A week after cashing in with a dramatic overtime victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, William Byron conquered the desert valley amid a late caution period, a two-tire strategy and two late-race restarts to fend off the field and win the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 12.
The 25-year-old Byron from Charlotte, North Carolina, led two times for 64 of 317 over-scheduled laps in an event where he led early before keeping his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports entry towards the front of the field while teammate Kyle Larson dominated the event. Then as Kevin Harvick emerged late and was headed for a potential victory, a caution for Harrison Burton’s spin with 10 laps remaining enabled Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle to draw themselves back into contention by opting for a two-tire strategy to battle teammate Larson through two restarts. During the second restart that sent the event into overtime, Byron peeked ahead of Larson with a bump from Tyler Reddick to clear the field and navigate around the Phoenix circuit for a final lap before cruising to his second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series victory in recent weeks.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Kyle Larson notched his first Cup pole of the season after posting a pole-winning lap at 130.237 mph in 27.642 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Denny Hamlin, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 129.931 mph in 27.707 seconds.
Prior to the event, Zane Smith dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports entry.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Larson rocketed with the lead on the inside lane as the field fanned out through the frontstretch dogleg. With the field continuing to fan out and jostle for early positions through the first two turns and entering the backstretch, Larson cleared the field and was able to lead the first lap ahead of teammate Byron, who also ignited an early charge at the front. Shortly after, however, Byron muscled his No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 beneath Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through the dogleg and entering Turn 1 to assume the lead. Byron was then able to stretch his advantage to half a second over teammate Larson by the fifth lap while Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Christopher Bell occupied the top five on the track.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Byron was leading by more than six-tenths of a second over teammate Larson followed by Hamlin, Keselowski and Bell while Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell were running in the top 10. By then, rookie Ty Gibbs in 11th followed by Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher while Alex Bowman, Martin Truex, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano, who got loose after contact with Truex in Turn 1, rounded out the top 20.
At the Lap 25 mark, Byron extended his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Larson while third-place Hamlin trailed by more than four seconds. While Keselowski and Bell remained in the top five, Reddick moved up to seventh behind Blaney, Chastain fell back to eighth in front of teammate Suarez and Ty Gibbs cracked the top 10 in front of Kyle Busch, McDowell and Harvick.
Ten laps later, Byron stretched his advantage to more than three seconds over teammate Larson while third-place Hamlin trailed by more than six seconds. By then, Bell and Blaney moved up into the top five while Reddick was up in sixth in front of Keselowski, Chastain, Harvick and Suarez as Kyle Busch remained in 11th.
By Lap 50, Byron stabilized his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Larson. By then, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin and Bell trailed by more than five seconds while fifth-place Reddick trailed by more than eight seconds. Meanwhile, Harvick remained in ninth behind Blaney, Keselowski and Chastain while Kyle Busch cracked the top 10 in front of Suarez, McDowell, Buescher, Erik Jones and Gibbs.
A few laps later, BJ McLeod fell off the pace after his car went wide in Turn 4, but he was able to limp his car back to pit road without drawing the caution as Byron retained a steady advantage over teammate Larson. McLeod’s issue came after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scraped the outside wall entering Turn 1 while running within the top 25.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 60, Byron, who swept both stages en route to his dominant victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a week ago, notched his third stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Teammate Larson settled in second followed by Bell, Hamlin and Reddick while Blaney, Chastain, Harvick, Keselowski and Kyle Busch were scored in the top 10. By then, 23 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names like Logano, Stenhouse, rookie Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Corey LaJoie, Austin Dillon and Harrison Burton were mired a lap down. Logano, however, was the beneficiary of the first stage’s break period by receiving the free pass and cycling his way back to the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap competitors led by Byron pitted, but teammate Larson managed to beat Byron off of pit road to inherit the lead. Bell exited pit road in third followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chastain. Following the pit stops, AJ Allmendinger and Ty Dillon were penalized for speeding on pit road. Reddick.
The second stage started on Lap 68 as teammates Larson and Byron occupied the front row. At the start, both Hendrick Motorsports teammates dueled for the lead as the field fanned out again through the frontstretch dogleg. Amid a tight battle, Larson, who used the dogleg at the start to maintain his battle for the lead against Byron, was able to peek ahead with the lead on the inside lane as he then cleared Byron during the following lap. With Larson ahead of teammate Byron for the lead, Hamlin was under attack from teammate Bell and Chastain for third while Keselowski was in sixth ahead of a battle for seventh between Harvick and Kyle Busch.
At the Lap 75 mark, Larson was leading by eight-tenths of a second over teammate Byron followed by Hamlin, Bell and Chastain while Keselowski, Harvick, Reddick, Kyle Busch and Blaney were in the top 10. By then, Buescher, Bowman, Suarez, Wallace and McDowell were running in the top 15 while Briscoe, Erik Jones, Truex, Gibbs and Josh Berry rounded out the top 20. Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola, Logano and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the 24-car field of competitors running on the lead lap.
Through the first 100 scheduled laps, Larson continued to lead by half a second over teammate Byron, who kept his Hendrick teammate within his sights and started to close in. Bell trailed by more than four seconds in third place followed by teammate Hamlin and Chastain while Harvick, Keselowski, Reddick, Kyle Busch and Blaney were battling in the top 10.
Ten laps later, Larson retained his advantage to nearly a second over teammate Byron as Bell and Hamlin remained in third and fourth, respectively. By then, Harvick, who started 15th, cracked the top five after overtaking Chastain a few laps earlier while Keselowski, Blaney, Kyle Busch and Reddick ran in the top 10.
Another eight laps later, the first round of green flag pit stops ensued as Hamlin pitted his No. 11 SHINGRIX Toyota TRD Camry. The leader Larson would pit during the following lap followed by teammate Byron, Bell, Blaney, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chastain and others. Once Keselowski pitted on Lap 120 after leading a lap for himself and with most of the lead lap competitors having made a pit stop, Larson cycled his way back to the lead followed by Byron, Hamlin, Harvick and Chastain. Following the pit stops, McDowell, Erik Jones and Cindric were penalized for speeding on pit road. In addition, Kyle Busch’s steady run to the front evaporated when he was nabbed for two different penalties: one for an uncontrolled tire violation and for speeding on pit road.
Then on Lap 137, the caution flew when Almirola went dead straight into the outside wall in Turn 4 past the start/finish line with the right-front tire coming off of Almirola’s No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Mustang while the Floridian nursed his damaged car back to his pit stall. After making a pit stop to have a new right-front wheel attached to his car, Almirola then had to reverse his car back to his pit stall to address a broken right-rear toe link. By then, he was assessed a two-lap penalty for having the broken wheel come off on the track. Back on the track, Larson was out in front ahead of teammate Byron, Hamlin, Harvick and Chastain while Bell, who endured a slow pit stop during the first round of green flag pit stops, was battling Keselowski for seventh.
During the caution period, the leaders led by Larson returned to pit road for service and Larson retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Byron, Hamlin, Harvick, Chastain and Keselowski.
With the event restarting under green on Lap 146, Larson retained the lead ahead of teammate Byron while running on the inside lane as the field fanned out through the frontstretch dogleg and entering the first two turns. As the field cycled back to the frontstretch, Larson was able to keep his No. 5 entry out in front of the field while a multitude of competitors behind, including Bell, jostled for positions. By then, Harvick carved his No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang into third place while Hamlin and Keselowski occupied the top five.
At the halfway mark on Lap 156, Larson was leading by nearly a second over teammate Byron followed by Harvick, Keselowski and Hamlin while Bell, Reddick, Chastain, Blaney and Bowman were in the top 10. By then, Bubba Wallace was up in 11th ahead of Buescher, Briscoe, Suarez and Josh Berry while Logano, Preece, Truex, Gibbs and Kyle Busch were mired in the top 20. In addition, 23 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names that included Austin Dillon, Gragson, Corey LaJoie, Cindric, Stenhouse, Justin Haley and Harrison Burton were mired a lap down.
Nearly 20 laps later, Larson retained the lead by more than a second over runner-up and teammate Byron while third-place Harvick trailed by two seconds as he started to gain ground on the two Hendrick leaders. By then, fourth-place Keselowski trailed by more than four seconds, fifth-place Reddick trailed by more than five seconds and sixth-place Hamlin trailed by nearly six seconds.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 185, Larson captured his first stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Teammate Byron settled in second, trailing by more than a second, while Harvick settled in third, trailing by more than two seconds. Keselowski, Reddick, Hamlin, Bell, Blaney, Chastain and Briscoe were scored in the top 10 while 23 of 38 starters were recorded on the lead lap. This stage break period enabled Austin Dillon, who was in 24th, to cycle back to the lead lap with the free pass benefit.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Larson pitted and Larson edged Harvick and Byron amid three lanes to retain the lead, with Keselowski, Reddick and Bell following suit. Following the pit stops, Ty Gibbs was penalized for speeding on pit road.
With 118 laps remaining, the final stage started as Larson and Harvick occupied the front row. At the start, Larson and Harvick dueled for the lead as the field fanned out to four and five lanes through the dogleg and the backstretch. With the field continuing to fan out and jostled for positions when returning to the frontstretch, Larson managed to retain the lead ahead of Harvick and Byron as he continued to use the inside lane to his advantage.
Down to the final 100 laps of the event, Larson continued to lead followed by Harvick, Byron, Bell and Reddick while Keselowski, Hamlin, Blaney, Briscoe and Bowman occupied the top 10 as 24 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
With 75 laps remaining, Larson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Harvick while third-place Byron trailed by six seconds. As Toyota competitors Bell and Reddick ran in the top five, Keselowski continued to run in sixth followed by Hamlin, Briscoe, Blaney and Bowman while Logano, Buescher, Chastain, Suarez and Kyle Busch were mired in the top 15.
Not long after, another round of green flag pit stops ensued as Logano, McDowell and Corey LaJoie pitted along with Harvick, Bell, Byron, Briscoe, Hamlin, Suarez, Preece, the leader Larson and others. During the pit stops, Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Back on the track with nearly 60 laps remaining, Erik Jones, who had yet to pit, was leading by more than seven seconds over Larson, who had Harvick reeling in on him for the potential lead by nearly two-tenths of a second as a result of Harvick pitting under green a lap prior to Larson. Then with 52 laps remaining, Larson caught and overtook Jones for the lead. Harvick then moved his No. 4 entry back into second place a lap later but was trailing Larson by a second.
Then with 44 laps remaining, The Closer struck as Harvick overtook Larson from the frontstretch to Turn 1 to assume the lead, much to Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniel’s displeasure. As Harvick started to pull away by half a second over Larson, Bell trailed in third place by more than four seconds while Byron and Reddick occupied the top five.
With less than 30 laps remaining, Harvick extended his advantage to more than a second over Larson while third-place Bell trailed by more than five seconds over Bell. Byron and Reddick remained in the top five while Blaney, Keselowski, Briscoe, Hamlin and Chastain were scored in the top 10 as 21 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap. By then, Erik Jones had made a pit stop under green and was mired in 23rd, a lap down.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Harvick continued to extend his advantage as he was now leading by more than three seconds over Larson while third-place Bell trailed by more than five seconds. Harvick would continue to stretch his lead to more than five seconds as the event was nearing its final 10-lap mark.
Just then with 10 laps remaining, the caution flew when Harrison Burton spun just past the frontstretch and below the dogleg, with the driver shredding debris from his right-front tire as he limped back to his pit stall. During the caution period, the lead lap competitors led by Harvick pitted and Larson regained the lead after only opting for a two-tire pit stop. Teammate Byron followed suit in second along with Blaney, Chastain, Kyle Busch and Hamlin, all of whom elected for two fresh tires, while Harvick, the first competitor opting for four fresh tires, dropped back to seventh.
Down to the final three laps, the event proceeded under green as Larson, who started on the inside lane, and teammate Byron, who lined up as the lead competitor on the outside lane, occupied the front row. At the start, Larson blocked Blaney to retain the lead over him and Byron as the field fanned out through the frontstretch and entering the first two turns. Shortly after, however, the caution returned and the event was sent into overtime for a multi-car wreck in Turn 2 that started when Allmendinger and Gragson made contact, which resulted with Allmendinger spinning as Gibbs also scraped the outside wall. With Larson still out in front over Byron and Blaney, Harvick was mired back in seventh behind Denny Hamlin.
At the start of the first overtime attempt, teammates Larson and Byron battled dead even for the lead through the frontstretch dogleg in front of the pack as the competitors behind jostled for late positions. Then as Larson and Byron continued to duel through the backstretch, Blaney and Reddick, who had four fresh tires, joined the battle as Blaney drew Byron and Larson in a three-wide battle while Reddick gave Byron a bump exiting the backstretch. This allowed Byron to muscle ahead on the outside lane while Reddick and Blaney continue to duel against Larson for second place.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Byron remained as the leader ahead of a three-wide battle involving Blaney, Larson and Reddick. Through Turns 1 and 2, Blaney and Reddick tried to gain a run on Byron, but the latter pulled away entering the backstretch. With Reddick boxed in between Blaney and Larson, this allowed Byron to cycle his way back to the frontstretch with no late challenges and claim his second consecutive checkered flag of the 2023 season.
With the victory, Byron notched his sixth NASCAR Cup Series career victory in his 184th series start and his first at Phoenix as he became the first repeat winner of the 2023 Cup season. In addition, he notched the 293rd Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports and the 99th for the No. 24 in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I owe the last couple of weeks to [crew chief Rudy Fugle],” Byron said on FOX. “He’s done a really good job strategy-wise and execution-wise. We’ve done a good job to put ourselves in those positions on the front row with a shot at the end. Just thanks to everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports [for] putting together great cars and just doing a great job. This is a big credit to them, the engine shop, Mr. [Rick] Hendrick, everybody. Cool to have Valvoline back on the car. Really historic looking paint scheme, so nice to get it into Victory Lane.”
Amid a flurry of late battles during the overtime shootout, Blaney navigated his way into the runner-up result followed by Reddick, who nabbed his first top-five result of the season. Larson, who led a race-high 202 laps, ended up fourth while Harvick, who led 36 laps and was aiming for a 10th victory at Phoenix, settled in fifth.
“Well, we got lucky with the one caution,” Larson said. “[The] Team made a great call to take two [tires] and get us out to the lead. Restarts were just tough. I felt like I ran William [Byron] up pretty high and was expecting him to lose some grip, but he did a really good job of holding us up to his outside and clear me down the [backstretch]. I’m pissed off, but a great fight by the team. Great car. Way better than where we were last year. It’s a long season, but hopefully, we’re in the Final Four when we come back here in November and can have a run just similar to [today] with speed and try to execute a little bit better at the end.”
“I’d always rather be on offense,” Harvick said. “I just didn’t get a couple of cars when that first caution came out and kind of lost our chance, and still thought I had a chance there at the end. Those cars were quite a bit slower, but they get all jammed up. That’s the way it goes. Just smoked’em up until the last caution. [The crew] did a great job with our Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang. Just didn’t need that caution at the end.”
Bell came home in sixth while Briscoe, Kyle Busch, Bowman and Josh Berry completed the top 10 on the track.
There were 10 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 35 laps. In addition, 24 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
Following the fourth event of the 2023 Cup Series season, Alex Bowman leads the regular-season standings by three points over Kevin Harvick, six over Ross Chastain, 10 over William Byron and 17 between Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell.
1. William Byron, 64 laps led, Stage 1 winner
2. Ryan Blaney
3. Tyler Reddick
4. Kyle Larson, 201 laps led, Stage 2 winner
5. Kevin Harvick, 36 laps led
6. Christopher Bell
7. Chase Briscoe
8. Kyle Busch
9. Alex Bowman
10. Josh Berry
11. Joey Logano
12. Ryan Preece
13. Michael McDowell
14. Bubba Wallace
15. Chris Buescher
16. Austin Dillon
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Brad Keselowski
19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
20. AJ Allmendinger
21. Erik Jones
22. Daniel Suarez
23. Denny Hamlin
24. Ross Chastain
25. Austin Cindric, one lap down
26. Corey LaJoie, one lap down
27. Justin Haley, one lap down
28. Ty Gibbs, one lap down
29. Noah Gragson, one lap down
30. Ty Dillon, two laps down
31. Zane Smith, two laps down
32. Todd Gilliland, three laps down
33. Aric Almirola, four laps down
34. Cody Ware, six laps down
35. Harrison Burton, seven laps down
36. BJ McLeod – OUT, Fuel pump
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is a trip back to the south for the series’ first of two visits of this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.