• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

William Byron earns second-straight overtime win at Phoenix

ByMichael Manny

Mar 12, 2023
Byron performs a burnout

Photo by Evan McNelia | Elevated Media

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Last week in Las Vegas, Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron and Kyle Larson were the class of the field and finished 1-2, ending with Byron celebrating in victory lane with a big hat after holding off his teammate and a host of others in overtime.

Different city, same winner.

Byron started on the inside of Larson in overtime, chasing him down and withstanding a huge run from Team Penske No. 12 driver Ryan Blaney to earn his sixth-career NASCAR Cup Series victory in the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway. 

“I wasn’t counting my blessings. I was kind of like, man, it went so good last week, I’m probably going to end up crashing here,” Byron said. “When you have that level of commitment, you know you have to on a green-white-checkered to come out the other side. It’s either going to go really good or not.”

Larson ran up front most of the afternoon, leading a race-high 202 laps, but Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 driver Kevin Harvick managed to make a pass for the lead with 44 to go. With the majority of the race running under long green flag runs, it appeared that “The Closer” would become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at one track. But a late spin by Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 driver Harrison Burton on Lap 301 opened the door. 

That same door slammed open even more on Lap 309, when Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 driver Ty Gibbs hit the wall and Kaulig Racing No. 16 driver AJ Allmendinger spun, triggering the overtime. 

“We got lucky with the one caution,” Larson said. “Team made a great call to take two, get us out in the lead. Restarts are just tough. I felt like I ran William up pretty high. I was expecting him to lose some grip. But he did a really good job of holding it to my outside, clearing me down the back.” 

Beginning in the opening stage, cars slipped around the track, as drivers navigated a new aero package making its debut. The package, which will be used on short tracks outside of Bristol and Dover and on road courses, includes significantly less downforce than before. 

Early in the stage, Penske No. 22 driver Joey Logano slid up the track and twice made contact with JGR No. 19 driver Martin Truex Jr. It was the beginning of a rough first half of the race for Logano, who won the last race at Phoenix in November to earn his second championship.

Byron passed Larson on Lap 2 and held on for the next 63, winning Stage 1 after sweeping them last week. 

Byron and Larson continued to dominate in Stage 2, which again featured an extended green flag run. Teams stretched out their cycle in order to avoid going a lap down on the one-mile track, before beginning green flag pit stops. 

Front Row Motorsports No. 34 driver Michael McDowell, Richard Childress Racing No. 8 driver Tyler Reddick, LEGACY Motor Club No. 43 driver Erik Jones and Penske No. 2 driver Austin Cindric were all penalized for speeding on pit road. Busch’s hole was dug deeper after also being penalized for an uncontrolled tire. 

Larson quickly cycled back to the front after the cycle had completed. He led every lap under green to win Stage 2. 

The race saw its first caution for cause on Lap 139, when SHR No. 10 driver Aric Almirola lost a wheel. The tire separated, sending it rolling. Almirola made it to pit road, but had to back up into his stall right after leaving. 

Larson continued to run up front the next 126 laps after the Stage 3 restart, until pitting under green. Jones stayed out, taking over the top spot until Lap 260. 

Throughout the final stage, Harvick chased down Larson, incrementally closing the gap until making the pass on Lap 169. The 47-year-old Harvick led the next 36 laps.

Byron struggled in the latter half of the race. He had not led a lap since Stage 1. The 25-year-old hung around in the top five. Burton’s spin gave the No. 24 team a new opportunity. 

Harvick had a large lead at the time of Burton’s spin. On the ensuing pit stop, Harvick took four tires and came off pit road 7th, while many of the other leaders only took two.

After losing out on a victory in overtime last week, Larson appeared to be in position to earn his first win of 2023, holding onto the lead until Lap 315. 

Byron’s crew chief Rudy Fugle credited the crew with getting their driver in position for the win.

“Two weeks in a row we get that caution,” Fugle said. “Pit crew did a good job of getting us out on the front row. William did an awesome job. Second chance at a restart, did an amazing job, we won the race.” 

The series heads next to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where Byron became the inaugural winner of the track’s redesigned layout. 

Chevrolet has won the first four races of the season, with the No. 5 and 24 cars dominating the last two weeks. While the win does a lot for the team’s momentum, Byron said he’s not surprised to see both him and Larson run well. 

I feel like [Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels and Fugle] get along really well,” Byron said. They’re very different, but I feel like there’s some camaraderie there. It’s not a surprise we’re both running well. I wouldn’t be surprised either though if all four of us were running well. Everyone communicates really well. I think in some ways Kyle and I’s driving style, I try to adapt to whatever the setup is, and I think he kind of does the same.”

The series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta March 19 at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage can be found on Fox, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NOTE: Post-race inspection is complete in the NASCAR Cup Series garage. There were no issues, confirming Byron as the winner. The Nos. 20 and 1 were taken back to R&D for further evaluation.