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Through the Field: The Last Stop

by Elliot Hicks

As we enter the final weekend of the 2021 NASCAR season in Phoenix, so too ends the first full season of “Through the Field” columns here at In-Between Media. While this isn’t the last one I’ll publish for the year, naturally it’s the last one where I can give predictions and discuss the events leading up to a race.

But as much as I would normally have to say about a wild and crazy weekend at Martinsville, you’ve likely already heard it all said one way or another, so I’ll focus this week starting my “Thanksgiving” a little early, giving a shoutout to everything that makes this column the way it is.

Having this column be a thing, in general, is somewhat of a risk in the first place, given that it’s one of the few non-football content pieces on the website. But it has had nothing but the full support of the site founder you all know well, Seth Woolcock, who even branched out the racing-related content this year with our YouTube series “The Backroad.”

I’ll extend that to the rest of the team here as well. There have been multiple times this season where I really didn’t have any clue what to write about and focus on during a particular week, and some of my best pieces of the year may not have been written at all had Seth or other members of the squad here not helped lead me in the right direction.

To have the full support of the staff and other members of the general fantasy community has been an absolute pleasure as well. Even though a lot of them are not often watching the races as closely, they are learning a lot and supporting the columns even with just a brief retweet.

The website Racing Reference deserves a quick shoutout, as well, as many of the stats and anecdotes would not be as strong had I not had that website to check them on.

And lastly, to all of the readers, watchers and guests of both this column and “The Backroad,{ it’s been a fun season. Thank you.

Here’s who I’m picking to walk away with the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity titles since the Truck Series will have already finished its championship race by the time you read this:

NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Predictions

In the Xfinity Series, the two favorites are defending champion Austin Cindric (No. 22) and AJ Allmendinger (No. 16), as they’ve been the most dominant drivers in the field all year.

Daniel Hemric (No. 18) had another strong season but still cannot find victory lane to the point where anytime he is succeeding late in a race, you wonder what will happen to take it from him.
While it would be a storybook year for Hemric to get his first win to win the title or justice for either of the favorites to win it, it’s rarely the best team, but the hottest team who wins titles.

For that reason, I’m picking the No. 9 of Noah Gragson to take home the title.
He’s won three of the last nine races, including this past week at Martinsville to lock into the title race, and has shown enough of a leap in skill and maturity this season to put it all together and get the job done.

NASCAR Cup Series Championship Predictions

As for the Cup Series, despite my newfound rediscovered bias against Denny Hamlin (No. 11) after Martinsville, he’s got a fire in him that he just hasn’t had in any of his other shots at a title. But that doesn’t hide the fact that he’s had five other chances to win the championship on the season’s final day and has won zero of them.

Kyle Larson claimed nine of his 15 Cup Series career victories in 2021.

Two drivers who have each won titles, Chase Elliott (No. 9) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19), are coming in as relative underdogs, especially compared to Kyle Larson’s (No. 5) 10.000-win season. (Correction:  Actually, he’s won only nine times this year. Seems a little light.)

I think this race will play out in a generally exciting but unsurprising way. Elliott hasn’t won on an oval all season, and I don’t see that changing now.

Hamlin may appear to have the best car at times but will get too deep in his own head again and end up 0-for-6 in de facto title races.

And, though Truex Jr. will do nothing wrong and be right there all day, Larson will beat him to the finish line and end the most dominant season in decades with double-digit wins and a big ol’ championship trophy to go with it.

Thanks for reading. For more fantasy NASCAR and life advice, follow me on Twitter, @EHicks39, or check out more of my work at Elliot-Hicks.com.

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