Kyle Larson Wins NASCAR Cup Series Race at Richmond

Larson is the sixth different winner in seven Cup Series races in 2023.

0
1039
Richmond Raceway, Henrico County, VA — April 2, 2023

Last week the NASCAR Cup Series ran its first road course race of the season. This week the circuit stops at the first short track on the schedule at Richmond Raceway. As a matter of fact, the next three races are all set to run on historic tracks less than a mile in length. April 9th at Bristol (on the dirt) and April 16th at Martinsville.

The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway was held on April 19, 1953, and won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty with an average speed of 45.535 mph. The track surface was changed from dirt to asphalt between races in 1968. In total, Richmond Raceway has hosted the NASCAR Cup Series 132 times, producing 57 different pole winners and 53 different race winners.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Richmond Raceway with 13 victories (spring 1961, 1967 sweep, fall 1968, fall 1970, 1971 sweep, 1972 sweep, 1973 sweep, fall 1974, and spring 1975) – the third-most wins by a single driver at a single track in series history, behind his 15 wins at Martinsville and North Wilkesboro.

Eight of the 53 NASCAR Cup Series Richmond Raceway winners are active this weekend, led by Kyle Busch with six victories (spring 2009, spring 2010, spring 2011, spring 2012, 2018 sweep). Joe Gibbs Racing’s driver Denny Hamlin is the defending winner of this weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway, and Stewart-Haas Racing veteran Kevin Harvick is the most recent victor taking the win last August.

Active Richmond Race Winners Wins Season
Kyle Busch 6 2018 sweep, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Kevin Harvick 4 2022, 2013, 2011, 2006
Denny Hamlin 4 2022, 2016, 2010, 2009
Martin Truex Jr 3 2021, 2019 sweep
Brad Keselowski 2 2020, 2014
Joey Logano 2 2017, 2014
Alex Bowman 1 2021
Kyle Larson 1 2017

 

Today’s Race

Drivers will run 400 laps on the D-shaped track, with Stage breaks set for 70/160/170 laps. Qualifying was rained out, so the field was set according to the NASCAR rule book. Alex Bowman starts on the pole, with Kyle Busch lining up beside him in the front row. William Byron and Ross Chastain will start in row two. Last week’s winner at the Circuit of the Americas, Tyler Reddick, starts fifth.

Competition has been intense thus far. The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season has produced an average margin of victory of 1.111 seconds through six races, with three events finishing with a margin of victory under a second. Four of the first six NASCAR Cup Series races this season have resulted in overtime finishes (Daytona, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and COTA).

The bumping and door-banging of short-track racing are sure to raise the intensity level among rival drivers. Already Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain have revived their feud that began last year by initiating contact during close racing.

NASCAR Cup News

NASCAR reported the National Motorsports Appeals Panel ruled Wednesday to amend the L2-level penalties issued to Hendrick Motorsports for unapproved parts modifications entering the March 12 weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

The decision upholds the fines of $100,000 issued to the Nos. 5, 9, 24, and 48 NASCAR Cup Series teams, respectively, as well as the four-race suspensions handed down to the four crew chiefs. However, each team was credited back the 100 owners’ points and 10 playoff points that were deducted when the penalties were announced. Kyle Larson, William Byron, and Alex Bowman receive the same points back from the initial reduction. NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry drove the No. 9 Chevrolet at Phoenix in place of the injured Chase Elliott and was not penalized as he does not compete for Cup points.

“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book,” NASCAR released in a statement. “However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”

No. 5 crew chief Cliff Daniels, the No. 9’s Alan Gustafson, the No. 24’s Rudy Fugle, and the No. 48’s Blake Harris are eligible to return to their respective pit boxes for Martinsville Speedway weekend. While the organization chose to appeal the penalties, the team elected to keep its four crew chiefs sidelined for the Cup events at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Circuit of The Americas.

“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a press release. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond.”

NASCAR discovered and confiscated the hood louvers from all four Hendrick cars before practice on March 10th but allowed the teams to practice before taking the parts back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, for further examination. Hendrick replaced the louvers after practice, and all four cars passed technical inspection before Byron won the Cup race at Phoenix.

The hood louvers are openings or vents in the hood that serve as a release point for ducts that transfer air out of the radiator. The system is intended to decouple engine performance from aero performance, offsetting the practice of teams taping off air intakes and placing undue pressure and heat strain on the car’s engine.

Stage One

Kyle Busch(8) led the first lap before pole-sitter Alex Bowman(48) took over the top spot. However, the hottest driver on the circuit, William Byron(24), moved to the front and began to pull away.

NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after lap 30. The Cup cars had no track time prior to the start of the race, and every team took advantage of the yellow flag to come in, change tires, and make adjustments.

Ross Chastain(1) was the first to exit the pit road. Followed by Byron, Bowman, Tyler Reddick(45), and Kyle Busch. Denny Hamlin(11) was too fast exiting pit road and had to restart at the rear of the field.

Back to green flag racing, and Hamlin was anxious to get back to the front. Maybe a little too anxious. He ran into the back of JJ Yaley(15), causing the number 15 car to spin and bring out the caution for the first on-track incident on lap 44.

A restart at Richmond is a mad scramble, with three and four wide racing trying to gain as many positions as possible until the field spreads out and it is harder to pass. Once the traffic settled into positions, Byron, Kyle Larson(5), Chastain, Kevin Harvick(4), and Reddick were the top five with 10 laps to go in the Stage.

They took the green and white checkered flag in that order, with the exception of Joey Logano(22) replacing Reddick in fifth.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 24 William Byron 10
2 5 Kyle Larson 9
3 1 Ross Chastain 8
4 4 Kevin Harvick* 7
5 22 Joey Logano* 6
6 45 Tyler Reddick 5
7 48 Alex Bowman 4
8 20 Christopher Bell 3
9 6 Brad Keselowski* 2
10 14 Chase Briscoe* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Hamlin worked his way back to the 17th position at the end of the Stage after his pit road speeding penalty.

Stage Two

The top five remained in the same positions exiting pit road as they entered. Four new Goodyear Tires are going to be essential on every service stop as the track surface and the new low downforce package combine for aggressive tire wear.

Byron quickly re-established the lead as Larson and Chastain fought for the second spot.  Chastain prevailed. Logano picked up another position, passing Harvick for fourth place.

Ryan Blaney(12) and Josh Berry(9) got together on lap 94, with Berry spinning out in turn four. The caution allowed the field to come to the pits and change tires again. Despite only pitting 15 laps previously.

Byron maintained the lead while Larson replaced Chastain in second place. Harvick had trouble getting the right front wheel on correctly and lost valuable track position as the crew worked to correct the issue. Logano was forced to come back to the pits for the same reason. His crew failed to get a wheel seated properly, and the error sent Joey to the back of the pack for the restart.

On lap 124, Larson drove around Byron to take over the lead. Byron had led 98 of the total laps run to that point in the race. Larson pulled out to a lead of over one second, the same interval that Byron held over Chastain in third.

Most teams opted to split the Stage in half, with leader pit stops coming between the 80 and 90-lap mark. When all stops were complete, Larson cycled back into the lead despite a collision with Daniel Suarez(99) when exiting pit road. Byron, Christopher Bell(20), Bowman, and Chastain made up the remainder of the top five.

With 40 laps to go in Stage Two, Martin Truex Jr. had moved into fourth place, and Brad Keselowski(6) had worked his way into the eighth position. With 34 laps to go, Byron passed his teammate Larson to regain the lead. Bell passed Larson a couple of laps later as the handle seemed to have gone away on Larson’s car.

Kyle complained to his crew, who blamed the handling issue on the pit road collision with Suarez.

Byron caught lapped traffic, allowing Bell to close on his bumper. Using a slower vehicle as a pick, Bell made the pass for the lead. Navigating around the slower cars allowed Truex to catch the leaders, and Hamlin moved into the top five passing the fading Larson car.

Hamlin continued his charge to the front, passing Truex and closing on Byron. With 10 laps to go, Hamlin sat second. But, he trailed Bell by a full second.

With two laps to go in Stage Two, Hamlin made the pass and took the green and white checkered flag for the first Stage win by a Joe Gibbs Racing driver this year.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 11 Denny Hamlin 10
2 20 Christopher Bell 9
3 24 William Byron 8
4 19 Martin Truex Jr. 7
5 1 Ross Chastain 6
6 6 Brad Keselowski* 5
7 48 Alex Bowman 4
8 5 Kyle Larson 3
9 4 Kevin Harvick* 2
10 54 Ty Gibbs 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Hamlin was 15 seconds behind the leader after making his pit stop in Stage Two. He made up the time and captured the Stage win with an impressive run through the field.

The Final Stage

Hamlin, Byron, Truex, Bowman, and Keselowski emerged from the restart mayhem to establish the top five at the start of the Final Stage.

Harvick replaced Keselowski in the fifth spot as Brad complained to his crew that his transmission was popping out of gear. Transmission issues have been virtually nonexistent since going to the sequential shifting unit with the advent of the Next-Gen car in 2022.

Truex passed Byron for second, and Joe Gibbs Racing paced the field early in Stage Three.

The pit stop strategy changed in the Final Stage, with teams opting to split the Stage into thirds. Cars began coming in for service with 110 laps to go. Hamlin’s crew may have fumbled the chance at a win away with more problems getting wheels tight on their stop. They were 16.5 seconds back once they returned to the track. Hamlin will have to repeat his performance in Stage Two to work his way back to the front.

Noah Gragson(42) hit the wall in turn two with 95 laps to go bringing out the caution. The yellow flag will give everyone an opportunity to pit for fresh tires and allow Hamlin to close up on the leaders after his crew’s wheel-tightening gaffe.

Back to green flag racing with 85 laps to go, and there are 21 cars on the lead lap. Truex, Byron, Laron, Bowman, and Chastain were the top five. Hamlin was up to 10th place.

Conventional wisdom dictates teams will stop around 50 laps to go for new tires. However, there was speculation that some teams may opt to gamble and try to finish the Stage without pitting. That strategy all depends on the race staying green to the checkered flag. Fuel economy is not an issue. Tire wear will be, as the drop-off between fresh tires and 50-lap tires is between one and two seconds per lap.

The Finish

William Byron was the first of the leaders to pit with 49 laps to go. Bell, Hamlin, and Logano stayed out for five more laps. When the last trio came to the pits, it returned all the front runners to the lead lap.

Byron grabbed the lead with the advantage of taking new tires sooner than the other leaders. Truex, Larson, Chastain, and Harvick were the top five for the final sprint to the finish.

Reddick got loose and spun in turn two, bringing out the caution with 29 laps to go. All the leaders came to the pits for new tires. Larson, Josh Berry(9), subbing for Chase Elliott, Truex, Byron, and Harvick, were the first five out of the pits.

Denny Hamlin was caught, for the second time on the day, speeding on pit road. Putting him out of contention for the win.

The green flag waved with 21 laps to go, and before the field even got through the first two turns, Bell got into Byron and spun him out. This may be a continuing theme as no one is willing to give an inch at this point in the race.

None of the drivers in the top ten have a win yet in 2023. All want to lock up that playoff spot that comes with a victory.

The next restart came with 14 laps to go. Larson and Berry are on the front row, with Truex and Chastain in row two. The top two quickly separated themselves from the pack.

Kyle Larson pulled away for the race win. But what a finish for Josh Berry in a substitute role.

Playoff Standings

With the restoration of points, Alex Bowman leads the standings by four over Ross Chastain. Six winners have locked themselves into the playoffs (providing there are not more than 16 different winners in the Cup Series during 2023).

RK DRIVER POINTS STATUS
1 William Byron 228 In Win(2)
2 Kyle Larson 222 In Win
3 Joey Logano* 222 In Win
4 Kyle Busch 215 In Win
5 Tyler Reddick 187 In Win
6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 161 In Win
7 Alex Bowman (Points Leader) 263 +105
8 Ross Chastain 259 +101
9 Christopher Bell 229 +71
10 Kevin Harvick* 227 +69
11 Martin Truex Jr. 198 +40
12 Brad Keselowski* 196 +38
13 Ryan Blaney* 188 +30
14 Denny Hamlin 188 +30
15 Austin Cindric* 175 +17
16 Chris Buescher* 164 +6
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line
17 Daniel Suarez 158 -6
18 Michael McDowell* 156 -8
19 Corey LaJoie 155 -9
20 Ty Gibbs 147 -17
21 Chase Briscoe* 122 -42
22 Bubba Wallace 118 -46
23 Todd Gilliland* 117 -47
24 AJ Allmendinger 113 -51
25 Erik Jones 105 -59

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results from Richmond Raceway

POS CAR DRIVER LAPS
1 5 Kyle Larson 400
2 9 Josh Berry 400
3 1 Ross Chastain 400
4 20 Christopher Bell 400
5 4 Kevin Harvick 400
6 34 Michael McDowell 400
7 22 Joey Logano 400
8 48 Alex Bowman 400
9 54 Ty Gibbs 400
10 6 Brad Keselowski 400
11 19 Martin Truex Jr. 400
12 14 Chase Briscoe 400
13 10 Aric Almirola 400
14 8 Kyle Busch 400
15 38 Todd Gilliland 400
16 45 Tyler Reddick 400
17 13 Chandler Smith 400
18 41 Ryan Preece 400
19 21 Harrison Burton 400
20 11 Denny Hamlin 400
21 7 Corey LaJoie 400
22 23 Bubba Wallace 400
23 99 Daniel Suarez 400
24 24 William Byron 400
25 3 Austin Dillon 399
26 12 Ryan Blaney 399
27 16 AJ Allmendinger 399
28 2 Austin Cindric 399
29 31 Justin Haley 399
30 17 Chris Buescher 398
31 43 Erik Jones 398
32 77 Ty Dillon 398
33 78 Anthony Alfredo 396
34 51 Cody Ware 395
35 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 384
36 15 J.J. Yeley 383
37 42 Noah Gragson 303