CONCORD, N.C. – Fresh off a win and a sweep of the top-three positions at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports looks to keep the momentum going at Phoenix Raceway.
The race at Phoenix marks the final of the three-race West Coast swing and the fourth race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. Located in Avondale, Arizona, Phoenix’s premier racing facility sits just under an hour’s drive from the city itself. The track serves as a 1-mile, low-banked oval with the famous dogleg straightaway and is currently the shortest track that has ever hosted a Cup Series championship. NASCAR’s premier tour has visited the facility every year since 1988 with the racing surface seeing several different configurations. The most recent change took place in 2018 and saw the start/finish line placed just before the dogleg and pit road extended to begin at the exit of turn two.
With 12 wins, Hendrick Motorsports is the winningest team in the track’s history. Jimmie Johnson leads the team with four wins while Jeff Gordon accounts for two. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Terry Labonte, Kyle Larson and Mark Martin have each won a single race for squad in the Arizona desert. The team also holds the top marks in poles (13), top-five finishes (52), top-10s (96) and laps led (3,170).
PHOTOS: See every winner at Phoenix Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports
Byron’s drive to victory lane in Nevada gave Hendrick Motorsports its 292nd win on Sunday. The 25-year-old had a dominating performance as he won the opening two stages and then got by Martin Truex Jr. on an overtime restart for his fifth Cup Series win. The driver of the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet has five top-10 finishes at Phoenix with three of those coming in his last five races. His sixth-place run last November stands as his best finish at the track in the sport’s top series.
Larson has one win at Phoenix, which came in the 2021 championship race. In 17 starts at the 1-mile facility, he has five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. Over his last eight Cup Series races in Arizona, the 30-year-old driver has finished outside the top 10 once. With a runner-up finish at Las Vegas on Sunday in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Larson has now run the third-most laps in the top five this season (322) and has the most laps run in the top-two positions (263).
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Alex Bowman comes to his home track on a hot start to the 2023 campaign. He ranks second in the point standings thanks to a fifth-place run in the DAYTONA 500, an eighth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway and a third-place result at Las Vegas. While he nearly got his first Cup Series win at this track in 2016 – when he won the pole and led 194 laps – the venue has been a tough one for the driver of the No. 48 Ally/Best Friends Chevrolet. That sixth-place run in 2016 stands as his best run at Phoenix.
Josh Berry will be behind the wheel of the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevy, filling in for the sidelined Chase Elliott. Berry drove the car at Las Vegas following Elliott’s surgery for a fractured tibia suffered in a snowboarding accident last week. Elliott, who won the 2020 Cup Series championship at Phoenix, is expected to be out for the next six races. Veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson will call the shots for the No. 9 team and his four victories at the 1-mile track are tied for the second-most (with Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition Chad Knaus) atop the pit box. Berry, who drives for affiliate team JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, has five wins in the Xfinity ranks.
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This weekend will mark the debut of a new rules package for most short ovals and road courses. The changes for this package will see a reduction in downforce with a two-inch rear spoiler, instead of the current four-inch spoiler, as well as the removal of three diffuser strakes, engine panel strakes and trimming the diffuser's outer fencing. As a result, teams will get a 50-minute practice session on Friday, starting at 6:35 p.m. ET.
"It’s going to be a huge reduction in downforce - 30-40% of the downforce that we ran for all of last year is removed," No. 24 crew chief Rudy Fugle told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. "That’s a huge amount, but you’re going to have a lot more speed. When you lose downforce, you have less drag, so now the cars have a lot more straightaway speed. You’ll have to use the brakes more. The brakes will get hotter and the tires will get hotter, which will make the tires madder. You’re going to deal with all of those things which are normal short-track things. The car is going to have a lot less grip."
RELATED: New rules package for short tracks and road courses to debut this week
The race at Phoenix takes on added weight as it’s the site where NASCAR will crown a champion on November 5. The last three championships have been contested there with Hendrick Motorsports winning two of those – Elliott in 2020 and Larson in 2021. Having a solid run this weekend will give teams a better understanding of what will be needed for the fall race.
"The spring race at Phoenix is really important," Byron said. "It sets our notebook for the fall. We try to show up there with all of our best ideas, execute a clean race and get an idea of what the track is going to do throughout the event so we are ready for the fall."
PHOTOS: Cup Series championships won by Hendrick Motorsports
Here is what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Practice will take place on Friday, March 10, at 6:35 p.m. ET and be broadcast on FS2. This will be the first run with the new short-track and road course package, so all teams are getting a 50-minute session. Group qualifying will be on tap for Saturday, March 11, at 2:05 p.m. ET on FS1. After each car takes time in the first round of single-car group qualifying, the top-five teams in each group will compete in the final round for the pole position. Byron will be in Group A, while Berry, Larson and Bowman are all in Group B.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 312-lap Cup Series main event is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 12, and will be broadcast on FOX.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
The race will be on MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
Yes. Download the FOX Sports Live app for online coverage. Fans can also keep up with the action on Twitter by following @TeamHendrick.
WHAT CHANNEL IS FS1 AND FS2?
It varies by location, but this link allows viewers to find the channels by entering their zip code and selecting their television provider.
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO PHOENIX
Data provided by Racing Insights
3: Bowman has three straight top-10 finishes to open the season. He is the first Hendrick Motorsports driver since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015 to begin the year with three straight top 10s. Interestingly enough, Earnhardt Jr. did this with a new crew chief (Greg Ives), just as Bowman is accomplishing his run with a new pit boss (Blake Harris) as well.
4: The number of different drivers Gustafson has won with as a crew chief at Phoenix – including the youngest (Kyle Busch in 2005) and the oldest (Mark Martin in 2009) in track history.
6: Larson’s six top-five finishes at Phoenix are tied for the second-most he has at any one track – Las Vegas and Michigan International Speedway are the others. Dover Motor Speedway is his best in this category with seven top-five finishes.
39: Hendrick Motorsports has won a NASCAR Cup Series race in this many seasons – the most at the sport’s premier level. In addition, the company has won a race in 38 straight seasons.
340: Byron has run a series-high 340 laps in the top five in 2023. The last three seasons have seen the Charlotte, North Carolina, native win within the first five races of a year.