Kyle Larson Steals a Win at Martinsville with Late Race Strategy

Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, VA — April 16, 2023

NASCAR’s Cup Series early season short-track swing concludes today at its smallest track, Martinsville Speedway. Next week the Cup drivers head to NASCAR’s biggest oval track, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

The biggest news this weekend is the return of Chase Elliott after a six-week layoff due to a broken leg suffered in a snowboarding accident. Hendrick Motorsports applied for a waiver to allow Elliott to participate in this year’s playoffs if he qualifies.

The waiver was granted, but it’s likely that it will take a win for Elliott to get into the postseason. Making it on points is nearly impossible after the missed events. Elliott starts in the 24th position today.

Rain may also be a factor, as the forecast calls for the potential of showers in the late afternoon.

Today’s Race

In Saturday’s qualifying sessions, Ryan Preece earned his first career Cup Series pole, coming to his 124th start. The quick pace showed throughout Stewart-Haas Racing as all four Fords will start inside the top 10. With Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe locking out the second row and Kevin Harvick starting seventh.

Stages are 80/100/220, and the defending champion of the race is William Byron. Zane Smith, the defending NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, steps into the #51 Ford in place of Cody Ware, who was suspended by NASCAR after a domestic violence arrest during the week leading up to today’s race.

Stage One

Ryan Preece(41) got a good launch on the drop of the green flag and established the early lead putting some space between himself and Daniel Suarez(99).

Lapped traffic comes into play quickly at Martinsville as the tight paperclip-shaped oval strings out the competitors into a single file line. Passing often requires moving a car in front of you out of the way with a tap on the bumper or fender.

Would Preece be willing to execute the bump and run? Yes, he actually opened some space on his pursuers while passing the backmarkers. He even lapped the defending Cup Champion, Joey Logano(22), who started at the rear of the field due to an unapproved equipment change after qualifying.

Preece led every lap in the stage, more than he has led in his entire Cup career. Taking his first Stage victory in the Cup series as well.

Stage One Results

1 41 Ryan Preece* 10
2 10 Aric Almirola* 9
3 45 Tyler Reddick 8
4 99 Daniel Suarez 7
5 14 Chase Briscoe* 6
6 4 Kevin Harvick* 5
7 23 Bubba Wallace 4
8 11 Denny Hamlin 3
9 5 Kyle Larson 2
10 24 William Byron 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Logano got the free pass when the caution waved at the end of the Stage. He was the first car a lap down.

Stage Two

Preece may not be the most experienced driver in the race, but his Stewart-Haas pit crew are seasoned competitors. They took care of business efficiently, and Preece exited the pits first, holding onto the lead. Eric Almirola(10), Suarez, and Kevin Harvick(4) made up the top four.

Harrison Burton(21) brought out the first caution for cause when he spun off the bumper of Erik Jones(43) on lap 132. The leaders pitted, and Preece again exited first. Suarez came out ahead of Almirola this time, and Todd Gilliland(38) only changed two tires picking up a bunch of track position.

Ross Chastain stayed on the track and took over the top spot. Preece was tagged for speeding on pit road and was forced to drop to the rear of the field.

With the laps winding down in Stage Two, the aggression on the track wound up. The race is official at the end of the Stage. However, the potential threat of rain has dissipated, and the sun was out.

Chastain led for 31 laps until his tires began to go away. Harvick replaced him at the front of the pack. Chase Briscoe(14) and Denny Hamlin(11) continued their march to the front.

A new name appeared in the top ten, with Brad Keselowski(6) benefitting from the Ford Performance advantage that has held strong all weekend.

Stage Two Results

1 4 Kevin Harvick* 10
2 14 Chase Briscoe* 9
3 11 Denny Hamlin 8
4 45 Tyler Reddick 7
5 6 Brad Keselowski* 6
6 1 Ross Chastain 5
7 38 Todd Gilliland* 4
8 99 Daniel Suarez 3
9 10 Aric Almirola* 2
10 5 Kyle Larson 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Preece finished Stage Two in 23rd place.

The Final Stage

Briscoe was first off the pit road and held the top position when the race restarted. Fords held four of the top five spots, with Harvick in second, Keselowski fourth, and Almirola fifth. Denny Hamlin was the only non-Ford running in third.

Chase Elliott(9) started the Final Stage in 20th, and Preece in 21st. Just as quickly as the skies had cleared, clouds began to form again, with 200 laps to go to the checkered flag. NASCAR brought an all-weather tire and had crews install the windshield wiper for the weekend. They won’t run in the rain but can race on a wet track.

Hamlin moved into second place, and on lap 254, he got beside Briscoe. They swapped the lead back and forth until Hamlin finally secured the top spot. Harvick took advantage of the battle and closed to challenge for second place. With Almirola in fourth, Stewart-Haas Racing was having a great day. Despite Preece still languishing back in 20th.

The long runs under green will set up the importance of pit stops if the yellow flag stays inactive for the remainder of the race. Brisco could use a stop, as his handling had gone away, and both his teammates passed him to advance their positions.

Green flag pit stops began with 112 laps to go, as the handling on most cars seemed to have gone extremely loose. Harvick pitted on with 110 to go, and Hamlin gave up the lead a lap later to get new Goodyear rubber.

Keselowski inherited first place, with Suarez opting to stay out as well. Harvick was the pit-stop winner as he returned to the track with a one-second advantage over Hamlin. With 99 laps to go, Keselowski pitted. With 98 laps to go, the yellow flag came out for debris on the track.

Anthony Alfredo(78) was making his second Cup start of the year in the BJ McLeod Motorsports car. During his pit stop, the crew failed to get the right rear wheel installed properly. It came off on the track creating the caution period.

Suarez, Bubba Wallace(23), Logano, Michael McDowell(34), and Martin Truex Jr.(19) stayed on the track. All gained significant track position as a result. When everyone had pitted and positions were sorted out, the green dropped with 88 laps to go. The top five had a whole new look. Briscoe returned to the lead, Kyle Larson(5) restarted second, Harvick in third, Tyler Reddick(45) fourth, and Suarez fifth. Remarkably, Logano was up to sixth.

The Finish

JJ Yeley had the brakes lock up on his car, and he crashed into the outside wall with 58 laps to go. Yeley climbed out unhurt, but the car was junk. The yellow flag created chaos as pit strategies were all over the board.

The biggest loser was Kevin Harvick, as his crew did not get the right front wheel tight. The lug nut fell off, but somehow the wheel stayed on, grinding away on some part of the brake/wheel hub. Harvick returned to his pit stall, and the crew put another wheel on. A quick inspection did not warrant any repairs. However, Harvick’s shot at a win went away with the lug nut’s escape.

The race restarted with 46 laps to go and Logano leading. Almirola, Hamlin, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) stayed on the track with Joey, and they paced the field to the green. A combination of two and four tire changes shuffled the remainder of the leaders. Larson, Suarez, Briscoe, Blaney, Reddick, and Wallace filled out the top ten.

Larson only changed two tires, but that was enough. He quickly moved through the cars ahead of him and took the lead with 28 laps to go.

With 15 laps to the checkered flag Logano, Hamlin, Truex, and Brisco were all losing time to the leader.

Truex was the only driver able to make a move over the closing laps. He passed Hamlin for third. Larson stole this win with a combination of luck, good strategy, and being in the right place at the right time. He joins teammate William Byron as the only two-time Cup winner to date in 2023.

On a day that held so much potential for Stewart-Haas Racing at the start, the end disappointed. Ryan Preece led the most laps (136) and finished 15th due to a mistake on pit road. Chase Briscoe led the second most laps(109) and did not have the speed when it was most important. He finished fifth. Almirola probably did the most with the least, finishing sixth. Kevin Harvick finished 20th after an almost certain top-five went away due to a mistake in the pits.

Chase Elliott took a top ten in his first race back, finishing in the 10th position. Series points leader and last week’s winner at Bristol, Christopher Bell, was never a factor and finished 16th. Bell did retain the series points lead.

Playoff Standings

1 Kyle Larson 285 In Win(2)
2 William Byron 208 In Win(2)
3 Christopher Bell (Points Leader) 302 In Win
4 Tyler Reddick 265 In Win
5 Joey Logano* 258 In Win
6 Kyle Busch 250 In Win
7 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 223 In Win
8 Ross Chastain 297 +97
9 Kevin Harvick* 287 +87
10 Martin Truex Jr. 266 +66
11 Denny Hamlin 247 +47
12 Ryan Blaney* 241 +41
13 Alex Bowman 237 +37
14 Brad Keselowski* 235 +35
15 Chase Briscoe* 210 +10
16 Chris Buescher* 206 +6
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line
17 Daniel Suarez 200 -6
18 Michael McDowell* 200 -6
19 Austin Cindric* 197 -9
20 Ty Gibbs 193 -13
21 Austin Dillon 182 -24
22 Bubba Wallace 175 -31
23 Corey LaJoie 173 -33
24 Todd Gilliland* 162 -44
25 AJ Allmendinger 144 -62

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway

1 5 Kyle Larson 400
2 22 Joey Logano 4.142 400
3 19 Martin Truex Jr. 4.273 400
4 11 Denny Hamlin 5.585 400
5 14 Chase Briscoe 6.281 400
6 10 Aric Almirola 6.902 400
7 12 Ryan Blaney 8.433 400
8 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 8.436 400
9 23 Bubba Wallace 9.034 400
10 9 Chase Elliott 9.462 400
11 48 Alex Bowman 10.088 400
12 3 Austin Dillon 10.379 400
13 1 Ross Chastain 10.680 400
14 17 Chris Buescher 10.961 400
15 41 Ryan Preece 11.427 400
16 20 Christopher Bell 11.874 400
17 99 Daniel Suarez 13.862 400
18 54 Ty Gibbs 14.600 400
19 34 Michael McDowell 14.665 400
20 4 Kevin Harvick 14.810 400
21 8 Kyle Busch 15.660 400
22 45 Tyler Reddick 18.288 400
23 24 William Byron 18.715 400
24 6 Brad Keselowski 20.886 400
25 38 Todd Gilliland -1 399
26 7 Corey LaJoie -1 399
27 16 AJ Allmendinger -1 399
28 31 Justin Haley -2 398
29 21 Harrison Burton -2 398
30 42 Noah Gragson -2 398
31 43 Erik Jones -2 398
32 77 Ty Dillon -3 397
33 2 Austin Cindric -3 397
34 51 Zane Smith -5 395
35 78 Anthony Alfredo -10 390
36 15 JJ Yeley -63 337