AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Larson led Friday’s 50-minute NASCAR Cup Series practice session at Phoenix Raceway, while Alex Bowman came in third.
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Larson posted the fastest lap of 131.258 mph in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He has one win at Phoenix, which came in the 2021 championship race. In 17 starts at the 1-mile facility, the 30-year-old has five top-five finishes and 10 top-10s. Over his last eight Cup Series races in Arizona, Larson has finished outside the top 10 once. He is coming off a runner-up finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend as part of Hendrick Motorsports’ top-three sweep in the race.
Bowman posted a lap of 130.724 mph to place inside the top three of the session in the No. 48 Ally Best Friends Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He called it "a solid practice for us." The Tucson, Arizona, native comes to his home track on a hot start to the 2023 campaign. The 29-year-old is 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. His sixth-place finish in 2016 – where he started on the pole and led 194 laps – stands as his best result at Phoenix.
"I feel like this place has been hard for me and I ask for the wrong things out of the race car in certain areas of this racetrack," Bowman said. "Just trying to do the right things and Blake (Harris, crew chief) is really good about helping me lap-to-lap to try to do better things at some of these places."
EVERY ANGLE: No. 48 Ally Best Friends Chevy | No. 24 Valvoline Chevy
This weekend marks the debut of a new rules package for most short ovals and road courses. The changes for this package will result in 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.
William Byron placed 20th in the session in the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet, while Josh Berry was 23rd in the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet. Byron is the most recent winner in the Cup Series with his victory at Las Vegas. At Phoenix, Byron has five top-10 finishes – three of those have come in his last five races at the 1-mile track.
Berry drove the No. 9 at Las Vegas following Elliott’s surgery for a fractured tibia suffered in a snowboarding accident last week. Berry, who drives for affiliate team JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, will drive the No. 9 on upcoming oval tracks, while road racing standout Jordan Taylor will run the race at Circuit of The Americas. Elliott, who won the 2020 Cup Series championship at Phoenix, is expected to be out for the next six races.
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On the 10-lap average board, Larson also led the way with Byron fifth. For 15-lap averages, Larson and Byron placed one-two and Bowman was eighth.
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., Elliott, Terry Labonte, 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 Hendrick Motorsports winner at Phoenix
Saturday will see group qualifying takes place 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.
The 312-lap Cup Series race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at Sunday. Coverage will be on FOX, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).