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Time runs out on Kevin Harvick after four-tire pit call

A two-tire pit stop during a late caution pays off, giving William Byron his second consecutive win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season at the United Rentals Work United 500.

AVONDALE, Ariz. — William Byron celebrated with his team in Victory Lane as Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, walked with a team member down pit road.

As they passed, a safety worker lamented Childers’ pit call before overtime not working out.

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Harvick entered pit road as the leader on Lap 305 of the 317-lap race. Childers called for a four-tire change.

Six cars, including Byron, changed only two tires and restarted ahead of Harvick. Even when a subsequent caution sent the race to overtime, it didn’t give Harvick enough time to get back to the front. He finished fifth.

“I think that everybody that knows us on the No. 4 car, we’re definitely better on four tires,” Childers told NBC Sports. “Honestly didn’t feel very good about winning with two (tires). We’ve (done two-tire changes late) quite a few times here and lost more than we’ve won.

“But I looked down and thought we would go back green with about seven (laps) to go and then we all pitted and rode around under caution for four laps waiting for it to be a green-white-checkered. I thought that was complete (expletive).

“If that’s what we’re going to do, we need to tell everybody that’s what we’re going to do instead of just letting everybody pit and then ride around like that. We had a really good car all weekend. We hardly changed anything the whole weekend. Should have, could have won.”

Harvick said Childers made the right call.

“It’s what I would have done,” Harvick said. “I’d always rather be on offense. I just didn’t get a couple cars when that first caution came out. Kind of lost our chance. Still thought I had a chance there at the end. Those cars were quite a bit slower. They get all jammed up. That’s the way it goes. Just smoked ‘em up until the caution.”

While the focus was on the Hendrick Motorsports cars this weekend, Childers said he thought Harvick had the best car. Childers credited that to being in the simulator three times for this event and finding “something that we felt good about.”

The Hendrick teams noticed Harvick’s speed.

“We were doing all our comparing to (Harvick) and (Kyle Larson) … we were watching,” said Rudy Fugle, crew chief for Byron.

“I just felt like this was going to be (Harvick’s) kind of race, right? You look at that long green-flag run in stage three with no downforce, a bunch of dirt racers, Harvick wrapping the bottom, and William being disciplined. Discipline for running and being really good, which Kevin is amazing at.”

Even though the team didn’t get the win, Harvick scored a top-10 finish in each of the three West Coast races — placing fifth at Auto Club Speedway, ninth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and fifth at Phoenix. The only other driver to place in the top 10 in all three West Coast races was Alex Bowman.

“We had a great all weekend,” Childers said. “The other tracks, I don’t think anything we would have done would have run with (Byron and Larson) at Vegas. We definitely have some work to do there, but these (short) tracks like this were our bread and butter last year.”