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What were the best NASCAR moments in 2021 as Kyle Larson takes maiden championship?

Jake Nichol December 3, 2021
NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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All the 2021 NASCAR awards have been handed out, but what were some of the best – and worst – moments throughout the year? The Focus has picked out five of the most memorable moments in the year Kyle Larson claimed a maiden title.

In their pre-season ad campaign, Fox Sports declared 2021 as “The best season yet”.

While the on-track action was somewhat lacking, stories were dotted throughout the year to certainly make it a memorable year in stock car racing.

But what were the best-and-worst moments? Here are three of the best and three of the worst moments of 2021 in NASCAR.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Most memorable NASCAR moments in 2021

For avoidance of doubt, this is in no particular order, but we start with the moment Kyle Larson clinched his championship at Phoenix.

The journey he had taken from being in disgrace to the top of the NASCAR world in 21 months has been well-documented, but is nonetheless a mighty achievement.

But that’s not a moment in itself – that pitstop at Phoenix however, is.

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Larson’s #5 Chevy was not running well at Phoenix on the long runs – with Martin Truex Jr and Denny Hamlin best suited in their Joe Gibbs machines.

But a caution for David Starr debris with 30 laps to go changed everything.

Larson was struggling, despite taking the pole, it looked as if this record-breaking season would come to nothing.

Until his pit-crew got involved.

It was the money stop for the driver known as ‘Yung Money.’

The #5 crew serviced him in their fastest time of the year and got him out ahead of Hamlin, just.

Game. Set. Match. Championship. Larson.

Championships are won and lost in moments. Larson’s crew delivered under the most intense pressure. It was the defining moment of his 2021 NASCAR season.

Elliott gets the last laugh in fan favourite memorable moment in NASCAR 2021

It’s Bristol, Baby!

It is what happens at Bristol that makes memorable NASCAR moments, right?

A dust-up between the Most Popular Driver and a grizzled veteran was perhaps a shining example of what happens when the lights go on at Bristol.

Chase Elliott had every right to be annoyed at Kevin Harvick – and vice versa.

The #4 took the #9 out of contention for the win with a clumsy move – and the #9 kindly returned the favour by blocking Harvick.

Larson – of course, because, who else in 2021? – benefited and took the win as Harvick would go winless for the first time since 2009.

Their dust-up on pit-road was typical NASCAR – rough, ready for a fight and good entertainment. Proper racing.

It rumbled on to the Charlotte Roval – where things came to a head.

Harvick was plain wrong to ram Elliott into the barrier early on – as the #9 seeked revenge for nearly punting him out the playoffs.

He got it when Harvick crashed at Turn 1 with a handful of laps to go – perhaps avoiding a Elliott lunge into the left-hander.

Petty? Yes. Silly from both? Yes. Read the riot act from NASCAR? Yes. A memorable moment from NASCAR in 2021? Most definitely.

Let’s get dirty

NAACAR’s diet of intermediate 1.5-mile ovals in recent years has done it no favours with the fans.

Things needed a radical shake-up on the calendar.

2021 offered a first dirt race in over 50 years at Bristol in spring.

Despite a wash-out on Sunday and some poor driving on Monday – it was a success for NASCAR.

The benefit of the doubt must be given seeing as it was the first time NASCAR had tried such a thing.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A mid-race switch to single-file restarts worked wonders.

Had Hamlin bumped and run on Joey Logano in the closing laps, it’d be an all-time classic race.

A memorable moment for sure, but work to do for NASCAR to make it an lasting event.

What about the worst moments in NASCAR in 2021?

Circuit of the Americas, Indianapolis and Talladega (fall). Simple as that.

The race at COTA on the F1 track should never have gone ahead – such were the conditions.

Credit to NASCAR for wanting to race in the rain, but this race should have been suspended long before it was.

Cole Custer is lucky to be alive after a horror smash on the back-straight due to a lack of visibility.

NASCAR’s knowledge bank on wet-weather racing was vastly improved as a result of COTA, but sometimes even the most inexperienced know when it is time to stop.

Indianapolis debacle

As for Indy, well, a facility of its stature and history should not have had the track failures it did.

It doesn’t matter if both IndyCar and NASCAR are racing on the same track on the same weekend – it was downright unacceptable.

Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The kerb failure luckily did not produce any serious injuries despite two massive pile-ups late on. It was an embarrassing moment for IMS, owner Roger Penske, and NASCAR.

Cup is back on the Indy road course in 2022 – a repeat simply cannot happen.

Talladega

The on-track action from the fall Talladega race was, largely, first-class and some brilliant superspeedway racing.

Rather the off-track activities overshadowed an historic weekend for NASCAR.

Brandon Brown’s first career win in the XFinity Series will now forever be tarred by the political chant sung by fans against President Joe Biden.

People won’t remember his win – they’ll remember the chant and that is desperately sad for Brown.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After the Cup rain delay until Monday, the reaction to the winner was arguably the worst moment in NASCAR in 2021.

Bubba Wallace – always an excellent superspeedway racer – clawed his way to the lead for 23XI Racing.

The pack knew it was likely to be a rained out event, so had to make progress quickly.

Wallace drove the #23 to the lead and stayed there when the cautions were thrown for the rain.

Anybody who says NASCAR deliberately did not not restart the race to allow Wallace a win – at Talladega of all places – are speaking nonsense.

But rather than marvel at the first black winner since Wendell Scott in 1963, the social media troll brigade went into overdrive.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Sadly, it was a reflection of the situation NASCAR finds itself in.

For all the good work it had done to open its reach and invite in new demographics, the events at Talladega proved there is still a long, long way to go.

One last thing

Quote of the year? Well, that can only belong to one driver, right?

Skip to 00:23 to 00:26 on the video below.

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Jake can usually be found writing about or watching anything to do with motorsport – from Formula 1 to NASCAR to British Truck Racing. His work as a motorsport journalist has been published by the likes of Autosport, Motorsport.com and Motorsport News – all highly respected names. Away from racing he is a keen amateur astronomer, podcast listener and enjoys long walks in the park with his three dogs.