Stewart-Haas Racing combined to lead 264 of the 400 laps of the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway, but it was Kyle Larson who ran away in the closing laps to score his second win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Larson used a two-tire stop during the final caution to gain track position, and he then left second-place finisher Joey Logano in the dust by over four seconds at the checkered flag.
The win on Sunday (Apr. 16) is Larson’s first at Martinsville and the 21st win of his Cup career.
“Huge congratulations to this whole No. 5 team and Hendrick Motorsports, I felt like [crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody did a great job on pit road,” Larson told FOX Sports after the race. “Making right calls, having great pit stops, and then it all kind of worked out for me there. …
“I never, ever would’ve thought that I would [win] here at Martinsville, this place has been so tough on me. Does not suit my driving style at all, I like to charge the center, I like to roll momentum, and that’s just not what this place is like.
But thanks to Cliff Daniels and everybody for making me feel like I know what I’m doing sometimes around here.”
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin finished third and fourth, respectively, for their first top-five finishes of the season, while Chase Briscoe was the highest-finishing SHR car in fifth.
Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and Chase Elliott, who made his return from a leg injury sustained in a snowboarding accident in February, finished sixth through 10th, respectively.
The race began with Ryan Preece and Daniel Suarez on the front row and SHR’s speed was apparent from the start of the weekend. Preece scored his first Cup Series pole and was the only driver to break the 20-second barrier in qualifying. The team ultimately put all of its cars in the top 10 during qualifying with Almirola third, Briscoe fourth and Kevin Harvick seventh.
The opening laps of the race proved that Preece’s pole lap was no fluke, as he led all 80 laps of the first stage to claim the first stage win of his Cup career.
Preece ultimately led the first 135 laps of the race without any serious challenge for the lead, but Harrison Burton‘s spin on lap 133 brought most of the field down pit road. Preece won the race off pit road, but he was nabbed for speeding out of his box and sent to the tail end of the lead lap. He was never able to make up the lost ground, and he ended the day 15th.
Ross Chastain was the only car to not pit during the caution for Burton, and he opened up a substantial lead on the restart despite having the oldest tires of the leaders.
The tire disadvantage became apparent after 30 laps, however, as Harvick easily got by Chastain for the lead on lap 167. Harvick then cruised to a stage two win on lap 180, which was his first stage win since the 2020 season.
Briscoe nosed out Harvick on pit road to have the lead for the start of the final stage, and after the dust had settled on the restart, it was Briscoe, Harvick and Hamlin as the top three.
The lead trio was running nose to tail for over 50 laps after the restart, but none of them were able to make up ground on each other until Hamlin got by Harvick for second after about 65 laps. Hamlin then caught up to Briscoe, and despite a battle for the lead that lasted nearly 10 laps, Hamlin was finally able to complete the pass on lap 256.
Hamlin then left the SHR duo in the dust and quickly developed a three-second gap. But that gap went away about as fast as it was created, as Hamlin began dealing with significant amounts of lapped traffic by lap 280. That traffic included Wallace, who was trying to stay on the lead lap, giving the bumper to his own boss.
Harvick had cut Hamlin’s lead to under a second during this time, but there was no on-track battle between the two as green-flag pit stops began at lap 290. Harvick was able to pass Hamlin in the pits, and the No. 4 was going to resume the lead once everyone had pitted.
But a caution came out during the middle of the cycle for Anthony Alfredo’s runaway wheel on lap 303, and there was a split decision on pit road as Harvick, Hamlin and all the drivers that had yet to pit under green elected to stop for service under caution.
That allowed Briscoe to stay out and take the lead, and he was beginning to run away as Harvick struggled to pass Larson and Tyler Reddick, two other drivers that had also stayed out.
The complexion of the race changed once again on lap 343 after JJ Yeley’s crash, and there was a split decision on pit road. Briscoe took four tires and Larson took two tires while Logano and Hamlin had elected to stay out.
Harvick also pitted for four, but he was knocked out of winning contention after having to pit again under caution to replace the lugnut that had fallen off the right front wheel.
The final restart of the day came with 46 laps to go, and Logano got out to an early lead after running 25th for most of the afternoon. Larson made quick work of the cars in front to slide into second, and he had managed to catch Logano with 35 laps left.
After a fierce battle with Logano for a handful of laps, Larson finally set sail with 30 laps to go and cruised to his first grandfather clock.
The Cup Series will return to Talladega Superspeedway for the next race on Sunday, April 23 at 3 p.m. ET. Live coverage will be provided by FOX.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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