Stock car racing’s history in North Carolina is well-documented since the first race in what is now known as NASCAR’s Cup Series was held in the state, but there hasn’t been a native Tar Heel win the coveted series championship since Dale Jarrett in 1999.
That could change this year, however, since half of the championship four are North Carolina natives. William Byron grew up in Charlotte, N.C., while Ryan Blaney is from High Point, N.C. The other two title contenders follow the norm of the last two decades and don’t hail from the Southeast.
Christopher Bell is from Norman, Okla., while Kyle Larson represents Elk Grove, Calif.
Since Jarrett claimed his 1999 championship driving for Robert Yates Racing, the only driver with Southeastern roots to win the Cup championship has been Georgia-born Chase Elliott in 2020. The other states that have produced Cup champions since 1999 are Texas, California, Indiana, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick, who has fielded cars for three of the champions from California, doesn’t believe a person’s home state is relevant.
“Where you live now is what counts,” Hendrick says. “Kyle’s (Larson) here, Blaney’s here, Christopher Bell’s here (all in North Carolina). Maybe it’s bragging rights for the states, but I don’t see any difference.”
Youth Is Served
If Byron wins the championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, he’ll become the fourth youngest driver to claim the Cup title at age 25. Bill Rexford is the youngest at 23, next is Jeff Gordon at 24 years 3 months and then Chase Elliott at 24 years 11 months.
Byron also is a member of the youngest Championship 4 since the current playoff format was instituted in 2014. The average age of this year’s title contenders is 28. Byron is the youngest while Larson is the oldest at age 31. Blaney is 29 years old and Bell 28.