SONOMA, Calif. – Chase Elliott was the top finisher for Hendrick Motorsports in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway. The driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet scored a fifth-place result.
The top-five finish came thanks to a strategy call by crew chief Alan Gustafson following the second and final caution of the race on lap 93. Having had his driver pit late under green during the previous run (lap 80), Gustafson elected to keep Elliott out on 14-lap-old tires. That moved the 2020 Cup Series champion from 12th to first in the running order. However, with only two other cars staying out, the fresher tires behind him had less traffic to get through to get to the lead and Elliott lost the point position to eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on lap 97.
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The 27-year-old driver from Dawsonville, Georgia, was able to maintain a top-five position on older rubber over the final 14 circuits of the 110-lap race. Overall, he led seven laps on the day in his first road course start of the year. Elliott now has three top-five finishes and five top-10s in the 2023 season. He also has those exact numbers in his last six starts at Sonoma.
"It’s nice to get a top five, no doubt, so proud of that," Elliott said. "We were trying to do something a little different with strategy. We had pit about six or eight laps there before that caution. We just felt like our only play was to stay out. I was really hoping that more people would do that with us so we’d have three or four rows. It still probably wouldn’t have been enough, but I do think it would have been nicer to have a couple more rows and a buffer for those with tires.
"It was certainly a good fight for the No. 9 NAPA Chevy team. It was one of our better runs there in the last couple of races, so always good to finish strong. It wasn’t an ideal situation, so to kind of fight through it there and come home with a top-five is good. Looking forward to build on that and hopefully contend for a win before long."
At his home track on the Cup Series circuit, Kyle Larson drove the No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to an eighth-place finish. The result was the seventh top-10 finish for the Elk Grove, California, native. After qualifying 16th, the 30-year-old driver got up to 10th in the opening stage. Crew chief Cliff Daniels used pit strategy to try to set his driver up better for the second stage. By short pitting on lap 22, Larson was fifth when stage two got underway (remember there are no cautions for stage breaks on road courses). A late caution in stage two shook up the running order and brought Larson to pit road from eighth. From there, he was able to drive into the top 10 but couldn’t get past the eighth position on either of the last two runs.
"I’m happy with how good our car was," Larson said. "I’m just disappointed in qualifying. I think if I had qualified better, it might have been a different result, maybe. All-in-all, it was a good race and I think our team did a good job today."
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William Byron finished 14th in the No. 24 RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The 25-year-old driver was able to pick up seven stage points in the second segment. He did this as crew chief Rudy Fugle kept him out for track position under the late yellow (on lap 51) since he had pitted on lap 44. From there, Byron spent the next run in the top 10. On the final run of the race, the driver reported that the car was “shaking real bad,” similar to how it behaved in Saturday’s practice session. Byron saw his streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes and races with laps led come to an end. He remains second in the point standings.
"The team fought hard all day and I thought we might be able to battle for a top 10 late," Byron said. "Unfortunately, I got 'used up' on the restarts and lost positions."
Alex Bowman came in 15th in the No. 48 Ally Pride Chevy. The 30-year-old driver was able to pick up two stage points in the opening 25-lap segment. Bowman spent much of the race in top 15, never drifting far from that spot. The Tucson, Arizona, native felt he was burning up his tires as he tried to work his way up through the field on two of the final three runs of the race. With 10 races left in the regular season, Bowman now holds the final provisional playoff spot by three points.
"Our team deserved better today," Bowman said. "Our No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was really good. We just got stuck and couldn’t make up track position fast enough."
Truex Jr. won to become the fourth multi-time winner in 2023. Hendrick Motorsports has two of those four drivers, with Byron (three wins) and Larson (two wins) achieving multiple victories through the first 16 races of the season.
The Cup Series is off next weekend and will be back in action on Sunday, June 25, for the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage of that race will take place on NBC, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90). Hendrick Motorsports has won both Cup Series races at the 1.33-mile track with Larson earning the inaugural triumph in 2021 and Elliott going to victory lane in 2022.