William Byron wins NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway
William Byron, given a second chance at victory by a late-race caution flag, won Sunday’s 317-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway, scoring his second consecutive win.
Byron’s team used a two-tire pit stop to return the Chevrolet driver to the track on the front row, putting him in front of Kevin Harvick, who appeared to be sailing to victory before cautions bunched the field in the final miles and led to overtime.
Byron and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson could barely be touched at the front throughout the afternoon until Harvick drove under Larson to take the lead with 44 laps to go. Harvick steadily padded the lead as his car typically was stronger over longer runs.
Harvick had a four-second lead over Larson with 10 laps to go when Harrison Burton brought out a caution with a frontstretch slide and spin, stacking the field for a restart. The green flew with three laps to go, but another caution flew quickly as AJ Allmendinger, Ty Gibbs and Noah Gragson crashed near the back of the pack. That sent the race into overtime, with Larson and Byron on the front row after two-tire changes. Harvick’s team changed four.
Byron surged past Larson, who led a race-high 201 laps, on the restart of the two-lap overtime and wasn’t challenged over the final lap. Harvick led 36 straight laps before the Burton caution scrambled things.
Finishing behind Byron in the top five were Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Larson and Harvick.
Byron said he owes crew chief Rudy Fugle for the two wins in a row. “He’s done a really good job strategy-wise and execution-wise,” Byron told Fox Sports. “We’ve done a good job to put ourselves in those positions on the front row with a shot at the end.”
Harvick, with four new tires for the final run, didn’t have a shot at returning to the lead.
“I just didn’t get a couple cars when that first caution came out,” he told Fox Sports. “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.”
Josh Berry, substituting for the injured Chase Elliott, finished 10th as all four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets were in the top 10. Chevrolet has won all four Cup races this year.
The race featured the debut of NASCAR’s new short-track package, which is designed to lower downforce and enhance competition. The changes generally made the cars less stable Sunday, but there was little competition near the front except on restarts and late in the race.
Larson took the second stage, taking command of the race from Byron. Larson finished in front of Byron, Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Tyler Reddick.
After two stages, Larson had led 121 laps to 62 for Byron. The only other drivers who had led to that point were Ross Chastain and Keselowski, who had led one lap each.
Byron was head and shoulders above the rest of the field in Stage 1, leading 59 of the 60 laps. Following in the top five were Larson, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Reddick.
Stage 1 winner: William Byron
Stage 2 winner: Kyle Larson
Who had a good race: Kevin Harvick showed the strength he has had at Phoenix over much of his career. ... Hendrick teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson were kingpins of the first two-thirds of the race, with Byron rebounding to win. ... Josh Berry turned in a fine performance as a replacement for the injured Chase Elliott, finishing 10th.
Who had a bad race: Aric Almirola was hit with a two-lap penalty near the race’s halfway point when a wheel came off his car. He finished 33rd, four laps down. ... Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain tangled on the final lap, Hamlin finishing 23rd and Chastain 24th.
Next: The Cup Series moves on to Atlanta Motor Speedway March 19 (Fox, 3 p.m. ET).