MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Capitalizing on a pair of late-race strategy calls, Kyle Larson delivered his second win of the 2023 season in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
The first came when crew chief Cliff Daniels had Larson stay out during the race's fourth caution on lap 304. That decision allowed Larson to jump up to third in the running order – the highest he had run to that point. The 2021 champion was able to get up to second place and was maintaining that position before a caution came out on lap 344.
Under yellow, Daniels brought his driver down pit road for two right-side tires and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com pit crew got their driver off pit road first. From there, Larson had to work around the four cars that stayed out (Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) – passing Logano on the inside to take the lead for good on lap 371.
PHOTOS: See the scenes from victory lane at Martinsville
"A huge congratulations to this whole No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy team and Hendrick Motorsports," Larson said. "I feel like Cliff and everybody did a great job all day on pit road - making the right calls, having great pit stops, and then it all kind of worked out for me there at the end. We had a great car. That was the best my car had been I think, being able to get out front and manage.
"I never would have thought that I would win here at Martinsville. This place has been so tough on me. It just 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. Thanks to Cliff Daniels and everybody for making me feel like I know what I'm doing sometimes around here. I just can't believe it."
The victory is Larson’s second of the season and he joins teammate William Byron as the only other multi-time winner this season. It is his first victory at Martinsville, his 15th in the No. 5 Chevy and the 21st of his Cup Series career. This latest win comes just days after Larson was named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list.
With Larson’s win, Hendrick Motorsports now has 28 victories at the paperclip-shaped track. That mark is the record for most wins by one team at a single circuit. Nine different drivers (the greatest number of different winners at Martinsville) have won at this track for the organization, led by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with nine victories apiece. Darrell Waltrip recorded four wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Geoff Bodine and all four of the team’s current drivers (Larson, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott) have each taken home one victory at the .526-mile track. The team is the only one to lead over 10,000 laps at any one track with 10,531 circuits out front.
PHOTOS: Recap every Martinsville win for Hendrick Motorsports
In addition, the win was the first for the No. 5 car at Martinsville since Bodine won the first race for the organization at this track in 1984.
"That certainly is a great milestone," team president and general manager Jeff Andrews said. "To come here today and put No. 5 back in victory lane, that's always a special number. It has been for Mr. Hendrick through the years. A lot of great milestones that go with that number and a lot of history and heritage there."
In his first event back after missing six races due to a fractured tibia, Elliott scored a top-10 finish. The No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 really came to life in the closing 46-lap run that saw the 2020 champion drive from 22nd to 10th.
"It was pretty good, honestly," Elliott said of his leg after the race. "It was about what I expected, so that’s a good thing. Our NAPA Chevy struggled every run but the last one. We finally got it going there at the end and I was able to make some passes. ... Got us a top 10 out of our first day back."
The 27-year-old was medically cleared on Tuesday and tested on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Chevrolet Driver-in-the-Loop simulator in Concord, North Carolina, before making the decision to return this weekend. After undergoing surgery, he rehabilitated in Colorado before returning to his home in Dawsonville, Georgia, in late March to continue physical therapy.
RELATED: Elliott earns top-10 finish in first race back
Bowman took 11th in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This is also where he finished in the opening two stages. The 29-year-old spent the middle part of stage two in the top five and was the fastest car at that point in that race. He lost a few spots off a restart on lap 143 and found himself consistently in the 10th to 13th spot in the running order from that point forward.
Byron scored a stage point in the 80-lap opening segment in the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. After showing plenty of speed in Saturday’s practice, the race was a tougher go. During the race’s final run as he was in the 11th position, Byron reported that he was having a mechanical issue. That saw him fall back to finish 23rd in the race.
This weekend marked the return of Daniels (No. 5), Alan Gustafson (No. 9), Rudy Fugle (No. 24) and Blake Harris (No. 48) as the crew chiefs for their respective teams at Hendrick Motorsports. All four crew chiefs had been suspended for the previous four races due to penalties enforced by NASCAR.
RELATED: Short-track success serves as a hallmark for Hendrick Motorsports
Larson’s win is the fourth triumph over the last six races at Martinsville for the organization. Byron won last spring, Bowman took the checkered flag in the fall of 2021 and Elliott earned the victory in the fall of 2020. In addition, the 14-time Cup Series championship-winning organization now has a series-best 57 short-track points-paying wins. Team owner Rick Hendrick has won 40 times in his home state of Virginia.
The quartet of Hendrick Motorsports will next take on Talladega Superspeedway in the 10th race of the 2023 Cup Series season. Catch all the action on Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).