Byron wins 2nd straight Cup race, beats Larson at Phoenix
By DAVID BRANDT
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) William Byron took advantage of a late restart to earn a Cup Series victory, just like last weekend.
Kyle Larson was the victim of Byron's late restart prowess, just like last weekend.
It was a strange bit of déjà vu at Phoenix Raceway, as Byron won his second straight Cup race by beating out his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in overtime on Sunday.
“I don't love winning races that way, it's very stressful," Byron said, grinning. "A lot of tactics going on with the restarts.”
Late restarts may add to Byron's stress, but they're also adding to his win total.
His No. 24 Chevrolet got a great start in overtime with two laps left, and just like he did a week earlier at Las Vegas, he overtook Larson for the win. He also had to hold off Ryan Blaney, who finished second in his Penske Ford, while Tyler Reddick was third in the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing.
Byron's victory also denied Kevin Harvick his 10th win at Phoenix. Harvick's Stewart-Haas No. 4 Ford passed Larson for the lead with 44 laps remaining, taking advantage of the long run under green-flag conditions that favored his car all afternoon.
But a yellow flag with 10 laps remaining dashed Harvick's hopes.
Several drivers changed just two tires on the ensuing pit stop, but Harvick took four, falling back to seventh place for the restart with three laps left. He finished fifth.
Another caution immediately after the restart sent the race to overtime.
Larson - whose No. 5 Chevrolet was the fastest during Friday's practice and also during Saturday's qualifying - was fading after Harvick's pass, but the late yellow flags gave him a chance until Byron snatched away the victory.
Larson finished fourth, capping a frustrating finish.
“Restarts are just tough,” Larson said. “I felt like I ran William up pretty high and was expecting him to lose some grip. But he did a really good job of holding and cleared me down the backstretch.”
All four Hendrick cars were inside the top 10. Alex Bowman was ninth while Josh Berry - filling in for the injured Chase Elliott - was 10th.
Harvick was attempting to become the sixth driver in Cup history to win 10 times at one track, an exclusive club that includes Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson. The 47-year-old has said this will be his final season.
Byron and Larson had the fastest cars for most of the race. It continued a dominant stretch by the two Hendrick drivers, who were 1-2 for much of the Las Vegas race.
Byron won the first stage, leading 59 of the first 60 laps. Larson won the second stage.
Harvick's attempt at a 10th win at Phoenix understandably attracted the most attention, but the race was also his 20th straight top-10 finish at the track. That streak dates back to 2013 and is the most top 10s in a row at one track in Cup history.
NOT ALL ROSES
Hendrick Motorsports is on a roll, but the team's week in Phoenix wasn't totally filled with good news.
NASCAR officials took the hood louvers from the four Hendrick cars Friday and will bring them to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in North Carolina for inspection. Any potential penalties would be announced next week.
If that caused any distractions, it certainly didn't show on Sunday.
“It’s a test of mental strength,” Byron's crew chief Rudy Fugle said. “That’s what it takes to win in this series.”
It was one of the hottest days of the year so far in Phoenix, with the temperature climbing around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
That made for some uncertainty about how the cars would handle, particularly since the weather was much cooler for Friday's practice and Saturday's qualifying.
NASCAR was also debuting a new rules package for short tracks and road courses, limiting the downforce that helps gives the cars traction. Byron said he wasn't sure the changes led to better racing.
“I thought it was really difficult to drive,” Byron said. “From an objective standpoint - I know we were competitive - but I didn't think we could pass any better. So there's still some work to do there.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Green-flag pit stops around the 120-lap mark led to pit road speeding penalties for multiple drivers, including Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, Erik Jones and Austin Cindric. Busch was also penalized on the same stop for an uncontrolled tire on pit road. He recovered to finish eighth. ... Elliott is expected to be out at least another month because of a broken leg suffered while snowboarding. Berry's 10th place finish came in his second Cup start. ... Phoenix Raceway is the once again the site of the Cup championship in November.
The three-race West Coast swing is over. NASCAR moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend.
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Updated March 13, 2023