Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: 2021 NASCAR Season Awards

How many awards did Kyle Larson win?

Kyle Larson’s 2021 season will go down as one of the strongest in the NASCAR Cup Series’ modern era, the first season since 2007 where a driver got to double digit wins, so it’s no surprise that he will receive no less than two awards from the esteemed outfit known as… just this column.

Larson was the driver of the year on account of earning the most amount of points overall in the season. Denny Hamlin, who finished third in the actual point standings and second in total points accumulated, had a better overall average finish than Larson. But the key difference between the two was that Larson won seven more stages than Hamlin, giving him an insane 17 stage wins on the season and thus is the most outstanding driver of 2021 as well.

Larson’s 68 playoff points completely eclipsed the record set by Martin Truex Jr.’s 54 in 2017, and was just able to win everywhere. His number of laps led mark at 2,581 is the highest since 1995, but it should be mentioned that this year actually had the lowest amount of laps in a Cup season (9,200) since 1957, which means Larson led over 28% of all laps in the Cup Series this year. No one driver has gotten to that mark since Rusty Wallace in 1993.

Crew chief Cliff Daniels also had a very strong season, winning crew chief of the year and ultimately winning the championship thanks to a fast 11.9 second pit stop during the final caution of the season. Daniels has been a crew chief for two-and-a-half years now after being a mid-season replacement for a struggling Jimmie Johnson in 2019, after having worked for Hendrick Motorsports for four years as an engineer.

The grandson of inmates of a Japanese internment camp during World War II, Larson is the first Asian American to win the Cup championship and the first Drive for Diversity graduate to win a Cup championship. Of the 41 national touring series wins accomplished by D4D alumni, Larson has won 31 of them.

See also
NASCAR Stat Sheet: Kyle Larson Earns the Most Important Stat of the Year: Champion

What was the story of the year?

Although it came a day after the season ended, this is a story that will be a big deal in the years down the line.

Bruton Smith tried for many years to buy Dover, and finally it ended up being his son to close and make the deal.

The future of both racetracks and the Nashville Fairgrounds proposal are in question. The Fairgrounds proposal at least publicly has largely spun its wheels after a few meaningful meetings over the summer, and the Nashville Superspeedway has a contract with NASCAR to host a race weekend until following 2024. If the Fairgrounds does not happen, the Superspeedway ensures SMI the Nashville market in the future.

Dover International Speedway has been around for over 50 years, but speaking as somebody who lived in the area for years, that track has fallen quite mightily in the last 20 years. They’ve struggled to put on great races, and that has been reflected with lower turnout.

Is this going to mean the end of Dover in the future? I don’t think so. Marcus Smith is a businessman, but he’s also not as outright ruthless as his father was when it comes to things like this. Everything Bruton did in the last decades of him running SMI was done with the blood of North Wilkesboro on his hands, and a lot of race fans have never forgiven him for that. I do not think Marcus wants the same with Dover, and unlike North Wilkesboro, Dover is in a very good location where citizens of major cities such as Philadelphia and New York City can travel there fairly easily.

What was the biggest disappointment of the year?

After having one of the best seasons in recent years in 2020, Kevin Harvick went completely winless in 2021.

It’s not uncommon for this to happen. Ironically, Jeff Gordon had the same exact average finish (7.3) in 2007 that Harvick had in 2020, before going winless the following season in 2008. Gordon was able to recover to win races in 2009 and would end his career very well years later, but he was also not as old as the 44-year-old Harvick.

There were some signs of life near the end of the season at Harvick’s old stomping grounds, namely Phoenix Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. But one thing this team really struggled with was losing so many races at tracks that were so good for them in the Rodney Childers era (Texas Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Bristol, Dover International Speedway, etc.) and having them replaced with odd ball races such as the Bristol dirt race and Circuit of the Americas.

To be fair to Harvick, he did have the third best average finish of the season and did end up finishing fifth in points. But it’s hard to spin going from nine wins to no wins as not a largely disappointing season.

Harvick was not the lone Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to struggle this season. Aric Almirola won the only race for the organization in a dusk-shortened New Hampshire Motor Speedway event, and had the 23rd best average finish of all full time drivers. Chase Briscoe had a very, very slow start that doomed him to just a 23rd place position in points, and Cole Custer posted Danica Patrick era numbers in his SHR car.

It’s bad when even the big man himself has to make a YouTube video basically apologizing for this year.

With all of that being said, if the shoe is on the other foot and this season the team focused entirely on getting a head start on Next Gen development? It would all be worth it.

See also
Zach’s Turn: Pit Crew, Cliff Daniels Rocket Kyle Larson Toward 1st Cup Championship

What is the full list of awards?

Driver of the Year: Kyle Larson

Most Outstanding Driver: Kyle Larson

Prospect of the Year: Ty Gibbs

Biggest Surprise: Alex Bowman steals a win at Pocono Raceway after Kyle Larson cuts a tire in the final turn on the final lap.

“Oof “of the Year: NASCAR not realizing it was raining at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Biggest Disappointment: Kevin Harvick going winless, Stewart Haas Racing winning only one Cup race.

Story of the Year: SMI purchases Dover Motorsports, acquiring two Cup dates and two Cup facilities in Dover International Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway.

Race of the Year: Daniel Hemric beats Austin Cindric side-by-side to win his first race and championship in the fall NXS race.

Crew Chief of the Year: Cliff Daniels for making a series of strategy calls that allowed Kyle Larson to finish second at the second Pocono Raceway race with a back-up car.

Best Racing Series: NASCAR Xfinity Series.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Smoke be blowin smoke at us…..


I really think SHR will be going through some big changes in the next couple of years. If Dodge comes back, the timing will likely match up with the end of SHR’s current contract with Ford. Tony Stewart’s and Ray Evernham’s partnership in the SRX Series might expand into other ventures, such as Evernham possibly buying out Gene Haas’ stake in SHR. This becomes more feasible since Haas is bogged down spending his millions out-of-pocket on his struggling F1 team.

Dave P

Ray Evernham is a pauper compared to Gene Haas. Why on earth do you think Haas would need or want to sell his Cup team? Despite the fact that it’s been 13 years there are still people, obviously including you, that don’t understand the how or why Stewart came to be part owner of that team. He did not buy it nor did Chevrolet it buy it for him, which is another stupid rumor that has always floated around. No money changed hands. Gene Haas simply granted Stewart 50% ownership of a then-worthless team. Now it’s worth a lot. Stewart is actually rich now because of it, and Gene Haas is still rich and always will be. So no, Haas isn’t selling and Evernham couldn’t afford it even if he was.

Linda Miller

But to debate your point with Tony this coming year 2022 he is going to be racing in NHRA with Pruitt and another racer (forget the name) under Tony owning the team and racing dragster too. If Gene Haas is busy running his F1 team and Tony is busy racing dragster and running a new three car NHRA team who will be running SHR? Tony was on the road with Leah Pruit, his fiance, and was seen fueling her car at Maple Grove Raceway near my home in PA. Could that also be having an effect on the results with SHR this year? You can only pull yourself in so many directions before something gives. Just asking!

Last edited 2 years ago by Linda Miller

Is Tony really going to be driving a car in NHRA? I thought it was just going to be Leah in Top Fuel and Matt Hagan in a Funny Car.

Agree though, he owns a couple of dirt tracks, at least one dirt car team that I know of (probably others I don’t know about), races in many events, has the NASCAR team, the SRX series, and now an NHRA team. How much can one man take on before something starts to suffer somewhere? I know, delegate by hiring quality people to run those shows while you’re away, but still…

WJW Motorsports

Maybe for the same reasons Chip bailed? Maybe just to get the heck away from NASCAR….

David Edwards

And why would dodge return to nascar? Not because some of us want them to.

Share via