Top-five effort for Larson, team in Phoenix

2023 Kyle Larson Hendrick Cars Phoenix.jpg
TRACK: Phoenix Raceway
LENGTH: 1.0-mile oval

DATE: Mar. 12, 2023
STANDINGS: 5th (-17 points)

Kyle Larson’s visit to Phoenix Raceway started off with a bang, with the No. 5 Chevrolet being strong out of the gate, taking the top spot during Saturday’s lone practice session followed by earning the pole for Sunday’s 312-lap showdown.

After leading the field to green, Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron took the lead away on lap 2. Larson would remain in second for the rest of the 60-lap stage. At the midpoint of the segment, crew chief Cliff Daniels told his driver that he had a “really good rhythm right now.” At the end of the stage, Larson commented that “I feel like I’m pretty good. William is just really good.”

Pitting during the stage break, a fast 10.21-second stop by the No. 5 crew put Larson out in front for the start of stage two. He would not look back in that stage. Byron got close at different points, but the 30-year-old was able to scoot away and build on his lead. At one point in the stage, the team let Larson know that Christopher Bell was making good time in the corners but Larson led all but two circuits once the stage went green on lap 69 for his first stage win of the season.

During the stage break, Larson was able to hold the lead off of pit road, narrowly beating Kevin Harvick after pit stops. In the initial run of the final stage, the 2021 champion was able to build up to a nearly three-second lead before Harvick started chipping away at it prior to green-flag pit stops. Daniels advised Larson that most of the field was moving around behind him and using up tires. He told his driver to find whatever line is most neutral for tires and use that one.

Pitting from the lead on lap 246, Larson took four tires and fuel. Harvick, who had pitted a lap before, was right on the No. 5 Chevy as it exited the pits. Larson was able to retake the lead from Erik Jones on lap 261 but saw Harvick pass him on the inside on lap 269. Daniels told Larson to run the bottom in turns three and four as running the high lane helped Harvick get the position on the inside of him.

Unable to reel in Harvick, a caution on lap 303 brought the field back together. Pitting under yellow, the No. 5 team took two right-side tires and fuel and grabbed the lead off of pit road. Restarting first on lap 310, Larson shut the door on a charging Ryan Blaney and held Byron at bay before a caution came out on the next lap.

Lined up first on the overtime restart, Larson took the inside and was battling Byron for the lead coming into turn three. Ultimately, his teammate took the point position and he saw Blaney and Tyler Reddick get by before the checkered flag flew.

"We got lucky with the one caution, and the team made a great call to take two tires and get us out in the lead. Restarts are just tough. I felt like I ran William (Byron) up pretty high and expected him to lose some grip, but he did a really good job of holding it to my outside and clearing me down the back. A great fight by the team, a great car and way better than we were here last year. It's a long season, but hopefully we're in the final four when we come back here in November and can have a run similar to that with speed and try to execute a little bit better in the end."

Larson and the No. 5 Chevrolet return to the east coast and will compete at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, Mar. 19. The 400-mile race will be broadcast live at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

Categories: Racing