CHARLOTTE – William Byron and Kyle Larson will be looking to earn the 15th NASCAR Cup Series driver championship for Hendrick Motorsports. The 10-race NASCAR playoffs kick off on Sunday, Sept. 3, at Darlington Raceway and both drivers are among the favorites to reach the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
Don’t tell that to the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, though.
"We have to work our way through the rounds and do the best job we can at all the opening tracks," Byron said during the media day for the NASCAR playoffs. "It’s nice to have good bonus points and it’s nice to have that in our back pocket. I’ve seen how the playoffs have played out over the last few years, and you can’t get ahead of yourself. We have to do a good job in each round and take it one race at a time."
PLAYOFF ANALYSIS: William Byron and the No. 24 team | Kyle Larson and the No. 5 team
The statistics certainly back up the thought that the pair of teammates have a strong chance to advance through the playoffs to the Championship 4 at Phoenix. Through 26 races, Byron leads the series in wins (five), stage wins (eight), laps led (877), laps run in the top five (2,789). Most importantly, he enters the playoffs as the top seed with 2,036 points. Larson, like Byron, is one of six drivers with multiple wins this season (two). He leads the series in top-five finishes (10) and average starting position (9.62). He has led the third-most laps (624), run the fourth-most laps in the top five (2,184) and starts the postseason sitting in sixth (2,017 points).
"The two of our teams work really well together," Byron said of his No. 24 team and Larson’s No. 5 squad. "You’ll see a lot of times he and I being close together on pace because we drive similarly. We search for kind of the same things in terms of balance of the car. I think that helps our team’s progress. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) knows that he can look at their stuff and give me something similar and it usually works."
When you break down the numbers at the six playoff tracks that the series has already visited this season (Darlington, Kansas Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix and Talladega Superspeedway), the data heavily favors the Hendrick Motorsports duo. They sit one-two in most points earned in those six races and have combined for four wins, eight top-five finishes, nine top-10s and 666 laps led.
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In those six races:
Byron: Three wins (Las Vegas, Phoenix and Darlington), four top-five finishes, five top-10s, an average finish of 6.0, 258 laps led and 261 points (an average of 43.5 points per race).
Larson: One win (Martinsville), four top-five finishes, four top-10s, an average finish of 10.33, 408 laps led and 221 points (an average of 36.8 points per race).
"It’s really valuable," Byron said of having three of his five wins this season at playoff tracks. "I look at Las Vegas, we have obviously a great notebook at that track. Darlington was a pretty good run for us, but we had some things to work on, so we’ve been working in the simulator on those things and trying to get a little bit better. I think it helps just having that notebook. Being able to lean on those notes. For us, it’s about how the balance of the car felt at that track. The weather changes play a role and we have to kind of adapt to what’s new and make sure we are keeping up with the racetrack."
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For his part, Larson believes his teammate stands out as one of his biggest competitors in this year’s playoffs. The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 said Byron has been "consistent all year long," and "a top-three guy every week" who does "a really good job executing."
When looking at the schedule, Larson loves how the Round of 16 and Round of 8 set up for him. He has victories (in the last three seasons) at two of the three tracks in the opening round – Kansas and Bristol Motor Speedway. Darlington is statistically one of his best tracks with a 10.2 average finish. The 2021 Cup Series champion has won at all three Round 8 tracks (Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville) as does Byron.
The Round of 12 with Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL proved to be Larson’s bugaboo last postseason. Contact with the wall late at Charlotte narrowly sent him out of the playoffs and two weeks after his elimination, he won at Homestead.
"I think the first round are three great tracks for us," Larson said. "Darlington, Kansas and Bristol are really, really good. In the second round, Texas hopefully will be a good track for us. Talladega is Talladega. And the Roval is a good track for us as well. I think if we can make it to the Round of 8, I like that better than the Round of 12. We have Vegas in there and we almost won that earlier this year. Homestead is probably my best track. Then, there is Martinsville, where we won earlier this year. I would love to make it to the Round of 8 because I think we would have a good shot."
Tune in to watch Byron and Larson begin their quest for the 2023 championship on Sunday, Sept. 3, at Darlington. Coverage of the race will be at 6 p.m. ET on USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.