LAS VEGAS – William Byron capitalized on a late-race restart to capture his first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In the process, Hendrick Motorsports swept the top-three finishing positions in the season's third race.
Crew chief Rudy Fugle made the call to take two right-side tires for the overtime restart and Byron narrowly beat teammate Kyle Larson off pit road. Lining up next to Martin Truex Jr., who stayed out, Byron grabbed the lead off the restart. From there, he was able to lead the final two laps for the win.
"I was focused on getting a good launch with the 19 (Truex Jr.) and see what happened from there," Byron said of the overtime restart. "I'm fortunate that it worked out the way it did. Rudy made a great call, and we were able to put a little bit of a block on the 11 to keep him behind us. It worked out."
The day was a strong one for Byron and the No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He won both stages, never left the top four of the running order and led a race-high 176 laps for his fifth Cup Series win. The victory also marks his second on a 1.5-mile track in his career and comes after two tough races to start the season.
"I've been really confident about this group of guys on the 24 team," Byron said. "They work extremely hard. We spent a lot of time in the offseason just going through running at the sim with Chevy, running on iRacing and just trying to get better as a race car driver and as a team. It's all about the team. It's a great pit crew.
"We're also thinking of Chase (Elliott) back home. We wish he was out here. He's a great race car driver and great teammate. Thanks to Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) and Jeff Gordon. This RaptorTough.com Chevy was awesome. When we got back in traffic, it was a little tight but we knew we had speed so just had to have the right things play out."
PHOTOS: See the scenes from the Las Vegas win
Kyle Larson took second in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He held the lead when a caution came out on lap 265 – three to go in the scheduled 267-lap distance. The 30-year-old finished second in both stages and was seemingly never outside the top-three positions all day. Larson led 63 laps on the day and earned his first top-five finish of the season. His runner-up finish at Las Vegas is his fourth finish of second at the Nevada venue.
"I knew I was in trouble with the 19 (Truex Jr.) staying out," Larson said. "I felt like William was going to get by him. It's a bummer that we didn't end up the winner, but all in all William probably had a little better car than I had today."
Alex Bowman continued his hot start with new crew chief Blake Harris. Bowman’s third-place finish in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 marked his third straight top-10 finish to start the 2023 season. The 29-year-old is one of two drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first three races this year. He was the defending race winner coming into this event and had a car that seemed to come on strong late in the run.
"I'm really proud of the 48 team," Bowman said. "I'm really pumped for Hendrick Motorsports to be one-two-three. I've been on the good side of those consecutive finishes, so now I'm on the other side. It was a fun race with our teammates."
Josh Berry finished 29th on the day in the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. This was his first start in a Next Gen car. Berry filled in for Chase Elliott after the 2020 Cup Series champion was sidelined following surgery on a fractured tibia. Elliott was injured while snowboarding in Colorado on Friday. Team president and general manager Jeff Andrews said on Saturday "there is no timeline at this point" regarding the 27-year-old’s return to the race car but indicated it will be several weeks.
The top-three sweep is the third top-three sweep in the history of the Rick Hendrick-owned organization. The first came in the 1997 DAYTONA 500 when Jeff Gordon won and teammates Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven came home second and third. The second came in the 2021 race at Dover Motor Speedway when the organization actually swept the top-four spots – Bowman won, Larson finished second, Elliott was third and Byron was fourth.
The win is the third straight for Hendrick Motorsports in the Las Vegas spring race – Larson and Bowman won in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The win is also their seventh in the last 14 West Coast races and a series-best 42nd win out West. This victory marks the 38th consecutive season with at least one win. Byron's win gives the organization a Cup Series-record 292 wins.
The West Coast swing wraps up with the fourth race of the 2023 season at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 12, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). Hendrick Motorsports has 12 victories at the 1-mile venue in Arizona.
William Byron, No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: First
Race notes: Byron started the race on the front row in second and took the lead for the first time on lap 10. Despite reporting being a touch free on lap 17, he was able to pull away from teammate Kyle Larson on the initial run of the race. After pitting on lap 37 for service, Byron cycled back to the lead on lap 41. He reported the car was “too tight in dirty air.” However, Byron maintained the lead for the rest of the stage to score his first stage win of the season.
Before pitting for four tires and fuel at the stage break, the 25-year-old told crew chief Rudy Fugle that he needed more front turn to help him work through traffic. Byron won the race off pit road and restarted stage two from the lead. He opened up a lead of three seconds but radioed that the car was a bit tighter on the run due to tire buildup. After pitting from the lead on lap 126, Byron cycled back to the lead. Larson would chip away at the deficit, but lap traffic kept Byron out front by over one second. He led all of stage two for his second stage win on the day.
Ahead of the final stage, a blistering four tire and fuel pit stop by the No. 24 pit crew at 10.14 seconds helped Byron maintain the lead. He restarted the final stage from the inside lane in first and held that position when the caution came on lap 184. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native told Fugle that the car was a bit free in turns one and two but was coming to him like he wanted. Under yellow, Byron pitted for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustment, but stopped a little long in the pit stall. That saw him fall back to fourth for the lap 190 restart. Byron got to third in quick order and Fugle told his driver to adjust his line in turns one and two. He stayed in third for the bulk of the next run, led lap 221 and then came to pit road for service. The sixth-year Cup Series driver cycled out in third but caught Denny Hamlin quickly for second. He chipped away at Larson’s lead but couldn’t make major inroads on it until the closing 10 laps of the stage. However, a late caution on lap 265 gave him another chance. Pitting under yellow, Fugle called for two right-side tires and fuel. With a pit stop of 4.54 seconds, Byron narrowly edged Larson in the race off pit road. Martin Truex Jr. stayed out to lead, so Byron chose the outside lane on the front row and restarted second. He took the lead off the restart from Truex and was able to seal the deal for the fifth Cup Series win of his career.
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: Second
Race notes: Larson started sixth but jumped right to fourth in the early going by going to the outside to form a third lane. Driving in low in turns one and two, he was able to take third away from Ryan Blaney on lap six. The start of Larson’s race illustrated that he was going to be a major factor early in runs. On lap 11, he took second away from pole sitter Joey Logano. Crew chief Cliff Daniels told his driver that the “pace is good.” After pitting on lap 37, Larson cycled back to second and made some gains on teammate William Byron for the lead. Ultimately, he couldn’t quite get there and as the run stayed green, Byron was able to pull away. Larson finished stage one in second.
Following a stage break pit stop, Larson restarted stage two in second and in the outside lane. He temporarily lost second to Denny Hamlin and had a close call with him battling for position as he took second back. Much like the opening stage, Larson was in pursuit of Byron for the point position. After a pit stop at lap 125, Larson was able to chip away at Byron’s lead and got it down to .35 seconds with 13 laps left in the stage. However, the 2021 champion was unable to get to him and finished the stage in second.
Under the yellow for the stage break, Larson pitted for service and restarted the final stage in second. A caution on lap 184 saw the Elk Grove, California, native pit from second place and he restarted third on lap 190. Battling teammate Alex Bowman for position, the No. 48 lost momentum off of turn two and Larson was able to capitalize with a pass on the inside to take second place. He set his sights on race leader Hamlin and nearly made contact with him before getting the lead on lap 196. The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet radioed that he was really loose prior to his pit stop on lap 221. He pitted from the lead and cycled out with the lead. On lap 240, Larson had built about a four-second lead and victory looked to be in his grasp. However, a caution on lap 265 changed things. Larson pitted from the lead for two right-side tires and fuel but narrowly lost the race off pit road to teammate Byron. Restarting third in the overtime finish behind Martin Truex Jr. (who had stayed out), the inside line didn’t have as much momentum right away. Larson and Bowman worked to split Truex Jr. for position and Larson finished the race second.
Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: Third
Race notes: The defending spring race winner at Las Vegas started 11th. Bowman battled a tight race car in the early going and would be one of the last cars to pit in the first round of stops. While he cycled out in 17th, he quickly made up ground and had the speed to run competitors down. By lap 57, a pass on Joey Logano put him into the top 10. The 29-year-old was making great time in the corners by “painting the line.” The car and driver were especially strong late in the run as Bowman continued to pick off spots. He finished stage one in seventh.
During the stage break, Bowman pitted for service and restarted stage two from eighth. In this stage, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet went right back to work, passing Martin Truex Jr. for a top-five spot on lap 100. Fifteen laps into the stage, Bowman was the second-fastest car on track behind his teammate and race leader William Byron. Bowman continued his march forward as passes on Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain had him in third by lap 114. After a round of green-flag stops, he cycled out in fourth. A pass on Bell for third with 17 to go in the stage resulted in Bowman’s final position in stage two – third.
Under yellow for the stage break, Bowman pitted for service and was able to keep his third-place position for the restart to begin the final stage. Crew chief Blake Harris and the 48 team went to work on helping the car’s short-run speed and take off on restarts. Despite struggling a little over the bumps, Bowman was able to maintain third prior to the lap 184 caution. Pitting under that caution, he and the pit crew gained a spot on pit road with fast 9.78-second stop. Bowman kept that position before losing momentum off of turn two, which allowed teammate Kyle Larson to pounce on the spot. Prior to pitting, Bowman said he was still too tight and cycled out in fifth following that round of stops. He kept the position for much of the last run before a caution came out on lap 265. Pitting under yellow for right-side tires and fuel, Bowman would restart fifth and chose the inside lane behind Larson and race leader Martin Truex Jr. Using the middle of the track, he grabbed third and then teamed with Larson to split Truex Jr. to keep his top-three spot.
Josh Berry, No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 29th
Race notes: Making his first start in the Next Gen car, Berry started from the 32nd position. Early in the race, crew chief Alan Gustafson told the driver that his pace was close, and Berry liked how the car felt. He picked off a few spots during the initial run and was one of the last cars to pit under green. He cycled out to 26th. From there, he focused on logging laps and learning as much as he could over the run. Berry ended stage one in 24th.
During the stage break, Berry told the team that balance was better than yesterday, but that he still felt the car was a little tight. He restarted stage two from 24th, but lost a few spots early in the run after making slight contact with the wall. The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular for JR Motorsports kept grinding away and learning what he could over the run. He finished stage two in 26th.
Ahead of the final stage, Berry told Gustafson that he was “struggling in dirty air. Just not knowing how to race these things yet.” He restarted 28th in the final stage. At the time of the lap 184 caution, the team had Berry stay out to take the wave around to get one of their two laps back. A sticky throttle proved troublesome in the final stage, but Gustafson told his driver they would have a fix for it. During the final yellow flag prior to the overtime restart, the team pitted to make throttle repairs. Berry restarted in 29th and that was where he would finish the race.