CONCORD, N.C. – It all comes down to this.
After 35 points-paying events in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, two drivers from Hendrick Motorsports remain championship-eligible. Both Kyle Larson and William Byron will race for a title this Sunday at Phoenix Raceway and each will be looking to win the 15th premier series title for team owner Rick Hendrick.
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"We’re super excited for the opportunity to go into Phoenix and have two cars battling for the championship," vice president of competition Chad Knaus told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week. "Just an amazing testament to what we’ve been able to achieve this year."
Since 2020, the Arizona track has hosted the Cup Series finale. In the current elimination-style playoff format, Phoenix is only the second track to host the championship event with Homestead-Miami Speedway holding the date for the first six seasons. From a design standpoint, there is one aspect of the 1-mile circuit that will stand out from other venues. This would be "the dogleg," or the area of the track after the start-finish line that allows for optimistic moves into the first corner. Watch for restarts to be intense as drivers fight for their championship hopes this weekend.
In 54 starts at Phoenix, Hendrick Motorsports leads the Cup Series with 13 victories. Jimmie Johnson holds the team record for most wins with four, while vice chairman Jeff Gordon has two. Byron, Larson, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott, Terry Labonte and Mark Martin each account for a single victory towards the overall total. Elliott and Larson's wins each came in the championship race.
Also in action this weekend will be Rajah Caruth driving the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Phoenix. The 21-year-old driver has run a full season in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series in 2023 and has made 18 Xfinity starts over the past two seasons. Former Cup Series crew chief Greg Ives will lead the operation in Arizona.
In the hunt for his second title in three seasons is Larson and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com team. Thanks to a clutch victory to open the Round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the group has had ample time to focus forward to the championship race. In his championship season of 2021, Larson won the opening race of the Round of 8 as well at Texas Motor Speedway. The result? The Elk Grove, California native's first career Cup Series title. With four points-paying victories and the All-Star Race under his belt already this season, the championship would cap off what has been a strong season for the No. 5 entry. At Phoenix, Larson has one win, seven top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in 18 starts. This spring, he led a race-high 201 laps before finishing fourth.
With a career-high six victories to his name in 2023, Byron enters Phoenix with his first chance to win a championship. The team earned this right after battling through Martinsville Speedway's Round of 8 finale to be the only driver to advance on points into the Championship 4. Recently, Byron has seen success at the Arizona short track. He has six top-10 finishes in 11 starts at Phoenix, including a victory in the spring race. Of the Championship 4 drivers, Byron's average finish of 11.17 this season is the best. He'll aim to win his first Cup Series crown on Sunday. His 6.33 average finish over the first nine playoff races is also the fifth-best mark in the history of the elimination-style format.
While Elliott and the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team were eliminated from the owner playoff fight, the run they went on was quite strong. Since the playoffs began, Elliott has recorded an average running position of 12.49, the ninth-best of the entire field. For the final race of the 2023 season, he heads to a spot where he has had success. In 2020, Elliott captured the Cup Series title at Phoenix. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native has also led 546 laps at the track, the second-most of any facility on the schedule. Over 14 starts at the track, he has one win, five top-five finishes and eight top-10s.
Sunday's main event will be a home race for Alex Bowman as the Tucson native returns to Arizona. To date, his most laps led in a single race came at this track in 2016 when he subbed for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 entry. Bowman earned the pole position in that race and would lead 194 circuits on the day before eventually finishing sixth. In the spring, he finished ninth as Hendrick Motorsports placed all four cars in the top 10. While this event will not carry any championship significance for the No. 48 Ally Racing group, they'll look to build momentum into 2024 through a solid run at Phoenix.
Here is what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Practice for all entries will take place at 8:05 p.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 3, with coverage on USA Network. Group qualifying will begin at 4:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 4, with coverage also on USA Network. Bowman, Elliott, Byron and Larson are all in Group A for qualifying.
The Xfinity Series will be on track for practice on Friday, Nov. 3, at 7:05 p.m. ET with coverage on the NBC Sports App. Single-car qualifying will then take place on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 3:30 p.m. ET with coverage available on USA Network. Caruth will be the third driver to hit the track for qualifying on Saturday.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
Sunday afternoon's Cup Series main event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 5, and go green at 3 p.m. ET with coverage on NBC.
The Xfinity Series main event will begin at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 4, with coverage available on USA Network.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
The race will be broadcast on the MRN Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO PHOENIX
Stats courtesy of Racing Insights
3: Hendrick Motorsports won the opening race of all three rounds of the 2023 playoffs. Larson took the Round of 16 and Round of 8 openers (Darlington Raceway and Las Vegas), while Byron won the first race in the Round of 12 (Texas).
8: Top-10 finishes at Phoenix in the last nine starts for Larson. This includes his victory in 2021, where he captured his first championship.
14: Top-five finishes for Byron this season. He currently sits in a three-way tie for first in this category.
194: Laps led by Bowman at Phoenix in 2016. This is the most laps he has led in a single Cup Series main event.
1,285: Elliott has run the ninth-most laps inside the top-10 spots since the beginning of the 2023 playoffs.