. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. won the championship late in a pair Toyotas.

Then, a caution reset all things.

Larson won Saturday's pole in qualifying and had the first pit stall. He also had the shortest sprint to the track among the four title contenders. He prayed silently for a flawless Hendrick Motorsports service call to get his No. He prayed for a flawless service call from his Hendrick Motorsports crew to get the No. 5 Chevrolet back on track before his three title rivals.

Wow! The No. 5 team delivered. 5 team deliver.

Larson's crew completed its second-fastest stop in the season, which spans 38 races. Larson was the last of the four finalist to finish first.

Larson won the restart with 25 laps left, quickly passing Martin Truex Jr. and then held off many of Truex's challenges. Larson was unstoppable, as he has been all season. He drove to his 10th Cup win of the year.

Truex was beaten by him by a mere.398 second.

Larson stated, "There were many points in this race that I didn't think we would win." We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my pit crew at the last stop. They are the true champions of this race. They are the true champions.

"I feel so blessed to be part of this group. This win is for every single person at Hendrick Motorsports. This is amazing. I'm speechless.''

After winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway, Kyle Larson awarded Hendrick its 14th Cup title. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Truex, 2017 champion, was second followed by Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who is 0-for-5 in championship finals, was the only driver not to lead a lap on Sunday.

Truex finished second in championship standings three times since 2017, his 2017 title.

"Ultimately, we had to beat him on pit road. Truex stated that although it was disappointing, we still win and lose together. "That's three times that we've been second and it's a bummer. It hurts. I won't lie. Second hurts especially when you consider the car we had, and the work the guys did.

Larson was the regular-season champion. Hamlin raced Larson throughout the season to win the title. Larson won it. It didn't lessen the pain of yet another title loss for Larson, the three-time Daytona 500 champion.

Hamlin stated, "Anytime you win 10 races in one year, you are a deserving champion." They did a fantastic job at the last pit stop, getting him out there and then he set sail. Proud to be part of this team. It was a great year. It was a really, really great year. Unfortunately, things didn't work out.

Chase Elliott, the reigning champion, was fourth in laps, but was NASCAR's most beloved driver.

"I was very proud of our group. We brought a great car. "It just didn't work out," Elliott stated. "But, look, I am proud of our team. There is a lot to improve on. And congrats to Kyle. ... Great champions. We are glad to see Kyle succeed.

Success is possible when you are a good driver, a good person, and surround yourself with positive people. It's nice to see that.

Larson appeared to be in tears during his cooldown lap, as he celebrated an important career moment that he didn't know would happen. After being fired for using a racial slur online while racing, Larson lost almost every sponsor and he retreated back to his sprint car roots to rebuild.

Larson volunteered with many grassroots organizations while he went on a personal quest to find out more about himself and social justice issues. Rick Hendrick was the one who gave Larson another chance and hired him once NASCAR lifted Larson's suspension.

Larson viewed last year's championship race live from the Hendrick Motorsports campus, North Carolina. Hendrick received its 14th Cup title a year later.

Larson won five out of the 10 playoff races, and tied Tony Stewart's 2011 record for most wins in one playoff season. He also broke Jeff Gordon’s 20-year record for most laps completed in one season. The Elk Grove, California native, at 29 years old, is now the champion from the Golden State. He joins Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and Gordon.

Hendrick Motorsports won its 280th race victory. Larson was driving the winningest NASCAR team, moving past Petty Enterprises in May. In 27 years, the team has won 14 championships.

Cliff Daniels won his first title as crew chief of the Johnson 22 races, seven-time champions. Daniels ran the No. Johnson's 48-man team finished fifth in the season finale. Johnson was just behind the four title contenders.

Daniels and his crew received Larson in the following week. They won 10 points races, the $1 million All-Star race and now the Cup title.

Toyota's attempt to sweep the championship weekend was thwarted by Larson's win. To open the weekend, Toyota drivers won the Truck Series and Xfinity Series titles. But Larson handed Chevrolet the most coveted trophy.

Chevrolet had already won the Cup and Xfinity manufacturer titles before the weekend.