WRITER’S ROUNDTABLE: Discussing The Champions

The Writer’s Roundtable is the weekly column to where our writers discuss one of the trending topics right now in the sport.

Once the checkered flag waved at Phoenix Raceway, three drivers got to add their name to the history books as champions – Ben Rhodes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Daniel Hemric in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and Kyle Larson in the NASCAR Cup Series.

So what stood out about each of the champions? Ashley McCubbin shared her perspective.

I remember a year ago, Ben Rhodes was creating controversy everywhere he looked. He had made enemies with Christian Eckes, was being overly aggressive and finding more trouble than he essentially should’ve been.

We’ve seen the speed with him, but knowing how to stay out of trouble can also be critical. This year, a balance of everything came together.

I was surprised in how quickly the maturity was formed, and how it showed through the season. While everybody wants to talk about the rough and tumble moments of 2021, you won’t see Rhodes in many of those highlights. Instead, you’ll see him leading laps, running up front consistently, and winning races – like a champion should.

Certainly the lessons learned this year will bode well for him in the years to come in the sport.

When you think of Daniel Hemric, the longest time the question was “when?”, as in “When will he win?” Welp, we answered that question now.

I was surprised about the chances you saw him get with top-tier teams until he won. Let’s face it – they say in this business you don’t get second chances, and you need to take advantage of what’s before you as it may be gone before you know it. But between belief in his story, a certain level of talent, and solid consistency at times, he was able to find his way to new seats.

The grit and determination to not win races at JR Motorsports or Richard Childress Racing, but still believe in yourself. Certainly there had to be doubts, and whether this was the right thing he should be doing. But yet he stayed focused – kept pushing, and look where he is now. A winner, and a champion with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Becoming a champion, though, included having to “bet on myself” as he said after the race on Saturday. He took a legitimate pay cut, telling the team he only wanted to be paid for top-five finishes. He wanted to push himself to succeed, and not lay any excuses.

To take that chance in this business knowing the level of competition in the Xfinity Series, knowing his record to date, and knowing he had a family relying on him, now that’s guts and glory.

A championship for someone like Hemric inspires a nation, a legion of short track drivers. You don’t need to have a bank roll or a last name. You can make it on your own merit, and that’s pretty damn cool.

We knew Kyle Larson was good from the moment he stepped into a stock car. It was a matter of when in terms of a championship to his cap.

The biggest surprise, though? Just how strong he and Hendrick Motorsports were this season, for a couple different reasons.

He is the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win 10 races in a season. The average for the driver with the most since has been seven or eight.

Hendrick Motorsports won the championship last year, but remember mid-2020 when people asked what’s up with them? It’s pretty astounding as a whole to look at the tear they’ve been on as an organization since playoffs 2020 to now. I mean, they won 17 of 36 races this year.

You also would never expect the new guy, the guy who hadn’t stepped behind the wheel of a Cup car in over a year, to be the leader and the one to win the most. It becomes even more shocking when he does it alongside the previous season’s champion in Chase Elliott, and one of the most touted talents coming up the ranks in William Byron.

It also was something that started quickly this year, too, in seeing that first win in the fourth race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That meant he adapted back well to the cars quickly, and he and Cliff Daniels found chemistry a lot quicker than we see some combinations over to.

We know he’s talented – no shock when you consider he wins in anything that he drives. But to do it this strongly against the best drivers in stock cars in the United States? Now there’s a shock and something to be proud of.

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