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Kyle Larson Scores 2nd at Martinsville, Retakes Points Lead

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson captured a strong runner-up at the Cook Out 400 at Martinsville. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

RIDGEWAY, Va. — Kyle Larson showcased his steady, quiet but confident skills as an emerging short track racer during Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at Martinsville Speedway.

Entering the eighth NASCAR Cup Series race of the season, Larson ranked second in the standings, trailing Martin Truex Jr. by 14 points. A strong third place result in last Sunday’s race at Richmond Raceway seemingly carried over into Martinsville race weekend.

Kicking the weekend off with his second pole of the year, the Elk Grove, California, native led the opening 86 laps. Winning Stage 1 and netting a Playoff point, the defending Cook Out 400 winner pitted for tires and fuel, dropping to second and on the outside of Row 1 with Joey Logano taking the lead.

Dropping to fourth in the running order, Larson worked his way up to third in the closing laps of Stage 2, netting eight stage points. Tallying 18 stage points, the 2021 Cup champion looked more like Jeff Gordon than a racer with trepidation.

In the final stage, Larson ran inside the top five save for a green flag pit stop cycle inside the final 100 laps. Following the cycle, William Byron took the lead on Lap 414 with Elliott and Larson occupying the second and third positions.

Inside the final 87 laps, it appeared as if Hendrick Motorsports would capture a podium sweep at the 0.526-mile charter track. Then, on Lap 398, just three laps from the original scheduled final lap, John Hunter Nemechek slammed into the Turn 3 wall as his right front rotor exploded.

This moment prompted some of the lead lap contenders to pit for fresh tires like Denny Hamlin, who finished seventh in Stage 1 and won Stage 2. Such advantage for fresh tires did not pay off as those opting for track position prevailed.

As for Larson, he moved to the second position, passing Chase Elliott on the final lap of the Overtime restart while Byron drove to his third victory of the season and second at Martinsville. More importantly, Larson retook the points lead over Truex by 14 points, a 28 point shift in the past week.

Larson considered the overall race day at Martinsville in terms of the significance of the Hendrick organization sweeping the podium.

Kyle Larson

Although Kyle Larson’s right front fender sported a battle scar, it was a strong runner-up in Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at Martinsville. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’s a huge, huge day for Hendrick Motorsports,” Larson said. “And just really, really happy for the family. Everybody who’s been involved in this company from the beginning, you know, there was 1,500 people here off Turn 2 from Hendrick Motorsports and their families today.

“So I knew us four guys were gonna have a shot at a good run, and I didn’t know that we would run 1-2-3. So that’s just really special. Happy for William. He did a really good job executing that green flag cycle and carving his way through the guys in front of him to get to the lead. So he deserved to win. And he did a great job.”

It was the first podium sweep for Hendrick Motorsports since the 1997 DAYTONA 500 won by Jeff Gordon with Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finishing second and third. Much like that fateful day in Feb. 16, 1997, Hendrick became the first team to sweep the podium at Martinsville Speedway, a historical feat.

Despite Larson scoring a podium and being a part of the Hendrick podium sweep, he observed how tenacious Byron and Elliott raced each other in the latter part of the race.

“I think on a day like today, I was surprised, honestly, how physical it looked in front of me,” Larson admitted. “Like I was very shocked and selfishly, was hoping they were going to wash up the track some more and let me get into the battle a little bit.

“But no, I think we all understood what this day meant to the company, and we were going to race hard, but fairly. And that’s that’s kind of what we saw.”

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson was part of the podium sweep that led to the perfect way to commemorate a 40th anniversary for Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday’s Cook Out 400 at Martinsville. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

While the speed was there for Larson on the short and long run, he pointed out one of the advantages Byron and his No. 24 team exploited that may be worth considering for the Xfinity 500 in seven months.

“I think what helps him out, and I have to kind of go and look through and see all that, but he was able to hit pit road by himself, so he was able to maximize that time breaking to the line where I felt like I was really slow getting in because I was behind Chase and Bubba,” Larson recalled. “And then I think because he had the one lap, whatever on us on tires, his tires were just that much more ready than ours were there for the first 10 laps.

“And he was really able to be aggressive in those first 10 to make his moves and get forward. I think he probably took the lead within 10 laps of when we all pitted, or at least the lead of the group of the guys that we were racing for the win. So, yeah, I think that’s really benefited him and all that.”

Editor’s Notes

Nathan Solomon contributed to this article on site from Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia.

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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