NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C – Kyle Larson has felt right at home in NASCAR’s return to North Wilkesboro Speedway.
A day after a dominating win in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race, Larson capped off what he called "a special weekend" by overpowering the field under the lights for the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race victory and $1 million. This is his third All-Star Race win at a third different track – 2019 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 2021 at Texas Motor Speedway. His three all-star wins are tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for the second-most in the event’s history.
Starting 13th and falling back a bit, crew chief Cliff Daniels took advantage of an early caution on lap 17 and had his driver pit for four tires. Only a handful of cars came down for service and an ensuing pit road penalty sent Larson to the last spot in the field – 24th for the lap 21 restart. Over the next 35 laps, he drove from last to the lead and never really let it go from there. The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 led a race-high 145 laps (and all but one of the last 146 laps) to score the win.
PHOTOS: See the scenes from Larson's All-Star Race win at North Wilkesboro
"I can't even tell you what it means," Larson said. "This is my third all-star win and my third different track. In an historical place like that, you guys and the crowd made this weekend so awesome. We could feel the atmosphere all weekend.
"So much fun there. We had a great car on the long run there and was just thinking for sure there was going to be a caution. I got out to a big lead and I could see everybody's cars were driving like crap in front of me, but I cannot thank this 5 team enough."
In the post-race press conference, Daniels talked about the decision to pit under yellow early in the opening stage. He felt that since they were towards the back of the running order, it was worth trying it.
"If we were at a points race, you might have to be more conservative to the field or to the guys you're trying to compete with in points and all those things," Daniels explained. "Just with the nature of the race, we had to do something different, and that was fortunately like the perfect time to make that call because then we weren't going to be sitting on 30-lap scuffs, it was 15-lap scuffs (if a caution came late in the opening stage)."
Hendrick Motorsports has a series-best 11 All-Star Race wins and has now won three of the last four in this event. Five drivers have accounted for the team’s all-star victories, which is also the most among all teams. Jimmie Johnson leads the way with four wins (2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013), which is also the most among all drivers in all-star history. Gordon is next with three wins (1995, 1997 and 2001) followed by Larson (2021 and 2023). Terry Labonte (1999) and Chase Elliott (2020) each have one win with the organization. All the Johnson and Gordon wins came at Charlotte, while Elliott won at Bristol Motor Speedway.
PHOTOS: See every All-Star Race win for Hendrick Motorsports
Elliott took fifth in the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The 27-year-old driver drove right up into the top 10 off the start and was able to maintain that throughout the race. The result was his fourth top-five finish and sixth top-10 in eight All-Star Race starts.
After racing his way into the main event by winning the All-Star Open, Josh Berry finished the event in 15th. The 32-year-old driver was in his first All-Star Race and this marked the fourth weekend that he was driving the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Berry has filled in for the sidelined Alex Bowman, who is out with fractured vertebra.
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William Byron placed 20th in the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He started sixth and stayed out during the first caution on lap 17. The fresher tires of others caught him over the next run and that saw crew chief Rudy Fugle bring his driver to pit road for a green-flag stop on lap 61. The ensuing service left Byron a lap down and he was unable to get into the free pass position due to the blistering pace Larson was setting.
Sunday’s all-star festivities were the first Cup Series action at the .625-mile track in 27 years. North Wilkesboro hosted 93 Cup Series races from 1949 to 1996 and is the fifth track to host the all-star event. The Rick Hendrick-owned organization swept the final season of points-paying races as part of its four wins at the facility. Gordon won the last Cup Series race to date there on Sept. 29, 1996. Labonte won the spring races in 1994 and 1996 and Geoff Bodine won the fall race in 1989. With Larson's All-Star Race win and Berry's victory in the Open, the organization has now won the last four Cup events at the track.
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The points-paying portion of the Cup Series schedule resumes next weekend, Sunday, May 28, at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hendrick Motorsports has 21 wins at the 1.5-mile track, including the organization’s historic 269th victory in 2021 by Kyle Larson. That win made the team the all-time winningest organization in premier series history.