Larson cruises to third All-Star career victory at North Wilkesboro

From an early speeding penalty to cashing in a million dollars in NASCAR’s revival of one of the sport’s oldest venues, Kyle Larson cruised to a dominant victory in the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, on Sunday, May 21.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California, led two times for a race-high 145 of 200-scheduled laps in a weekend where he started 16th out of the 24-car field and rallied from speeding on pit road during a caution period past the Lap 15 mark to methodically carve his way through the field. After assuming the lead from pole-sitter Daniel Suarez on Lap 55 of 200, Larson never looked back as he also retained the lead during a 90-lap shootout to beat runner-up Bubba Wallace by more than four seconds and win the All-Star Race for the third time in his career.

The starting lineup for the main event was determined through a Pit Crew Challenge that occurred on Friday, May 19, two 60-lap heat events. with the drivers’ qualifying time determined based on their respective crew’s pit stop time through a four-tire pit stop and the timing lines being established one box behind and ahead of the designated pit box. The teams who delivered the fastest pit services would enable their respective entries to start towards the front of two All-Star Heat Races comprising 60 laps that occurred on Saturday, May 20, and that set the official starting lineup for the All-Star event.

At the conclusion of both events, Daniel Suarez, whose No. 99 Trackhouse Racing pit crew executed a fast pit stop service in 13.297 during the Pit Crew Challenge that put him on the pole for the first Heat Race, earned the pole position for the main feature after winning the first Heat. Joining him on the front row was Chris Buescher, whose No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing pit crew delivered a pit stop service in 13.381 seconds that enabled him to start on the pole for the second Heat Race and carried forth to the driver winning.

Suarez and Buescher were among 21 competitors to have earned a spot for the 2023 All-Star Race by virtue of winning a Cup Series points race between 2022-23 or being a former Cup and All-Star Race winner. The eligibility list included Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones.

The eligible competitors were joined by Josh Berry and rookie Ty Gibbs, both of whom transferred to the All-Star Race after finishing first and second, respectively, during the All-Star Open. The 24th and final starting spot went to rookie Noah Gragson, who was named the Fan Vote winner.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Suarez launched ahead with a strong start on the inside lane followed by Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe while Buescher, who started on the front row, struggled to launch on the outside lane, though he managed to draw even against Briscoe for third. As the field battled amid two lanes, Suarez managed to cycle back to the frontstretch with a clear view and lead the first lap.

During the second lap, Suarez retained the lead ahead of Logano followed by Briscoe and Christopher Bell while Buescher was struggling to transition from the outside to the inside lane for grip as he was locked in a tight battle against Denny Hamlin for fifth place. Buescher, however, would continue to lose more spots through Turns 3 and 4 as William Byron and Ryan Blaney overtook him. As the 24-car field settled in a long single-file formation, Suarez retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Logano by the fifth lap.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Suarez was leading by four-tenths of a second over Logano followed by Hamlin, Byron and Briscoe while Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Bell were in the top 10. Behind, Buescher dropped to 11th ahead of Kevin Harvick, Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while Ty Gibbs, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Josh Berry, Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick trailed behind within the 24-car field.

Five laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Stenhouse, who slid up the track between Turns 3 and 4 and was trying to transition from the outside to the inside lane, got hit by Erik Jones as he spun his No. 47 Kroger/Coca-Cola Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 around in Turn 4 before proceeding without sustaining any significant damage. During the first caution period, names like Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Wallace, Larson, Berry, Gragson, Reddick and Stenhouse pitted while the rest led by Suarez remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Larson was penalized for speeding on pit road.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 20, Suarez and Briscoe dueled for the lead through the first two turns until Suarez managed to peek ahead on the inside lane in his No. 99 Trackhouse Motorplex Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and retain the lead. Behind, Briscoe and Hamlin battled for second as Briscoe was trying to transition back to the inside lane. Despite losing spots to Hamlin and Logano, Briscoe managed to settle in fourth place in front of Elliott on the inside lane as the field behind fanned out to multiple lanes.

At the Lap 30 mark, Suarez was leading by over a tenth of a second over a hard-charging Hamlin followed by Logano, Briscoe and Elliott while Byron, Truex, Blaney, Keselowski and Buescher were running single file in the top 10. Behind, Gragson moved up to 11th ahead of Berry, Bell, Larson and Erik Jones while Reddick, Wallace, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Harvick trailed in the top 20.

Ten laps later, Suarez continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Logano, Briscoe and Elliott remained in the top five. Behind, Larson carved his way up to eighth on fresh tires behind Byron and Truex while Bell, Kyle Busch and Harvick were mired from 18th to 20th, respectively. In addition, Chastain was back in 21st while Cindric, Gibbs and Stenhouse were stuck from 22nd to 24th, respectively.

Through the first 50 scheduled laps, Suarez stabilized his advantage to four-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by Logano while Larson was up in fourth place. Briscoe fell back to fifth ahead of Elliott, Truex and Buescher while Byron and Blaney were scored in the top 10.

Five laps later, Larson, who overtook Hamlin and Logano earlier, made his move on the frontstretch beneath Suarez as he rocketed his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead. Larson started to pull away on fresh tires as he was scored as the leader by more than a second-and-a-half over Suarez at the Lap 60 mark. Behind, Logano overtook Hamlin for third while Briscoe was in fifth ahead of Elliott, Buescher, Truex, Blaney and Erik Jones.

Shortly after, Byron and Kyle Busch pitted under green, a move that dropped both competitors out of the lead lap category, as Larson remained as the leader by more than two seconds over runner-up Suarez and more than three seconds over third-place Logano.

At the Lap 75 mark, Larson extended his advantage by six seconds over Suarez as Logano, Hamlin and Briscoe remained in the top five. Behind, Elliott retained sixth ahead of Buescher while Wallace and Blaney moved up to eighth and ninth in front of Truex and Reddick. By then, Larson was also starting to approach Harvick and Keselowski to lap both former Cup champions while Cindric and Stenhouse were also lapped.

Just past the Lap 90 mark, Larson continued to lead by more than 11 seconds over Suarez while Wallace moved his No. 23 Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota TRD Camry up to third. Logano was back in fourth followed by Briscoe, Reddick and Hamlin while Elliott, Buescher and Blaney were running in the top 10. By then, 16 of 24 competitors were scored on the lead lap.

When the competition caution period flew on Lap 100, which marked the halfway point of the event, Larson had retained a commanding lead over Wallace, who overtook Suarez for the runner-up spot four laps earlier. By then, 16 of 24 competitors were still scored on the lead lap, none of which included Truex, Byron, Gragson, Harvick, Keselowski, Cindric, Kyle Busch and Stenhouse.

During the competition caution period, the lead lap competitors led by Larson pitted. Following the pit stops, Larson retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Wallace, Suarez, Reddick, Briscoe and Elliott. Amid the pit stops, Chastain, who exited pit road seventh, was penalized for speeding on pit road. Logano and Bell were also penalized for uncontrolled tire violations.

When the race resumed under green flag conditions with 90 laps remaining, Larson retained the lead on the inside lane as he took off followed by Wallace as Suarez battled Reddick for third. Reddick would then bump Suarez to assume third place as the field jostled for positions.

With 75 laps remaining, Larson was leading by more than a second over Wallace while third-place Reddick trailed by more than two seconds in his No. 45 Beast Unleashed Toyota TRD Camry. Suarez retained fourth as he too trailed by more than two seconds followed by Buescher while Elliott, Briscoe, Blaney, Erik Jones and Ty Gibbs were scored in the top 10. By then, names that included Harvick, Byron, Keselowski, Cindric, Kyle Busch, Gragson and Stenhouse were not scored on the lead lap category.

Down to the final 60 laps of the event, Larson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over runner-up Wallace while Reddick, Suarez and Buescher remained in the top five. Larson would continue to extend his advantage to three seconds over Wallace with 50 laps remaining and more than four seconds with 40 laps remaining.

With 25 laps remaining, Larson stabilized his advantage to more than three-and-a-half seconds over Wallace followed by Reddick as Briscoe carved his No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang up to fourth ahead of Elliott. Behind, Suarez was back in sixth ahead of Blaney while Buescher, Erik Jones and Gibbs remained in the top 10. Meanwhile, Logano was in 11th ahead of Hamlin, Chastain, Bell, and Truex while Berry, Austin Dillon, Harvick, Keselowski and Byron were strapped in the top 20.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Larson continued to lead by more than four seconds over Wallace while both third-place Reddick and fourth-place Briscoe trailed by more than seven seconds. Larson would stabilize his advantage to over four seconds over Wallace as the event reached its final five-lap mark.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Larson remained as the leader by more than three seconds over Wallace. Despite dealing with lapped traffic for the majority of his dominant run in the second half of the event, Larson was able to smoothly cycle his way around the short circuit for a final time and back to the frontstretch as he streaked across the finish line to claim his third checkered flag in the All-Star Race.

With the victory, Larson notched his third All-Star career victory overall and in his previous four All-Star starts as he became the first competitor to win the All-Star Race in three different venues (North Wilkesboro Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway). He joined Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt as competitors to win the All-Star Race three times. He also recorded the 11th All-Star Race victory for Hendrick Motorsports and the 21st for Chevrolet while becoming the first competitor to win a Cup Series event at North Wilkesboro Speedway since Gordon won the last points-paying event at the track in September 1996.

As an added bonus, Larson’s All-Star victory capped off a weekend sweep after he won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series event at North Wilkesboro while driving for Spire Motorsports.

Photo by Andrew Boyd for SpeedwayMedia.com.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

“I can’t even tell you what [the win] means,” Larson said on FS1. “This is my third All-Star win at my third different track. At a historical place like this. You guys in the crowd made this weekend so awesome. We could feel the atmosphere all weekend. So much fun there. That was old-school ass-whoppin’, for sure. We had a great car on the long run there. I was just thinking that, for sure, there was gonna be a caution, right? I got out to a big lead. I could see everybody’s cars were driving like crap in front of me, but I cannot thank this No. 5 team enough. We were God-awful all weekend. Obviously, I had some strategy work out there at the beginning, but we drove from dead last to the lead and checked out by 12 or 13 seconds, and then I could just pace myself there that last run. What an amazing car. Everything that my car did bad on Friday and Saturday did great today.”

Wallace, who started 10th, retained the runner-up spot he acquired towards the end of the first half of the event as his second-place finish marked his career-best result in his third start in the All-Star event. Wallace’s 23XI Racing teammate Reddick rallied from starting 20th to finish third and notch his best result in his second All-Star career start.

“[Larson’s] capability throughout the whole run [made the difference],” Wallace said. “He could attack hard and then have something there at the end. If this was any other race, I’d be excited, but it’s for a million dollars, you come up short and walk home with nothing. Tail tucked between our legs, but all in all, just continuing to ride the momentum train. I wanna get [sponsor] Columbia in Victory Lane. We come up one spot short, so congrats to Larson. He’s been on a rail lately, so just have to keep it going. Now, we show back up to home turf and really got to keep the momentum going there and get ourselves deeper in the Playoffs here. Excited to be where we’re at right now. Just come up one spot short.”

“[I] Just needed a little bit on the balance, but the Beast Unleashed Toyota Camry TRD was really fast,” Reddick added. “I made a mistake earlier in the race back in the first 100 laps and let Kyle [Larson] squeeze by and he really mowed through traffic. We lined up, obviously, behind him on that restart and we could kind of stay in touch, but he was able to just keep far enough away. Honestly, a good, solid car. I had more left in the tank than I thought. [I] Wished I could have that back, but solid effort by our guys and our team. We stumbled a little bit in the Pit Crew Challenge and started deep, but we were able to claw our way through it.”

Briscoe charged his way to a strong fourth-place finish followed by Elliott while Blaney, Suarez, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs and Logano capped off their runs in the top 10. 

Notably, Kevin Harvick finished 18th in his 23rd and final career All-Star Race. In addition, Hamlin ended up 13th in between teammates Bell and Truex, Josh Berry finished 15th while subbing the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the injured Alex Bowman, Buescher fell back to 16th, Keselowski settled in 19th in front of Byron and Kyle Busch concluded his long night in 22nd.

There were three lead changes for two different leaders. The race featured two cautions for 13 laps. While all 24 starters finished the event, 12 finished on the lead lap.

Results:

1. Kyle Larson, 145 laps led

2. Bubba Wallace

3. Tyler Reddick

4. Chase Briscoe

5. Chase Elliott

6. Ryan Blaney

7. Daniel Suarez, 55 laps led

8. Erik Jones

9. Ty Gibbs

10. Joey Logano

11. Ross Chastain

12. Christopher Bell

13. Denny Hamlin, one lap down

14. Martin Truex Jr., one lap down

15. Josh Berry, one lap down

16. Chris Buescher, one lap down

17. Austin Dillon, one lap down

18. Kevin Harvick, two laps down

19. Brad Keselowski, two laps down

20. William Byron, two laps down

21. Austin Cindric, two laps down

22. Kyle Busch, two laps down

23. Noah Gragson, three laps down

24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., four laps down

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the 64th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, May 28, during Memorial Day weekend at 6 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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