KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson was a lap away from his third win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Larson held the lead on the final lap at Kansas Speedway before a tap in the left-rear quarter panel from Denny Hamlin saw him get loose and into the wall. The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ended up as the runner-up finisher for the second straight spring race at the 1.5-mile track. The result was also his third top-two finish in the last four Kansas races. He led a race-high 85 laps on the day and looked poised to hold off Hamlin for the win before the contact.
"I was really loose at the end and, yeah, Denny (Hamlin) was just a little better than me at the end," Larson said. "I haven’t seen a replay either, but obviously, he was side-drafting really aggressively. He was touching me, it felt like. It just had me out of control, so I wish we could see what we could do."
The finish capped off an up-and-down day for the 30-year-old driver. While batting for the lead with Tyler Reddick on lap five, Larson was hit and spun. That sent him all the way back to 36th – the last car in the field. He rallied to get back to 10th at the end of stage one. He continued his march forward in stage two, taking the lead for the first time on lap 141. Larson was in control for much of the final stage, leading 70 of the 102 laps and the 46 circuits before the checkered flag. The second-place run is his fifth top-five finish of 2023 and he also finished second in the season's other 1.5-mile race (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).
William Byron finished third in the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for his fifth top-five finish on the season. It stands as his best result to date at Kansas and his seventh top-10 in eight races there. While the finish was good, the day started out tough for the 25-year-old driver.
Byron started from the pole but was battling a loose race car in the early going and scraped the wall with the right rear. A pit road speeding penalty required a pass-thru penalty and left him two laps down in stage one. Thanks to a rash of cautions in stage two, crew chief Rudy Fugle was able to use strategy and wave arounds to get back on the lead lap. In the final stage, Byron methodically worked his way up into the top five and then up to second. On lap 213, he took the lead before Larson got by him on lap 221. He has now finished in the top-three spots in both 1.5-mile races this season - one of his two wins this season came at Las Vegas.
"It was an amazing effort by our No. 24 Liberty University Chevy team," Byron said. "We all but wrecked twice, went three laps down and came back to finish third – it’s just incredible. It’s just a testament to the strength of this race team.
"They gave us a really hard fight, so good to come home third."
Chase Elliott earned his best finish since coming back from a fractured tibia – a seventh-place result in the No. 9 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The 27-year-old surged to the lead on lap 187 and was out front for five laps before a caution came out. Elliott battled a tight condition on his race car for much of the final run after some contact with Ryan Blaney but he scored his fifth straight top-12 finish on the season. He now has nine top-10 finishes at Kansas.
"We had a couple of high spots," Elliott said of his day. "Got the lead there when we were racing with Kyle (Larson). That’s better than normal for me, so we’ll just try to build on that and get better."
Josh Berry finished 25th in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular for Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports was caught up in several on-track incidents, including a spin off of turns three and four to bring out the final caution of the day on lap 216. This was Berry’s seventh start with the organization this year and his second as the fill-in driver for Alex Bowman. A fractured vertebra suffered in a sprint car race on April 25 has Bowman sidelined from Cup Series action.
Larson and Byron remain in a three-way tie with Kyle Busch for the series lead in victories with two. While Hendrick Motorsports did not get the win, the team led 100 laps on the day (Larson-85, Byron-10 and Elliott-5) and has now led a series-best 1,226 laps in 2023. They were also the only team with multiple top-five finishes and three top-10s in the race.
Next up will be the series’ 13th race of the season at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, May 14, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). The race at the South Carolina track is part of the sport’s annual throwback weekend where drivers will sport special paint schemes paying tribute to NASCAR’s past.