In what turned out to be an anticlimactic end to NASCAR's return weekend to North Wilkesboro Speedway, Kyle Larson crushed the competition in Sunday night's NASCAR All-Star Race. At one point, before the half-time race break, Larson held a lead of over 13 seconds, and just 12 cars remained on the lead lap.
In the second half of the race, things got a little bit closer on track, but Larson's win in the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race was never in doubt as he cruised to the finish line ahead of Bubba Wallace by a victory margin of 4.537 seconds.
RELATED: NASCAR All-Star Race Results
This victory marks Larson's third All-Star Race win of his career, and they have come at three different race tracks. For Larson, winning this one at the historical North Wilkesboro Speedway in front of a crowd that had been electric all week long, was truly special.
"I can't even tell you what it means," Larson said. "This is my third All-Star win and my third different track. In a historical place like that, you guys and the crowd made this weekend so awesome. We could feel the atmosphere all weekend."
Larson says that while he took the other teams to the woodshed on Sunday evening, in the back of his head he kept expecting something to happen to turn the race on its head, as has happened so much in recent years in the NASCAR Cup Series.
"So much fun there. That was old-school ass whipping for sure. We had a great car on the long run there and was just thinking for sure there was going to be a caution," Larson explained. "I got out to a big lead and I could see everybody's cars were driving like crap in front of me."
In all, Larson led a total of 145 of the race's 200 laps. The only other leader on the night was polesitter Daniel Suarez, who led the opening 54 laps of the race and then was able to click off one more lap led in the race.
Larson took the lead for the first time on Lap 55, and he did it after being penalized on a Lap 18 pit stop. Under the stop though, Larson's team bolted on four fresh Goodyear tires, while the majority of the field chose to stay on track.
As a result, Larson knifed his way through the field and went on to dominate the race.
Larson was absolutely shocked that his car came to life in the race because of how far off it was all weekend leading into the race.
"I cannot thank this 5 team enough. We were God awful all weekend," Larson stated. "Practice I was like the worst on 30-lap average, went backward in a heat race yesterday. You obviously had some strategy work out there in the beginning, but we drove from dead last to the lead and checked out by 12 or 13 seconds. Then just could pace myself there that last run.
"What an amazing car. Everything that my car did badly on Friday and Saturday did great today. Again, thanks to the 5 team, Cliff Daniels, and Cal Stewart, too. Cal Stewart is our engineer. We bust his balls all the time because every time he's at the track something bad happens."
While there was elation for Larson, Wallace, the runner-up finisher experienced the deflating feeling of just missing out on the million-dollar All-Star Race payout.
"We were the best of the rest," Wallace sighed. "Larson was lights out, so congrats to him. Cliff and those guys have been hitting it on the head all season. To run second to them isn't a bad thing, but to run second in the All-Star Race sucks. Alright. You go home with nothing. I'm proud of our team, the Columbia Toyota Camry was super strong."
Behind Larson and Wallace was Tyler Reddick, a teammate to Wallace at 23XI Racing.
Chase Briscoe finished the night in fourth place, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five finishers in the event.
Sure, Sunday night's race may not have featured the exciting finish that North Wilkesboro Speedway deserved in its first NASCAR Cup Series event since 1996, but the beauty of auto racing is that not every race can be an all-time classic. The important takeaway from the weekend is that North Wilkesboro Speedway is back, and this week was a great celebration of NASCAR's roots, while the sporting league heads toward its future.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America