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How Kyle Larson’s Pit Gamble Paid Off at Martinsville
Yung Money earned his second Cup Series victory of the year at the NOCO 400.
After being honored as one of the 25 new additions to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers List, 30-year-old Kyle Larson capped off a whirlwind of a week with a gutsy, late-race performance at Martinsville that propelled him into victory lane Sunday at the NOCO 400. The notable win – the second of the year for the Hendrick Motorsports wheelman in the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro – marks his first on the famed, half-mile track, elevating his position on the Cup Series leaderboard to fourth place behind Kevin Harvick (third), Ross Chastain (second) and Christopher Bell (first).
How did Kyle Larson earn his victory in Martinsville?
With 56 laps to go, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports team decided to pit, but instead of a four-tire change, they opted for a two-tire swap, allowing Larson to get back onto the track quicker. With the confidence of having fresh rubber beneath him, Larson made a dramatic pass on Joey Logano, who had decided not to make that final pit stop, with just 30 laps to go and held off the two-time Cup Series champ in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford as Larson cruised to a dominating 4.142-second win.
What did Kyle Larson say about his win at Martinsville?
Considering his victory Sunday marks his first in 17 Cup Series starts at Martinsville – a streak that only produced three top-five finishes with none better than third – Larson was over the moon with his gritty performance after the event.
“I feel like [crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody did a great job all day on pit road, making the right calls and having great pit stops and 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,” Larson explained to reporters, according to NASCAR.com.
RELATED: Kyle Larson Named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers List
Due to lackluster track record at Martinsville, a brutally honest Larson didn’t think he ever stood a chance at winning Martinsville.
"I never, ever would have thought I would have won here," continued Larson. "This place has been so tough on me, and [it] just does not suit my driving style at all. ... I just can't believe it."
The 2021 Cup Series winner joked that the event’s prize of a grandfather clock immediately transcends all of his other awards because it’s a crucial reminder of all the hard work it took for him to triumph on a track where he was never able to perform at the caliber he expects of himself.
"I've left here just mad. I've hated this place, and I've wished it would flood," added Larson with a chuckle. "I wished a lot of bad things on this place."
What did Joey Logano say about his second-place finish at Martinsville?
After his team found a leak in his water tank, Logano was forced to begin the race in the back of the field. That said, Sliced Bread clearly fared well and spoke enthusiastically with reporters after the race.
“Solid recovery for what the start of the race looked like,” said Logano. “Stayed out at the end when everyone pitted, which put us on the front row and had a shot to win the race. I tried to hold off Larson as long as I could, but overall, there’s some days when you’re mad about second [place]. Today’s not one of those.”
What were some other notable finishes in Martinsville?
With all eyes on him in his first race back since breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March, Chase Elliott, the five-time consecutive winner of the Most Popular Driver Award in the NASCAR Cup Series, did not disappoint as he landed in 10th place.
“It was pretty good, honestly, about what I expected, so that was a good thing,” Elliott said. “Just it was warm [temperatures], and I’ve been sitting on the couch for six weeks so that probably hurt me more than anything. We struggled every run but the last one and finally got it going there at the end, and I was able to start making some passes and do things I didn’t really think I was going to be capable of doing. So, I was pleasantly surprised by that and got a top-10 [finish] of our first day back, so that was definitely nothing to be too bummed out about.”
“Really nice to be back, and I appreciate the warm welcome this weekend by everybody,” Elliott added. “I appreciate that, and it didn’t go unnoticed.”
While Elliott impressed in his return to the Cup Series, it was Larson’s show, and with his win, he now resides just 17 points behind Bell who finished in 16th place at Martinsville. The victory marks Larson’s 21st career win on the Cup Series to date and his 15th in just the last three prior seasons.
Next up for Larson and company is the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway – a track that he narrowly missed winning on last year when he finished in fourth place. From dirt to superspeedways and everything in between, when it comes to being an elite racer, few do it better than Yung Money.
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