CONCORD, N.C. – Team owner Rick Hendrick has 50% of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 field for Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron and Kyle Larson are competing against Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney for the championship. This is the second time in three seasons that the organization has gotten two of its cars into the title race and it is the fourth straight season that the team has had at least one driver in the final four.
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"Both of them have had a great year," Hendrick said of Byron and Larson. "When you look at William (Byron), he's won six races. Kyle (Larson) won four plus the All-Star Race. We're happy to have two cars going out there to race for the championship. I hope that one of them can win. I don't see that either one has any more advantage over the other guy. If anything, William did win the spring race (at Phoenix).
"I think our guys are prepared. A lot of attention to detail. We'll try to execute a race without any mistakes. That's what you have to do. You have to have good pit stops. Cautions have to fall the right way. You can be a dominant car and not win this race, so we've just got to run the race.
"When you start the year, you want to try to get cars to the Championship 4. When you can get one or two, you've had a great year. Very happy that we're going to be there with these two guys and we'll see how it works."
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The 31-year-old Larson has been in this spot before, earning the 2021 Cup Series championship in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports. His No. 5 HendrickCars.com team was also eligible for the owner title in last year’s race. Since first being paired at the start of 2021, Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels have won not just a title, but also 16 points-paying races together. Over those three years, that mark is the most in the sport’s top series. Hendrick reflected on what led to the decision to pair Larson and Daniels together.
"With Kyle, we just felt like Cliff (Daniels) had shown he was ready,” Hendrick said. “What an awesome combination it's proven to be. Cliff is a very intense guy and Kyle is a little bit of a laid-back guy. They click. The marriage there has been a very good one. They like each other, respect each other and they want to work together.
"That's the secret sauce in this business. Sometimes you put two together and the chemistry just isn't there. It has worked with these two."
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For Byron, this is the 25-year-old driver’s first time in the championship round. He advanced amidst the pressure cooker of an elimination race at Martinsville Speedway in the previous round. Consistency has been the No. 24 team’s calling card in the playoffs under crew chief Rudy Fugle. Through the first nine races of the 2023 postseason, Byron has the fifth-best average finish (6.33) in the history of the elimination-style playoffs (since 2014). In three Cup Series seasons together, Byron and Fugle have earned nine wins.
"William is very mature for his age," Hendrick said. "He's come a long way in a short period. To be a champion at his age or win more races than anybody has this year shows his talent and the talent of that team.
"Everybody gives Kyle a tremendous amount of credit as one of the best that ever sat in any kind of car. William's kind of been under the radar. For a guy that's won six races and had a chance to win the regular-season championship. For him to accomplish what he has. Nobody has talked about him a lot.
"If you look at what he's been able to do, it's pretty impressive. At his age, the chemistry between him and Rudy (Fugle, crew chief), I think there will be a lot of championships on their horizon."
Byron and Larson will be competing for the organization’s 15th Cup Series championship and looking to secure the team’s third in four years. Catch the action on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).