Kyle Larson was in a hurry after pit-road contact with Daniel Suarez’s machine, so he took advantage of a brief final pit stop to out duel Hendrick Motorsports teammate Josh Berry for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Larson, the 2021 NACAR Cup Series champion and first substitute crew chief to win, earned his 20th career victory and first victory of this season. Following two top-five finishes in six events this year, Larson qualified for the playoffs with his first trip to Victory Lane this season.
“It’s truly incredible,” Larson told Fox Sports, “we were so close to winning two championships this year.” “Everything just worked out perfectly – my pit crew had an excellent stop,” he added.
Led by Larson, Hendrick Motorsports controlled the field as Berry placed a career-best second. William Byron led 50 of the opening 75 rotations and claimed his Cup-high fifth stage win.
Byron, the only driver to win twice this season, seemed set for another victory during Stage 3, but Christopher Bell took him out on Lap 381. Byron finished 24th overall.
“So I was kind of restarting fourth there and trying to stay tight to the 9 (Berry),” Byron revealed, as reported by NBC Sports. “But then, just got tagged in the left rear by Bell – so yeah, just a dive bomb move on his part, and that’s just how it goes.”
On Lap 370, Byron led the field into Turn 1. Martin Truex Jr. then came up and began racing alongside Byron before last week’s victor, Tyler Reddick, pulled away on the backstretch.
During caution, leaders had one final opportunity to pit and switch onto four fresh tires. Larson emerged as the new front-runner while Byron dropped back to fourth.
On the restart, Byron’s accident set up the field for a thrilling final sprint to the start/finish line.
Josh Berry: ‘Man, What A Huge Day… Pretty Cool’At the final restart, Larson started inside the front row alongside Berry. They engaged in a fierce battle on Lap 387, but Larson and his No. 5 Chevrolet pulled ahead along the backstretch for victory.
Five laps later, Larson led by 0.8 seconds and cruised to victory, earning his fourth lead of 93 laps. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, Larson has earned 14 victories – twice as many as any other Cup driver. It marked their 294th career triumph at Charlotte, North Carolina-based organization.
“Man, this is really cool,” Berry exclaimed upon hearing of his runner-up finish.
Berry has been filling in for injured Chase Elliott and has posted three consecutive top-10 finishes despite early struggles on Sunday due to lack of track practice and qualification being cancelled due to rainy conditions.
“What an incredible day,” Berry exclaimed. “To start in the back with no practice or qualifying and then to work through that field like that and come in second place – it’s pretty amazing.”
Ross Chastain finished third and Bell fourth.
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