RIDGEWAY, Va. – Kyle Larson led the Hendrick Motorsports quartet with a runner-up finish at Martinsville Speedway. The result is a career best finish for Larson at the southern Virginia facility. Over the course of the race, the No. 5 entry led the field for 68 laps after grabbing pole position on Saturday afternoon.
William Byron crossed the line in the seventh position but missed out on advancing to the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 by 21 markers. The 24-year-old driver struggled to gain track position after rolling off the grid in the 25th position. Despite going a lap down on two separate occasions, the No. 24 team rallied back to finish inside the top-10.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t really in the game. I knew that early on in the race, we were making some progress, but we just struggled all day," said Byron. "The first three-quarters of the race were pretty miserable. Nothing like what we had in the spring. We were just tight with not a lot of pace. The No. 24 Liberty University Chevy team kept their heads down and got a decent finish out of it, so that was a good lesson for the day.”
While he finished in the 10th position, Chase Elliott’s result was good enough to advance to the driver's Championship 4. The feat marks the third time in the last four seasons that Elliott will be in contention to win the championship in the final race of the season. As for the owner’s Championship 4, the No. 9 team did not advance but the group will look to help their driver win his second Cup Series championship.
“We just got back a little further than we had been throughout the day. Track position was everything unless you were a couple guys,” said Elliott. “I thought it was a really solid day; we did what we needed on the driver’s (championship) side. I hate we didn’t make the owner’s (championship), that’s kind of a double-edged deal.”
Noah Gragson crossed the line in the 26th position at Martinsville. The Las Vegas, Nevada, native was filling in for Alex Bowman, who announced on Friday that he will return to drive the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
In a week’s time, the Cup Series head to Phoenix for the championship race in the 2022 season. Elliott will look to earn his second driver’s championship in three seasons while Larson will aim to pilot the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to back-to-back owner’s championships. Catch all of the action at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 6, on NBC, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 2nd
Stage one: As the leader, Larson was given the option of lane choice for the start of the race. Taking the outside lane with Elliott to his inside, the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 cleared the No. 9 entry by the beginning of turn two and led the opening 68 laps before surrendering the top spot to Elliott. After falling out of the lead, Larson slipped back to the 4th spot, where he would finish stage one.
Stage two: Crew chief Cliff Daniels brought Larson in under the yellow flag for four tires and fuel as well as adjustments to fix a loose condition. With the changes, Larson lined up third for the beginning of stage two and settled into that position as the stage began. The No. 5 entry ran the entirety of stage two in that spot, crossing the line in the third position.
Final stage: Under the caution period prior to stage three, the No. 5 pit crew gained Larson one spot, promoting him to the runner-up position. The driver of the No. 5’s start to the final stage was not up to the speed of his competitors, and he lost second place to Elliott as a result. Lap 272 saw the race’s first caution flag for incident with Larson in the third position. When the race went back under the green flag, he fell back to the sixth position by lap 290. Over the radio, Larson radioed his team reporting a tight condition. On lap 319 saw the caution flag came back out for another incident. After pitting for four tires and fuel, the No. 5 entry lined up in the fifth position for lap 322’s restart. Despite gaining one spot under the green flag, Larson settled back into the fifth position as green-flag racing progressed. The race continued under the green flag until lap 391 when caution returned to the speedway. Under the yellow flag, Larson entered the pits in the fifth spot but gained one position on pit road after a quick stop from the No. 5 pit crew. With the track position, he lined up in the fourth position for the restart with 97 laps to go in the event. While running fourth, the caution flag came back out on lap 466. On pit road, Cliff Daniels opted for right side tires only, promoting Larson to the third position on track. The final restart served as a chaotic one, with Larson falling back as far as fifth before mounting a charge to return to the runner-up position as the checkered flag took to the sky. The result is a career best for the 30-year-old driver at Martinsville.
William Byron, No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 7th
Stage one: Byron began the 500-lap Cup Series main event in the 25th position. After 40 laps, the No. 24 entry had moved up one spot as passing proved to be difficult. Despite not being able to move up through the field, spotter Branden Lines encouraged his driver to, “keep working”, as he attempted to move his way up through the pack. By lap 100, Byron had maneuvered his way to the 20th position. Despite earning the 18th position by the end of stage one, Byron was put one lap down shortly before the green-checkered flag was displayed.
Stage two: Despite going a lap down, Byron received the free pass and began stage two in the 17th position. After dodging several cars that stacked up on the restart, Byron began to pick his way through lapped vehicles that started ahead of him. Under the green flag, the No. 24 entry was lapped by the leader after getting stuck behind slower cars. Despite ending the stage in the 16th position, Byron was reassured by crew chief Rudy Fugle that his lap times were comparable to those at the front of the field.
Final stage: After pitting under the stage break, the 24-year-old driver rejoined the pack in the same spot as he pitted in. Shortly after the green flag returned, the race’s first caution flag for incident came out. The timely yellow flag awarded Byron the free pass, allowing the Charlotte, North Carolina native to pit and rejoin the back on the lead lap. Lap 319 saw the second caution flag for incident come out again in southern Virginia. The stoppage provided time for Byron to catch up to the pack and restart 16th. Finally running around cars on his lap, Byron quickly made his way up to 14th. Following these passes, he settled into this position, struggling to get his racecar to turn in the corners. The race proceeded to run under the green flag until lap 392 with Byron still in the 14th spot. Under the yellow flag, the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was given four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment to help for the final 97 laps of the event. Restarting 12th, Byron progressed inside the top-10 shortly after the drop of the green flag. The caution flag returned to the speedway on lap 466 with Byron in the 11th spot. Under the yellow, he pitted for right ride tires and a splash of fuel, restarting in the fifth position, needing a win to keep his championship aspirations alive. During the final green flag restart, the No. 24 entry was shuffled out of line by several competitors and crossed the line in the eighth position. The result saw Byron miss out on making the Championship 4 by 21 points. Following technical inspectional after the race, Brad Keselowski was disqualified, promoting Byron to the seventh position. The result did impact who advanced to the Championship 4.
Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 10th
Stage one: Elliott began the day in the second position, lining up on the bottom as Larson chose the outside as the leader. After settling into second place, Elliott spent the opening 68 laps on the back bumper of the leader before making the move on his teammate to take the top spot. As the stage drew to a close, Elliott battled hard with Denny Hamlin, eventually giving way to his competitor with nine laps to go in stage one. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native would end the opening segment in the runner-up position.
Stage two: Under the caution period for stage two, Elliott pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. The No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 took the green flag to begin stage two in the second spot and continued to hold the position under the green flag. By the time the green-checkered flag came out to end the second stage, Elliott continued to hold the second spot on track and earned nine valuable stage points.
Final stage: Under the caution flag, Elliott pitted for four tires, fuel, and a chassis adjustment but lost one spot in the process. After lining up for the restart as the second car on the bottom, he moved his way back into the second position before the race’s first caution for incident came out on lap 272. Under yellow, Elliott brought the No. 9 entry down pit road for four tires and fuel and settled back into the second spot as green flag racing resumed. Caution returned to Martinsville on lap 319 with Elliott still running in the runner-up position. After directions from crew chief Alan Gustafson to pit for four tires and fuel, the driver of the No. 9 restarted in the third position but gained one spot shortly after the return of the green flag and found a home in the second spot. The race would run green until caution returned to the track with 108 laps to go. Under the yellow flag, the No. 9 entry pitted for four tires and fuel, returning to the racing surface in the third position. The restart saw Elliott continue to hold his position as the field stretched out to single-file racing. With 34 laps to go, caution returned to the speedway. Under the yellow flag, Elliott pitted once again for four tires and fuel, exiting pit road as the sixth car in line. After lane choice, the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 lined up in the eighth position, the fourth car in the top lane. Following a hectic final restart, Elliott ended the race in the 11th spot, advancing to the driver’s championship 4 once again. Brad Keselowski was disqualified from the event after failing technical inspection. The result places Elliott in the 10th position but does not impact who will be in the Championship 4.
Noah Gragson, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 25th
Stage one: Gragson began the 500-lap Cup Series main event in the 17th position. Following the drop of the green flag, the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 settled into the 18th spot while reporting a loose condition to crew chief Greg Ives. Lap 113 saw Gragson go down a lap after being passed by race leader Chase Elliott. By the time the caution flag was displayed for the end of stage one, Gragson occupied the 21st position on track.
Stage two: After pitting under the caution flag to end stage one, Gragson returned the race in the 21st position, one lap behind the leaders. Under the green flag, the No. 48 entry fell another lap down, running in the 26th position with 20 laps to go in stage two. Gragson and the No. 48 Ally Racing Team ended stage two in 26th as the driver reported a loose condition to his crew under the yellow flag.
Final stage: Following service from the No. 48 pit crew before the final stage, Gragson lined up the 24th position and held that spot until the caution flag came out on lap 272 for an incident in turn four. After staying out, Gragson chose to restart in the bottom lane, holding the 25th position on track. By lap 315, he ran in the 27th position, three laps down to the leaders. Lap 319 saw the caution flag return to Martinsville with Gragson moving up to the 26th spot. Under the yellow, Ives choose to keep Gragson out on the track and utilize the wave around. After gaining one lap back, the No. 48 entry restarted the race on lap 330 in the 25th spot. Lap 392 saw the caution flag return to the speedway with Gragson holding the 27th spot as he continued to struggle with rear grip. After pitting for fresh tires and adjustments, he returned to the action in the 25th position. During the caution period, Ives called his driver in for service. While in the pits, the No. 48 Ally Racing team gave their driver four tires and fuel, sending Gragson back out in the 26th position. Following the final restart, Gragson would end the race in the 26th spot, three laps down. Brad Keselowski was disqualified after failing post-race inspection, promoting Gragson to the 25th position on track.