MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Kyle Larson never thought he would tame the half-mile, paperclip-shaped track at Martinsville Speedway.
And then came Sunday.
Larson passed Joey Logano with 29 laps to go and went on to win his second Cup Series race of the season on a day when NASCAR welcomed back Chase Elliott.
It was the 21st career Cup Series win for Larson and 15th in the last three seasons for the 2021 Cup champion.
Larson has struggled mightily at Martinsville in the past.
In his previous 17 races here, he had only three top-five finishes and never finished better than third.
“I never, ever would have thought I would have won here,” Larson said. “This place has been so tough on me and just does not suit my driving style at all. … I just can’t believe it.”
Because of his lack of past success at the track, Larson joked that he doesn’t have room picked out for where to keep the 6-foot tall grandfather clock awarded to the winner.
Larson said the clock immediately becomes one of his most prized possessions, because it serves as a reminder of how hard he has worked to win at a track where he never felt comfortable.
“I’ve left here just mad. I’ve hated this place, and I’ve wished it would flood,” Larson said with a laugh. “I wished a lot of bad things on this place.”
Logano, who was forced to begin the race in the back of the field after his crew found a leak in his water tank prior to the start, finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe.
Logano was thrilled with his result, knowing he didn’t have the car to hold off Larson late in the race on a restart.
“We got lapped twice and at one point I would have been happy to finish on the lead lap,” Logano said with a laugh.
His luck changed when he stayed out on the track when he caught a timely yellow caution flag, helping him suddenly land in the top five and in contention to win.
“There are days when you are mad about second place, but today is not one of those,” Logano said.
Elliott, voted NASCAR’s most popular driver the last five years, finished 10th in his first race since breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident that forced him to miss six weeks.
He ran in the mid-20s for most of the race before closing strong.
“It was warm and I have been sitting on a couch for six weeks, so that probably hurt me more than anything,” Elliott said. “But we struggled really bad, honestly. Every run but the last one. We finally got it going at the end and made some passes.”
Because he’s so far behind in the points race, Elliott likely needs a victory to get into the playoffs. He qualified 24th for Sunday’s race.
PREECE’S FAST START
Polesitter Ryan Preece dominated early, leading the first 136 laps before a costly speeding penalty on pit row sent him to the back of the field. He never challenged again.
After winning his first career Cup Series pole on Saturday, Preece added another first to resume when earned his first stage win. The 32-year-old Preece had led just 29 laps in his entire Cup racing career prior to Sunday.
“It was really tough,” Preece said. “I shouldn’t have been in that position. But on the bright side we know what we are capable of. We’ve just got to keep digging.”
Kevin Harvick, the winner of the second stage, was running near the front for most of the day until his right front tire went down due to a broken rim with 53 laps to go. Harvick had been seeking his 61st career Cup Series victory and first since last August.
NO HAIL MELON
The last time Ross Chastain was at Martinsville, he pulled off the “Hail Melon” move by slingshotting his way around the outside wall in turns three and four to vault past Denny Hamlin and secure a spot in NASCAR’s “final four” round of the playoffs.
There was no video-game move this time around as NASCAR outlawed the move and Chastain wasn’t much of a factor on Sunday, finishing 13th.
Two of Anthony Alfredo’s crew members can expect two-race suspensions this week after the No. 78 Chevrolet lost a tire on the front stretch during the race with about 98 laps remaining.
NASCAR heads to Talladega next weekend for the first of two races at the 2.66-mile course. Chastain won the spring race there last season and Elliott captured the fall race.
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