By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
With the benefit of a fast final pit stop, Kyle Larson was able to put his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet out front at Richmond (Va.) Raceway and then hold off the field in the last 25 laps of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 to earn his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season.
The 30-year old Californian had to out-duel his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Josh Berry on a pair of re-starts in the closing laps to secure the win at the first short track event of the season at the .75-mile Richmond oval. Berry, driving the No. 9 Hendrick Chevy for injured Chase Elliott, finished runner-up capturing his best ever NASCAR Cup Series finish – 1.535-seconds behind Larson to the checkered flag.
Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
It was the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson’s 20th career win and the first ever NASCAR Cup Series victory for his interim crew chief Kevin Meendering, who has led the No. 5 team at-track while fulltime crew chief Cliff Daniels – along with the Hendrick team’s other three crew chiefs – finish out a suspension penalty from NASCAR.
“It’s really cool, we’ve been close to winning a couple,’’ Larson said, adding, “Things just worked out and my pit crew had a great stop.’’
It was certainly a Hendrick Motorsports day with Larson and Berry besting the field. And their teammate William Byron leading the most laps (117) and winning his series-best fifth stage. The season’s only two-time winner Byron looked poised to have a say in the trophy hoist too, only to be knocked out of contention when he was hit from behind by Christopher Bell on a restart with 20 laps remaining.
“I was just re-starting fourth there, just trying to stay tight to the 9 [Berry] and get a good restart and got tagged in the left rear,’’ said a frustrated Byron, who finished 24th. “Just a dive-bomb move on his [Bell] part. It is what it is. I had a great race car.
“The Raptor Chevrolet was awesome all day. We’ll just keep bringing fast race cars like that. It was looking like another win before that caution there, but that’s the way it goes.’’
Larson led four different times, totaling 93 laps on the afternoon and survived contact on pit road with Daniel Suárez’s Chevrolet early in the race. It was Larson’s second Richmond win (also in 2017) and the fifth for Chevy through the season’s opening seven races.
The Toyota contingent looked to give the Chevys a real run, looking especially strong mid-race. Four Toyota drivers combined to lead 154 laps – more than the manufacterer had been out front in the previous six races. Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota paced the Toyotas leading 71 laps and claiming the Stage 2 win, but a pair of pit road penalties – including a costly one on his final stop, took him out of contention. He finished 20th.
“What an awesome Hendrickcars.com Chevy,’’ Larson said. “Can’t say enough about it. I got into the 99 [Suarez] on pit road there sometime in the second stage, and we were awful after that. I was hoping the damage was the reason why, but they had to calm me down a little bit and get refocused and was able to get it done.
“Thanks to everyone on this team, Cliff Daniels, for everything he does to prepare the team to be as strong as we are without him on the box. So good to get a win, and hopefully many more.”
Michael McDowell finished sixth – his first top-10 finish of the year. Reigning series champion Joey Logano was seventh, followed by polesitter Alex Bowman, rookie Ty Gibbs and owner-driver Brad Keselowski. Gibbs ninth place effort marked his third consecutive top-10 finish.
The series returns to action next Sunday with the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.