The Washington Post
At Phoenix, Byron beats Larson on a restart again
AVONDALE, ARIZ. — William Byron took advantage of a late restart to earn a NASCAR Cup Series victory, just as he did last weekend. Kyle Larson was the victim of Byron’s late restart prowess, just as he was last weekend.
It was a strange bit of deja vu at Phoenix Raceway as Byron won his second straight Cup race by beating out his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in overtime 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 as 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 in the top 10. Alex Bowman was ninth; Josh Berry, filling in for the injured Chase Elliott, was 10th.
Hendrick is on a roll, but the team’s week in Phoenix wasn’t filled with only 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 in the coming days.
If that caused any distractions, it certainly didn’t show Sunday.
“It’s a test of mental strength,” said Rudy Fugle, Byron’s crew chief. “That’s what it takes to win in this series.”
Harvick was attempting to become the sixth driver in Cup Series history to win 10 times at one track, a club that includes Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip,
Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson. The 47-yearold has said this will be his final season.
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 from 2013 and is the most top-10s in a row at one track in Cup Series history.
Byron and Larson had the fastest cars for most of the race. It continued a dominant stretch by the Hendrick drivers, who were one-two for much of the Las Vegas race.
Byron won the first stage after leading 59 of the first 60 laps. Larson won the second stage.
It was one of the hottest days of the year in Phoenix, with the temperature climbing to around 80 degrees.
That made for some uncertainty about how the cars would handle, particularly because the weather was much cooler for Friday’s practice and Saturday’s qualifying.