Never count out Kyle Larson.
The NASCAR Cup Series field already knew this, but the driver of the No. 5 car served up a triumphant reminder on Sunday after notching his second win of the season at Martinsville Speedway.
Larson started 19th. He then proved early that he was one of the few drivers who could pass. And then, during a caution with about 50 laps to go, he took two tires while the rest of the field took four on a crucial pit stop — and the strategic move thrusted him into winning contention immediately, seemingly out of nowhere.
And the 2021 Cup champion took over from there.
Larson only led the final 30 laps of Sunday’s race — fifth-most behind Ryan Preece (135 laps led), Chase Briscoe (109), Denny Hamlin (36) and Ross Chastain (31). But he led the right one by over four seconds over the rest of the field.
The driver described how special the win was after the race. After all, Larson has won a lot of places, but a win — or even a decent finish, in his eyes — has always eluded him.
“This is an extremely special win for me,” Larson said. “I’ve worked very hard to get better here. I feel like every time there’s a test available, I get put on that list to test here because I struggle. We want to get better. I’ve got tons of laps around here, and not many top tens. Honestly probably more races where I have finished a lap down than on the lead lap. So it’s been difficult.”
Larson added: “Like I said, when you can win at a place like this, it is definitely up there. I was teared up the whole last lap. I heard (my crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) was teared up too. So that feels really, really special because he is so strong and, like, emotionally strong. To hear that means a lot.”
Joey Logano finished second. Martin Truex Jr. was third, and Hamlin was fourth.
Larson prevailed through five cautions for 50 laps and 10 lead changes.
Here’s a look at a handful of other drivers who had notable performances on Sunday.
Other drivers with notable performances
Kevin Harvick: The Closer hasn’t had the best luck at Martinsville Speedway throughout this Hall of Fame career. And for a moment, that looked like that might change on Sunday. He earned a Stage 2 win. He ran in the Top 5 most of the day. But a late-race mistake — a flat tire after a trip down pit road with about 50 laps to go — foiled what was otherwise a great day. The 4 car came in 20th.
Ryan Preece: The driver of the 41 car achieved a lot of milestones on Sunday. First pole win. First stage win in Stage 1. Most amount of laps led in a single race in his career — 135 to be exact. But his flawless run came undone after speeding on pit road during a Stage 2 caution, and he spent the rest of the race dwelling in the rear of the field. He ultimately salvaged a 15th-place finish.
William Byron: The Hendrick Motorsports budding star was rumored to have the fastest car in the garage Sunday. But the 24 car had a tough day, starting eighth but mostly running around P15-20 for most of the short-track race. Byron finished 23rd. His teammates were among the few that proved that passing in the Next Gen car at Martinsville was possible: Larson won, Chase Elliott saw a largely triumphant return, and Alex Bowman finished 11th after starting 23rd.
Chase Elliott: The golden son of NASCAR returned to the Cup Series on Sunday, which was a win in itself for the sport. But the 2020 Cup champion couldn’t summon an amazing run at Martinsville. He left with a 10th-place finish. The Virginia short track is brutal on drivers — particularly on the left leg that controls the brakes — so Elliott will likely consider it a win that he ran the entire race and exited the car without too much of a limp.
Bubba Wallace: The 23 car had a strange day. In the middle of Stage 3, Wallace and his boss, Denny Hamlin, sparred a bit after Hamlin (the race’s leader at the time) passed Wallace to put him a lap down. Why did Wallace initiate the contact, exactly? It’s a good question. Hamlin, after all, is Wallace’s boss at 23XI Racing and was competing for the win. Wallace saw a Stage 3 caution result in some good fortune that thrusted him back on the lead lap — which ultimately allowed him to salvage a ninth-place finish — but even Wallace himself didn’t know what exactly to make of his run at Martinsville post-race.
Ross Chastain: The last time the driver of the No. 1 Cup car was competing at Martinsville Speedway, he mashed into the wall on purpose and changed his life — and the sport, in some ways — forever. That wasn’t replicated to the same degree Sunday, but he was ambitious nonetheless. Chastain’s day changed when he and his team decided to stay out and not file down pit road during a Stage 2 caution. He was running in the mid-20s and then was thrust into first and held positioning well for a while. Chastain couldn’t hold on forever, though, and finished 13th.
Official results from Martinsville Speedway
Post-race inspection completed around 8 p.m., per NASCAR. No issues were found. The No. 41 car and the No. 3 car were sent back to the R&D center in Concord for teardown.
|POS||DRIVER||DELTA||LAST LAP||BEST SPEED||BEST LAP|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||4.273||21.775||92.088||5|
|8||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||8.436||21.904||90.642||11|
|18||Ty Gibbs #||14.6||21.847||91.183||10|
|30||Noah Gragson #||-2||21.894||90.755||15|
This story was originally published April 16, 2023, 6:11 PM.