MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Martinsville Speedway has been a tough track throughout the years for Kyle Larson. Nothing has come easy at the .526-mile track for the 2021 champion.
The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has put in plenty of work to get better at the Virginia venue, especially with its position in the playoffs as the Round of 8 elimination race.
All that work, all the hours of running iRacing for this track and grinding to get better is what makes his victory on Sunday extra rewarding and so much sweeter for Larson.
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"When you can accomplish something that you don’t see possible, when you do accomplish it, it moves up the ladder pretty high," Larson said of how significant he considers this victory. "This is an extremely special win for me. I’ve worked very hard to get better here.
"… I was teared up the whole last lap. I heard Cliff was teared up too. So that feels really, really special because he is so strong and emotionally strong. To hear that means a lot. This win here today means a lot for everybody."
Over the first 300 laps of the race, Larson spent much of the day towards the back of the top 10. Two strategy calls by crew chief Cliff Daniels proved pivotal in giving his driver the opportunity to get to victory lane. The first was to keep Larson out under the race’s fourth caution at lap 304. Having brought the car down pit road under green on lap 293, Daniels elected to stay out and gain track position. The call put Larson third and with the choose rule, set him up to restart on the front row next to Chase Briscoe on lap 313. The next 31 laps saw the No. 5 Chevy run second.
On what would be the final caution of the day at lap 344, Daniels had Larson pit for two right-side tires. The No. 5 HendrickCars.com pit crew executed a fast pit stop that saw their driver leave pit road first. Larson still had to navigate around the four drivers that stayed out – Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Using his fresh rubber, Larson drove right up to second and then took the lead for good from Logano with 30 laps to go.
"We didn't dominate the day at all," Larson said. "We really never even got into the top five there until the last run of the race. Just a great job by my team, great job on pit road all day long, great strategy calls and some good restarts there at the end."
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Team president and general manager Jeff Andrews was impressed with how Larson and Daniels just kept after it, even when it looked like it might not be their day.
"The thing for me is just how Cliff and Kyle really put the whole day together," Andrews said. "I just commend both of them on how they kept their head in the game all day long, raced the track the entire day and stayed in it all day long."
Martinsville has been a difficult track for Larson throughout his Cup Series career. Prior to coming to Hendrick Motorsports for the start of the 2021 season, he had just one top-five finish, two top-10s and 35 laps led in 12 starts. In five starts in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet at the paperclip-shaped track, Larson now has a win, three top-five finishes and 175 laps led.
"I think there’s a lot of things that I have done throughout my career that talent has got me to accomplish, but then, yes, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes," Larson said. "I’ve worked a lot harder the last seven-ish years (on Martinsville) than I probably ever did before, but you have the data now to look at and to study and then apply to yourself."
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As his crew chief since 2021, Daniels has seen the work Larson has put in. He has seen the dedication to his race craft, the evolution of his driving style and the constant desire get better.
"He has been very open to any adjustments he has needed to make on his end," Daniels said. "It's kind a two-way conversation from what can he do better and different and what can we do better and different with the car. I would say the work behind the scenes. The work in preparation to get here today is what I'm most proud of.
"You saw at the end of the race when our car was good and he knew he had a shot, he did a great job to go through some of those guys, get to Joey (Logano), have a clean race for the win and laid down some really good laps to finish out the day."