Byron caps dominant run with thrilling overtime victory at Las Vegas

In an event dominated by a trio of Hendrick Motorsports competitors, William Byron benefitted from a two-tire pit strategy during a late caution period to win the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in overtime on Sunday, March 5.

The 25-year-old Byron from Charlotte, North Carolina, led five times for a race-high 176 of 271 over-scheduled laps in an event where he swept both stages and kept his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports entry upfront throughout the event. In the closing laps, however, he found himself trailing teammate Kyle Larson by more than two seconds.

Initially set for a runner-up finish, Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle seized an opportunity when Aric Almirola drew a caution with four laps remaining by opting for two fresh tires and exiting pit road ahead of Larson. From there, Byron battled Martin Truex Jr., who remained on the track on old tires, through three turns before rocketing away from the field and cruising to the first victory of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season for himself and for Hendrick Motorsports.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Joey Logano recorded his first Cup pole of the season and the 27th of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 186.053 mph in 29.024 seconds. Joining him on the front row was William Byron, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 185.153 mph in 29.165 seconds.

Prior to the event, Tyler Reddick dropped to the rear of the field after making an engine change to his No. 45 23XI Racing entry along with Harrison Burton, who competed in a backup car after wrecking his primary car during Saturday’s practice session. BJ McLeod also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his car.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Logano checked out with a strong start on the inside lane as he retained the lead for a full cycle before leading the first lap while the field behind fanned out and jostled for positions. With Logano leading, Byron battled and fended off Ryan Blaney for the runner-up spot while Kyle Larson was in fourth ahead of Ross Chastain, rookie Ty Gibbs, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Then on the 10th lap, Byron tracked and overtook Logano with a strong move entering Turns 3 and 4 to assume the lead. Larson would soon follow in the runner-up spot while Logano fell back to third in front of Chastain and Blaney.

Through the first 25 scheduled laps, Byron was leading by more than a second over teammate Larson followed by Chastain, Christopher Bell and Hamlin while Logano, Blaney, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. Behind, Bubba Wallace was in 11th ahead of Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick while Alex Bowman and Austin Cindric were running in the top 15. Meanwhile, Erik Jones was in 16th ahead of Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez while Josh Berry, who was filling in the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the injured Chase Elliott, was mired back in 29th. By then, Gibbs had fallen back to 22nd, Chase Briscoe was in 25th, Harrison Burton was mired in 28th and Austin Dillon was back in 31st.

Then on Lap 32, Blaney, who was running in 10th place, pitted his No. 12 Pennzoil/Menards Ford Mustang under green. Blaney’s pit stop commenced the first cycle of green flag pit stops as Truex pitted followed by Hamlin, Cindric, Ryan Preece, Harrison Burton, Gibbs, rookie Noah Gragson, Logano, Harvick, Bell and Kyle Busch, who got into the backstretch’s outside wall a few laps earlier and had fallen out of the top 10. The leader Byron would soon pit on Lap 37 followed by teammate Larson as Keselowski cycled to the lead for a lap before he too pitted and gave the lead to Reddick. Following the pit stops, Michael McDowell and Gragson were penalized for speeding on pit road. Gragson’s event, however, went from bad to worse when he was penalized for speeding again while serving his first speeding penalty. Gibbs was also penalized for having too many crew members over the pit wall during his pit stop.

By Lap 41 and with the first round of green flag pit stops completed, Byron cycled his No. 24 Raptor Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 back into the lead followed by teammate Larson while Chastain, Bell and Hamlin were in the top five. By then, Keselowski was up in sixth place followed by Truex while Wallace, Kyle Busch and Logano were in the top 10.

At the Lap 50 mark, Byron was out in front by nine-tenths of a second over teammate Larson followed by Chastain, Bell and Hamlin, all of whom, retained their respective spots in the top five while Keselowski, Truex, Wallace, Kyle Busch and Logano continued to run in the top 10. Behind, Blaney was in 11th while Reddick was up in 12th after starting at the rear of the field. Meanwhile, Harvick was in 14th in front of Erik Jones, Suarez was back in 18th and the following names that included Briscoe, Josh Berry and Austin Dillon were mired as the last competitors on the lead lap from 25th to 27th.

Fifteen laps later, Byron continued to lead by half a second over teammate Larson, who was slowly gaining ground on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, while Chastain, Bell and Hamlin remained in the top five. By then, Keselowski had fallen back to 10th while Truex, Wallace, Kyle Busch and Bowman moved up to sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively. In addition, Reddick was in 11th while Team Penske’s Logano and Blaney fell back to 12th and 15th.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Byron claimed his first stage victory of the 2023 Cup season after retaining the lead by four-tenths of a second over teammate Larson, who settled in second. Chastain settled in third ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and Hamlin while Truex, Bowman, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Busch and Keselowski were scored in the top 10. By then, 22 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names that included Preece, Berry, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Briscoe, Burton, McDowell and Gibbs were trapped a lap down.

Under the stage break, the entire lead lap field led by Byron pitted and Byron retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by teammate Larson, Hamlin, Chastain, Truex and Bell. During the pit stops, Reddick, who pitted from 11th, was blocked by AJ Allmendinger and had to back up to leave his pit stall, thus dropping him to 20th.

The second stage started on Lap 89 as teammates Byron and Larson occupied the front row. At the start, Byron rocketed with the lead ahead of teammate Larson as the field fanned out behind while jostling for positions. With Byron slowly checking out with a stable lead, Larson was being intimidated by Hamlin for the runner-up spot while Bell, Truex and Chastain jostled for fourth. Behind, Bowman challenged Wallace for seventh while Keselowski and Erik Jones were in the top 10.

Through the first 100 scheduled laps, Byron was leading by more than a second over teammate Larson followed by Chastain while Bell, Bowman and Truex were in the top six. Meanwhile, Hamlin fell back to seventh in front of Wallace while Keselowski and Kyle Busch were scored in the top 10. Behind, Harvick was in 12th, Logano was still mired in 14th, Blaney was back in 17th behind Suarez and Cindric was running in 22nd, with 23 competitors scored on the lead lap. By then, on-track troubles ensued for a number of competitors running towards the middle and the rear of the field, among which included Gibbs who sustained left-front damage to his car and Berry making contact with the backstretch’s outside wall. Suarez and Buescher also encountered issues after they made contact with one another.

Twenty laps later, Byron extended his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Larson while their third teammate Bowman was up in third, trailing by more than seven seconds, in front of Bell and Truex while Chastain fell back to sixth in front of Hamlin.

Shortly after, Buescher pitted under green while most of the front-runners remained on the track. Then on Lap 124, Truex commenced the second wave of green flag pit stops as he pitted followed by teammate Bell, Chastain, Wallace, Keselowski and a bevy of competitors. Larson would also pit by Lap 126 along with Hamlin while Byron and Bowman pitted during the following lap. Once the second wave of green flag pit stops was completed, Byron cycled back to the lead by more than two seconds over teammate Larson while Bell, Bowman and Chastain were running in the top five.

At the halfway mark between Laps 133 and 134, Byron was leading by more than two seconds over teammate Larson followed by Bell, Bowman and Chastain while Wallace, Truex, Keselowski, Hamlin and Kyle Busch were competing in the top 10. By then, 23 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names like McDowell, Gibbs, Berry, Austin Dillon, Gragson, Burton, Briscoe and Stenhouse were not on the lead lap.

By Lap 150, Byron stabilized his advantage to six-tenths of a second over teammate Larson and more than eight seconds over teammate Bowman, thus placing three Hendrick Motorsports competitors on the podium spots. By then, Bell and Truex were running in the top five while Wallace, who briefly ran in the top five a few laps earlier, was back in sixth in front of Chastain, Hamlin, Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 165, Byron notched his second consecutive stage victory of the 2023 Cup season and of the event. Teammate Larson settled in second in front of teammate Bowman while Truex, Bell, Wallace, Chastain, Hamlin, Keselowski and Harvick were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the lead lap competitors led by Byron returned to pit road for service and Byron retained the lead upon exiting pit road followed by teammates Larson and Bowman while Truex, Chastain and Bell exited in fourth through sixth, respectively. During the pit stops, Kyle Busch had issues exiting his pit stall while situated behind Reddick’s car, which was blocking Busch’s, as he dropped to 15th.

With 94 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as teammates Byron and Larson occupied the front row. At the start, Byron muscled ahead on the inside lane and pulled away through the first two turns in front of Larson while Bowman settled in third. Behind, Truex was in fourth while Wallace battled Bell, Chastain, Suarez and Hamlin within the top 10. Wallace and Bell would continue to engage in a fierce side-by-side battle for fifth place while Suarez closed in on both.

Then with 84 laps remaining, the caution flew when Logano, who was engaged in a tight three-wide battle with Keselowski and Kyle Busch for spots in the top 15, made slight contact with Keselowski as he smacked the outside wall entering Turn 4 before spinning his No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang across the grass while barely avoiding Stenhouse. Despite limping his car back to his pit stall, Logano’s pit crew exceeded the seven-minute Damaged Vehicle Policy rule while trying to repair the No. 22 entry, which ended his long afternoon in the garage.

During the caution period, the leaders led by Byron returned to pit road and Hamlin emerged with the lead following a two-tire pit stop. Bowman exited in second place and as the first competitor with four fresh tires while Larson, Byron, Suarez, Truex and Wallace followed suit. During the pit stops, Erik Jones backed up his No. 43 Legacy Motor Club entry to return to his pit stall to tighten a loose left-front wheel.

With 78 laps remaining, the race proceeded under green as Hamlin and Bowman occupied the front row. At the start, Hamlin maintained the lead while the field behind fanned out to three lanes through the backstretch. In the process, Truex, who pulled a bold three-wide move through the backstretch, moved up to second followed by Bowman and Larson while Byron was back in sixth behind Chastain. Shortly after, however, the Hendrick trio of Bowman, Larson and Byron overtook Truex as they launched their charge on Hamlin.

Then with 71 laps remaining, Larson, who stalked and battled with Hamlin for the top spot, succeeded in grabbing the lead from Hamlin while Chastain battled and overtook Bowman and Byron for third. Behind, Reddick was in sixth and was in the process of grabbing more against the Hendrick drivers before he got loose toward the outside lane and wall between Turns 1 and 2, which dropped him to 10th. As the series of battles ensued around the track continued, Harvick was up in sixth behind Byron, Bowman and Truex while Chastain fell back in seventh in front of Wallace and Suarez.

With 60 laps remaining, Larson was leading by more than a second over Hamlin while Byron, Bowman and Truex were scored in the top five. Chastain was in sixth while Harvick, Wallace, Blaney and Suarez occupied the top 10 in front of Reddick, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Keselowski and Aric Almirola. Meanwhile, Bell, who restarted 10th during the previous restart, was back in 20th after reporting a vibration to his No. 20 SiriusXM Toyota TRD Camry.

With less than 50 laps remaining, Larson continued to lead by six-tenths of a second in front of Hamlin while third-place Byron trailed by more than two seconds. Bowman remained in fourth followed by Truex while Chastain, Harvick, Blaney, Wallace and Suarez battled in the top 10. Shortly after, another round of green flag pit stops ensued as Hamlin pitted followed by the leader Larson. Truex would also pit along with Kyle Busch, Harvick, Austin Dillon, Byron, Chastain, Reddick, Erik Jones, Wallace, Suarez and others. During the pit stops, Gragson was busted for speeding on pit road for a third time in the event.

Back on the track with less than 45 laps remaining, Keselowski, who had yet to pit, was leading followed by Larson, Hamlin, Byron and Truex, all of whom pitted earlier. Keselowski, however, would pit with 40 laps remaining as Larson cycled back to the lead by more than a second over Hamlin and more than two seconds over Byron.

Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Larson extended his advantage to more than three seconds over teammate Byron as Hamlin fell back to third. Truex and Bowman were running in the top five while Chastain, Harvick, Wallace, Blaney and Kyle Busch contended in the top 10. By then, Suarez and Bell were back in 11th and 12th, Reddick was mired back in 15th and Keselowski fell back to 18th in front of Ty Gibbs.

With 20 laps remaining, Larson stabilized his advantage to more than four seconds over teammate Byron and more than six seconds over third-place Hamlin. Larson continued to lead by more than three seconds over Byron with 10 laps remaining and by more than two seconds with five laps remaining.

Then with four laps remaining, the caution flew when Almirola got loose and slapped his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang into the outside wall in Turn 4. The caution all but erased Larson’s steady advantage of more than two seconds over Byron and sent the event into overtime. During the caution period, Truex remained on the track on old tires and inherited the lead while the rest of the leaders led by Larson pitted. Following the pit stops, Byron, who opted for two fresh tires, edged teammate Larson to exit pit road first followed by Hamlin, Bowman, Chastain and Wallace.

At the start of the first overtime attempt, where Truex and Byron occupied the front row, Byron challenged Truex dead even through the first two turns while the field behind fanned out to three and four lanes. As Truex tried to peek ahead entering Turn 3, the two fresh tires played into the favors of Byron as he rocketed away with the lead while clearing the field.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Byron was out in front over Truex, who had Bowman, Larson, Wallace and Bell jostling behind him. Then entering the backstretch, Larson and Bowman threaded Truex through three lanes as they overtook him for second and third. By then, however, their teammate Byron was gone. With a multi-car wreck erupting on the backstretch that involved Allmendinger, Preece and McDowell, Byron remained as the leader and was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch to claim his first checkered flag of the season.

In addition to becoming the third different winner through the first three races of the 2023 season, Byron notched his fifth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series, his first at Vegas and his first since winning at Martinsville Speedway in April 2022. He also recorded the third consecutive victory of the season for Chevrolet, the 292nd career win for Hendrick Motorsports and the 98th victory for the No. 24 in the Cup circuit.

“[I’ve] just been really confident about the group of guys that I have on this No. 24 team,” Byron said on FOX. “They work extremely hard. We spent a lot of time in the off-season just going through running at the sim [simulator] with Chevy and running on iRacing and just trying to get better as a race car driver and as a team. It’s all about the team. It’s a great pit crew. This RaptorTough.com Chevy was awesome. When we got back in traffic, it was a little bit tight, but we knew we had speed, so we just had to have the right things play out and [crew chief] Rudy [Fugle] made a good call. It was good. I knew [the pit crew] could get it done at the end. Luckily, it worked out there. Excited for the year.”

Meanwhile, Larson, who led 63 laps and was poised for the victory during the race’s scheduled distance, settled for a disappointing runner-up result. This season marks his second consecutive runner-up result in the spring Cup event at Vegas.

“It’s just part of Cup racing,” Larson said. “It seems like kind of [count] laps down, lap by lap and then, sure enough, the yellow lights come on. You just got to get over that and then try to execute a good pit stop. I thought I did a really good job getting to my pit sign and getting to the commitment line. I had a gap to William behind me. Their pit crew must have just did a really good job and got him in front of us. That gave up the front row to us, so I knew I was in trouble with [Truex] staying out. I felt like William was gonna get by him. Just a bummer that we didn’t end up the winner, but all in all, William probably had a little better car than I had today. Their pit crew executed when they needed to at the end.”

Bowman came home in third place, thus placing three Hendrick Motorsports competitors in the top three, while Bubba Wallace capped off a strong run by finishing fourth and achieving his first top-five run of the season following two consecutive DNFs. Bell rallied late to complete the top five in fifth while Cindric, Truex, Justin Haley, Harvick and Suarez finished in the top 10.

“If you can somehow get a good restart, get to the white flag and they crash, you can win the [race],” Truex said. “It almost happened. We were second at the white, we were second into Turn 1 on the last lap and just got tight and got into a bad spot off of [Turn] 2. Lost momentum down the [backstretch]. All in all, it was a solid day for our Bass Pro Shops Camry TRD. Everybody did a good job. I think we were about a third-place car or maybe fourth. Just a good solid day. We’re in Vegas. We might as well roll the dice and like everybody says, you come here to gamble. We gave up a few spots, but all in all, it was a solid day.”

Notably, Josh Berry finished 29th while filling in for the injured Chase Elliott. In addition, Hamlin ended up 11th in front of Chastain, Blaney rallied for 13th, Kyle Busch ended up 14th in front of Reddick, Keselowski settled in 17th and Ty Gibbs ended up as the highest-finishing rookie in 22nd.

There were 13 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 26 laps. Only 18 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.

Following the third event of the 2023 Cup Series season, Ross Chastain continues to lead the regular-season standings by three points over Alex Bowman, 21 over Kevin Harvick, 25 over Daniel Suarez, 27 over Martin Truex Jr. and 30 over Denny Hamlin.

Results:

1. William Byron, 176 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

2. Kyle Larson, 63 laps led

3. Alex Bowman, two laps led

4. Bubba Wallace

5. Christopher Bell

6. Austin Cindric

7. Martin Truex Jr., three laps led

8. Justin Haley

9. Kevin Harvick

10. Daniel Suarez

11. Denny Hamlin, 10 laps led

12. Ross Chastain

13. Ryan Blaney

14. Kyle Busch

15. Tyler Reddick, three laps led

16. Aric Almirola

17. Brad Keselowski, five laps led

18. AJ Allmendinger

19. Erik Jones, one lap down

20. Corey LaJoie, one lap down

21. Chris Buescher, one lap down

22. Ty Gibbs, one lap down

23. Ryan Preece, one lap down

24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down

25.  Michael McDowell, one lap down

26. Harrison Burton, two laps down

27. Austin Dillon, two laps down

28. Chase Briscoe, two laps down

29. Josh Berry, two laps down

30. Noah Gragson, two laps down

31. Todd Gilliland, three laps down

32. BJ McLeod, five laps down

33. JJ Yeley, six laps down

34. Ty Dillon, six laps down

35. Cody Ware, 12 laps down

36. Joey Logano – OUT, DVP, nine laps led

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona, for the series’ third and final stretch of a three-race West Coast swing. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, March 12, at 3:30 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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