Although it often goes unnoticed, NASCAR awards two championships each season in its three national series – Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.
The most prominent is the driver’s championship, which currently goes to the driver that is the highest finisher among four finalists in the season’s playoff championship race (held at Phoenix Raceway).
The other is the owner’s championship, which is awarded to the individual team which accomplishes the same feat – awarded to the highest finishing team of four finalists in the championship race.
Nearly every season both titles go to the same organization. In a few rare instances in Xfinity and Trucks, teams that used multiple drivers throughout the season have won the owner’s title while a driver that ran all the races for another organization claimed the driver’s title.
Larson beats Chastain and Allmendinger to Homestead Cup win
A very rare occurrence
But in the Cup Series that has only happened twice – in 1954 and 1963, long before the advent of the playoff system in 2004.
However, with the adaption of the charter system in the Cup Series in 2016, the final owner’s standings are used to determine most of the end-of-the-year financial payouts from the series’ points fund.
That means while the season champion driver gets all the glory, the season champion team gets the biggest chunk of the money. And this year in the Cup Series, the winning driver may not come from the winning owner’s team.
When the Cup playoffs began Sept. 4 at Darlington, S.C., 16 drivers qualified for the driver’s playoffs and 16 for the owner’s playoffs. But this time they were not the same.
Kurt Busch had won a race in May at Kansas but because he was still suffering effects from a concussion, he elected not to participate in the playoffs. His No. 45 23XI Racing team – which qualified for the owner’s playoffs with Busch’s win – did, however.
Busch’s inability to compete created the situation where Ryan Blaney was the final driver to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs but Busch’s team was in the owner’s playoffs in lieu of Blaney’s No. 12 Penske team.
So, during the course of the Cup playoffs thus far, the driver and owner standings have not been the same.
Larson was eliminated in the second round of the driver playoffs following the race at the Charlotte Roval but his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team was one of the final eight teams left in the owner playoffs.
Five drivers battling in the Championship ‘4’
When Larson won Sunday, his No. 5 team automatically advanced to the championship race at Phoenix. The will ensure the oddity that five drivers will be racing for championships in the Cup Series at Phoenix – four for the driver’s title and Larson for the owner’s title.
Should Larson be the highest finishing driver among the five at Phoenix, he’ll win the owner’s title for his team while the highest-finishing final four driver behind him would win the driver’s title.
While it may be confusing, the possibly did not go unnoticed by Larson and the Hendrick organization following his win on Sunday.
“Having the opportunity to bring Mr. (Rick) Hendrick his 15th owner’s title is something we’re all very excited about,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of HMS.
“Shortly after the race there at the Roval, we were able to get our hands around that (situation) pretty quickly and what that meant, and Cliff (Daniels, Larson’s crew chief) did a great job with his team and getting them refocused on that certainly with the possibility of sometime in the next three races of winning one of those and getting ourselves on to be able to compete for that.
“It’s really important to our company. Obviously, very important to Mr. Hendrick and all our sponsor partners and our teammates, as well. We’re looking forward to it.”
Hendrick Motorsports could also be in the position where one of its drivers – William Byron and Chase Elliott are still eligible – could win the driver’s championship at Phoenix and Larson’s team could win the owner’s title.
“It certainly would be a unique situation, but we like the challenge, and we’re going to go work hard this week and head to Martinsville, certainly a place we’ve been looking forward to going back to for quite some time,” Andrews said.
“To have William Byron and Chase Elliott in contention there, we like our chances for sure.”
Winning it for the team
While Larson is disappointed he will not be able to repeat as the Cup Series driver’s champion in 2022, he still welcomes the opportunity his win Sunday has presented.
“If I say we were to win Phoenix, like my name isn’t going to be on the championship, but having our team be the champion I think is honestly better than, like I would hate to be in Ryan Blaney’s position,” he said.
“I think he’s the one that’s only in on driver, not owner. I would hate to be in his position, and say he wins the championship and he is credited with a championship but not his team.
“If I was to have it one way or the other, I would rather be out on my end and be able to celebrate the team championship. I’m happy to get to compete for that again, and honestly, that’s the paycheck, too.”