MARTINSVILLE, Virginia – While the focus on Sunday afternoon may have been on the walk off victory for Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain’s unique drive into the Championship 4, Kyle Larson quietly scored his best finish at Martinsville Speedway.
Although Larson was eliminated from the Playoffs for the driver’s championship after the Charlotte ROVAL, his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro team earned enough points to continue their pursuit of the owner’s championship.
Outside of the Las Vegas fracas, Larson’s Round of 8 performance resembled the dominant form that resulted in the driver’s and owner’s championships last year. With a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and runner-up at Martinsville, momentum seems to be on the reigning Cup champion’s side.
Moreover, Larson, who earned an owner’s Championship 4 spot with his victory at Homestead-Miami, raced to his best overall weekend at the 0.526-mile short track. Nabbing the pole on Saturday afternoon, Larson hovered inside the top five for the balance of the Xfinity 500.
Despite a less than favorable pit stall, which allowed Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson’s teammate, to take the premium first pit stall toward Turn 2, the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California native and his pit crew had a flawless afternoon.
Namely, Larson avoided his recent mistakes of speeding on the winding pit road, penalties that cost him top 10 results in the past two races at the paperclip shaped track.
Similarly, Larson benefitted from a two tire pit stop in the final laps, gaining optimum track position and a chance to snooker a victory at a track that has sometimes gotten the best of him.
In this case, he kept the big picture in mind after his solid result as he looked towards Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
“There is a lot on the line for us and our team,” Larson observed. “Two opportunities to bring Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) a championship and we would love to do that. We were decent at Phoenix earlier this year, but I’m sure we’ll be a lot better than we were the last time.”
By all means, Larson looked a lot better in this past Sunday’s race at Martinsville as he had decent pace while managing his brakes and tires efficiently.
To wit, Larson enjoyed battling Christopher Bell in the final laps, trading paint before attempting to catch him in the final laps.
Instead, Bell bested Larson by 0.869 seconds. Despite coming up short, Larson praised Bell’s clutch performances in the Playoffs.
“It was fun to be a part of the battle. I was hoping I could edge him out, but it’s really cool to see the job that him and his team did the last month or so,” he said.
All in all, Larson hopes to end his unusual 2022 season with an owner’s championship, a title that holds prestige for Hendrick and his team’s campus. A solid afternoon at Martinsville was a respectable telltale sign that Larson and his No. 5 team are up for the challenge.
For now, he can reflect on the improved on track product at the paperclip versus that in April as a race that resembled more of the norm.
“It must have been a little bit easier,” he remarked. “The No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was able to drive to the lead there. The leaders lapped a lot of cars today. To me, it seemed to be very close to normal Martinsville, but maybe still a little bit harder to pass when you got within a car length.”