Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Strategy and Wreck Avoidance Highlight Larson’s Martinsville Run

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Kyle Larson may be sitting seventh in points and 24 markers behind the cutoff line, but a ninth-place finish in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway was solid enough to leave happy.

In a race that was completely dominated by Martin Truex, Jr., who led a modern era high 464 of 500 laps, Larson was one of only two drivers (Denny Hamlin) who led laps.

This was all thanks to his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing squad keeping him out of pit road in the closing laps of Stage 2. It worked out well as he led six laps before being passed by Truex on the last lap of the stage.

Truex went on the bottom to get by Larson in Turn 3 and score the stage victory. Larson ended up with an ever so crucial nine stage points that could come back to pay dividends if he were to make the Championship 4 after the Round of 8 finale at ISM Raceway via points in two weeks.

Larson said this strategy was planned before Sunday’s race, knowing they need as many points as possible.

“We talked about it before the race that if we got the opportunity to get some guaranteed points,” Larson said. “We would do what we needed to do. So I am happy about that.”

Those stage points were it for the Californian, but far from leaving Martinsville without some close calls.

Notably, on Lap 362 when a multi-car crash happened on the frontstretch.

A fender bender war zone between Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch started the madness, which also collected Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Preece. Other cars tried avoiding the mayhem, including Larson, who was behind Johnson. Unlike the seven-time champion, who plowed into Almirola, Larson just got by unscathed.

The race resumed on Lap 373 and just five laps later, Larson would avoid another frontstretch collision after Alex Bowman ran into Bubba Wallace, which resulted Bowman getting sideways and accidentally put Daniel Suarez into the wall.

All was mild for Larson from that point on and ended up with a salvageable ninth-place result for his 16th top-10 of the year.

Larson was pleased to escape the final short track race of the season with a positive result heading into next Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“This is my second best finish at Martinsville, so I’m really happy with that,” Larson said. “We were able to steal some stage points as well, so we probably over achieved for how we usually run at Martinsville. I haven’t seen the points spread yet, but I would say we maintained from where we came in, so I’m happy about that.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.