Kyle Larson makes late charge, captures first Grandfather Clock at Martinsville
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Monday, April 17, 2023
RIDGEWAY, VA – Since Kyle Larson’s full-time Cup debut in 2014, his resume at Martinsville Speedway has been nothing short of a let down.
In 16 starts at the ‘paperclip,’ Larson has only managed four top five finishes, and five top tens. Within the several thousands of laps he has run around the half-mile circuit, he had only led 174 of them heading into Sunday’s events.
Fast forward to the 2023 NOCO 400, and Larson, who ran on the fringes of the top ten all day long, suddenly saw strategy fall his way.
A two-tire stop under the final caution of the afternoon gifted the No.5 machine track position, before a late charge saw Larson overtake Joey Logano with 29 laps to go to take his first win at Martinsville.
“Cliff (Daniels, Larson’s Crew Chief) and the crew did a great on pit road with great calls and stops,” Larson told Fox Sports’ Jamie Little post-race. “ That was the best car I’ve ever had here (in the last stint). This track doesn’t suit me at all, so thanks to them for making me think I know what I’m doing around here.
With his second victory of the season, Larson also got to take home his first Grandfather Clock – Martinsville Speedway’s iconic winner’s trophy.
“I don’t have a spot picked out for the clock because I never thought I’d win here!” Larson exclaimed.
The 5 team’s latest victory continued a legacy of dominance at Martinsville for Hendrick Motorsports. With its 28th victory at the Speedway on Sunday, the team extended its advantage as the most successful team at this track, with a staggering 28 wins split between nine drivers.
Larson’s teammate, Chase Elliott also had an outstanding result in his return from a snowboarding injury that saw him miss six races. While it was very tough for most of the day, Elliott, who was running as low as 28th on Lap 100, put together a great final stint to come home in a very respectable 10th place.
“I missed the people,” Elliott said. “From all my peers, to my teammates (and) that competitive nature from everybody.”
But it wasn’t smooth sailing for HMS until the very end. The majority of the NOCO 400 was dominated by a trio of Stewart-Haas racing drivers, and Denny Hamlin.
First-time pole-sitter Ryan Preece led every lap of Stage 1 and then some, while teammate Chase Briscoe led over 100 himself. Their other teammate, Kevin Harvick also led laps before a flat tire on his final stop ruined his day.
What changed the complexion of this race was a caution – ill-timed for most, well-timed for a handful – with just under 100 laps to go. The yellow for Anthony Alfredo’s lost right rear tire came out in the middle of the final green-flag pit stop sequence, which saw long-running gamblers Joey Logano, Martin Trues Jr., Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace all benefit.
Logano, who ran outside the top 20 all day, suddenly found himself leading the race. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t fend off the hard-charging Larson at the end.
“Great recovery from what the start of the race looked like,” Logano said, standing in his new Verizon colours. “I would’ve been happy to just finish on the lead lap…There’s days where you’re mad with second, and this is not one of those!”
Caution-beneficiaries Truex Jr. and Wallace also scored top tens after a rough day for the Toyota pair.
While it was another poor race in the results department for Stewart-Haas Racing, Martinsville was a massive step in the right direction. All four of the once-powerhouse operation’s cars qualified in the top ten, with three of them leading laps throughout the day.
Unfortunately for them, a speeding penalty for the leading Preece saw him fall out of contention to 16th, while Harvick, who earned his first Stage win since his dominant 2020 season, ended 20th after a flat tire on his final stop knocked him out of the running for a win. Still, Briscoe and Almirola also ran in the top ten all day long, and ended fifth and sixth.
If anybody thought there was a lot of close racing, and a good amount of beatin’ and bangin,’ then next weekend will exaggerate that even further. Each of the sport’s three series head south to Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama for the Geico 500, where close racing is a guarantee, and a big wreck is even moreso.
Stage 1 Results:
Stage 2 Results:
Final Results (Top Ten):
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.