Kyle Larson’s announcement and new achievement caused NASCAR fans to…
Kyle Larson claimed Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway was more than just him scoring his first NASCAR Cup Series triumph of 2023 and the twentieth of his career. As he led Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Josh Berry to the finish, team owner Rick Hendrick had another reason to cherish the day as the 1–2 finish came on what would have been the forty-third birthday of his late son Ricky.
Ricky Hendrick raced in what is now the Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series at the turn of the millennium before transitioning into an executive role at Hendrick Motorsports, helping oversee the team until he died in a plane crash in 2004. Larson’s blue/white livery, which he has almost exclusively used since joining HMS in 2021, is directly based on the younger Hendrick’s car during his driving days.
“I think days like today make you wonder what Ricky’s presence would do for us if he was here with us today and what his leadership is,” said team vice chairman Jeff Gordon, whose former Xfinity team JG Motorsports employed Ricky as a driver. “He was so passionate about Hendrick Motorsports and racing, so it’s nice, days like today when you do something special on his birthday. I was talking to Rick, and he was emotional and excited, so his presence is still here.
“Certainly our folks try to do everything they can to make Rick Hendrick proud, but when you know what Ricky’s impact could have been on our company and the people and the #5 car and that paint scheme and what that means to the whole company, it’s very rewarding to know that we’re still kind of thinking of him and paying tribute to him as often as we can. Maybe he is looking down on us as well.”
It was a banner day for Hendrick as all four drivers led laps, with William Byron recording the most of the entire field of 117 including the Stage #1 win though a wreck with Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain twenty laps remaining knocked him out of contention. Larson took the top spot from Byron shortly before the said accident and led the rest of the way on the ensuing restart with Berry in tow. The team’s fourth driver Alex Bowman started on the pole and finished eighth.
Larson’s late advantage was bolstered by his pit crew servicing quick enough stops to have priority lane selection on restarts. Coincidentally, his jackman Brandon Johnson and spotter Tyler Monn also celebrated birthdays on Sunday.
While not a win, Berry’s runner-up finish was an impressive showing in just his fourth start for the team as a substitute driver for the injured Chase Elliott. He had finished third in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Richmond, a further testament to his background in short-track racing as the 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series national champion. Making his run all the more impressive, he had been spun by Ryan Blaney on lap 96 from which he was able to recover.
“When we got some clean track, we weren’t running bad lap times,” commented Berry. “I’m so glad they tried something different to get us there at the end. Felt like we were decent the whole time. Just getting in cleaner air. We were free to run with Kyle. Man, what a huge day.
“To come here and start in the back, no practice, qualifying, get spun out, work through the field like that, just second place, it’s pretty cool.”
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While HMS had plenty of reason to be happy, the same could not be said for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bell finished fourth but called the result “pretty disappointing” as cautions and poor stops forced him to climb through the order again on restarts, and the crash with Byron and Chastain was effectively the nail in his coffin. Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin respectively recorded fifty-six and seventy-one laps led but neither cracked the top ten; the former had a late miscommunication regarding his tires as he raced under the assumption that he had new sticker tires instead of scuffs, while the latter’s race was overshadowed by him turning J.J. Yeley for the first race-related caution of the day.
Hamlin was already under fire after confessing to intentionally squeezing Chastain into the wall at Phoenix, for which he has docked twenty-five points; his appeal of the penalty will take place on Thursday. Ironically, Hendrick’s win comes days after their drivers had 100 points restored following a successful penalty appeal, a decision that Hamlin derided.
Noah Gragson was the lone retirement after hitting the wall on lap 303. Except for both 2022 races where two cars bowed out, every Richmond Cup race in the 2020s has seen just one car exit each.
|1||9||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|2||30||9||Josh Berry*||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|3||4||1||Ross Chastain||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|4||21||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||400||Running|
|5||10||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|6||15||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||400||Running|
|7||18||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||400||Running|
|8||1||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|9||14||54||Ty Gibbs||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||400||Running|
|10||24||6||Brad Keselowski||RFK Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|11||12||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||400||Running|
|12||19||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|13||32||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|14||2||8||Kyle Busch||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|15||13||38||Todd Gilliland||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||400||Running|
|16||5||45||Tyler Reddick||23XI Racing||Toyota||400||Running|
|17||37||13||Chandler Smith*||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|18||33||41||Ryan Preece||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|19||26||21||Harrison Burton||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|20||11||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||400||Running|
|21||16||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Toyota||400||Running|
|22||28||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Ford||400||Running|
|23||20||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|24||3||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||400||Running|
|25||27||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||399||Running|
|26||17||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||399||Running|
|27||25||16||A.J. Allmendinger||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||399||Running|
|28||6||2||Austin Cindric||Team Penske||Ford||399||Running|
|29||29||31||Justin Haley||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||399||Running|
|30||7||17||Chris Buescher||RFK Racing||Ford||398||Running|
|31||22||43||Erik Jones||Legacy Motor Club||Chevrolet||398||Running|
|32||36||77||Ty Dillon||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||398||Running|
|33||35||78||Anthony Alfredo*||Live Fast Motorsports||Chevrolet||396||Running|
|34||31||51||Cody Ware||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||395||Running|
|35||8||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||384||Running|
|36||34||15||J.J. Yeley*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||383||Running|
|37||23||42||Noah Gragson||Legacy Motor Club||Chevrolet||303||Accident|
* – Ineligible for points
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