William Byron capitalizes on late caution to win in Phoenix

Kyle Larson (5) leads the field at the start of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway. Following Larson are Denny Hamlin (11), William Byron (24), Brad Keselowski (6), Christopher Bell (20, and Ross Chastain (1). Byron won the race. Photo by David Barks

PHOENIX – The best-laid plans …

William Byron (24) crosses the finish line just ahead of Ryan Blaney (12) to win Sunday’s United Rentals United Work 500 at Phoenix Raceway. Photo by David Barks.

Kevin Harvick was cruising toward victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway when two late cautions ruined his day.

William Byron took advantage to win the United Rentals Work United 500, his second straight Cup Series win in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro.

“It was a great day for us,” said Byron. “We weren’t too fast at times but it was great to get back into it at the end. The final pit stop was big for us. I was able to get back to the front row, got the outside on Kyle, and was able to get outside of Kyle and grab the lead at the end.”

It was a three-car race all afternoon between Byron, Harvick, and Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson with Larson being statistically best.

Larson had the pole, with Denny Hamlin second and Las Vegas winner Byron third.

Byron passed Larson in the race’s first lap and then rolled to the win in an uneventful Stage 1.

Larson took the lead at the start of Stage 2 and cruised to a dominant stage win with Harvick finishing second.

Larson kept right on rolling in Stage 3, leading a total of 201 of the 316 laps over the Raceway’s 1-mile oval.

But Harvick had the better car for long runs, and with no cautions, Stage 3 opened with 109 laps of green flag racing.

That gave Harvick the opportunity to steadily close the gap, finally taking the lead on lap 269.

The only thing standing in the way of Harvick’s 10th win on the Phoenix track was a late caution.

And then Harrison Burton blew a tire on the front stretch on lap 303 of the scheduled 312-lap race bringing out the day’s fourth caution.

That put the pressure on the crew chiefs to decide – two tires or four.

The leaders all headed to the pits for fresh tires for the home stretch.

Six teams, including Byron and Larson’s, opting for just two right-side tires.

From left, Hendrick Motorsports Vice President Jeff Gordon, driver William Byron, and crew chief Rudy Fugle speak with reporters after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race in Phoenix. Photo by David Barks

“As soon as that caution came out, we were talking about taking just two tires,” said Byron’s crew chief Rudy Fugle. “It turned out to be a great decision.”

Larson came out of the pits with the lead, with Byron second, Ryan Blaney third, Ross Chastain fourth, Kyle Busch fifth, and Hamlin sixth.

Harvick’s crew put four fresh Goodyear tires on his No. 4 Ford Mustang, which took more time to do.

Harvick lined up in seventh place for the restart, the first of the cars that took four tires.

The race restarted with three to go but an accident among AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson, and Ty Gibbs brought out the yellow flag once again, setting up a two-lap overtime shootout.

Larson led the restart but Byron got a good push from Tyler Reddick and got past Larson on the outside.

Blaney edged past Larson, too, and it was a drag race over the final lap to the checkered flag.

Byron had a 0.330-second edge for the win with Blaney second, Reddick third, and Larson fourth.

Harvick, the Bakersfield native in his final season, finished fifth followed by Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, and Hendrick teammates Alex Bowman and Josh Berry (filling in for the injured Chase Elliott) – putting all four Hendrick cars into the Top 10.

“Yeah, we did a good job of putting two on it there,” said Blaney. “I wanted to be third. I wanted to be on the bottom just in case the leader slides up, you can kind of roll the bottom. That’s kind of what happened. 

I thought I was in a good spot off two being underneath them. I think the 24 got some help from the 45 down the back, got clear. I wasn’t able to stay side by side with them. Overall a good day. We started off okay, got a little better as the day went on. The two tires were the right call at the end. I think we’re getting better and it’s just a matter of finding that next step.”

“I just needed to execute on that restart. Just didn’t get the launch I needed to with Williams’ back bumper to take advantage of it in turn one. Very frustrating naturally. Last year, same thing, didn’t have the best of restarts and finished third,” said Reddick. This car was solidly I would say a third- to fifth-place car all day long. Bringing home third, but obviously when you’re on four, have a position to have the restart, you want to capitalize. So frustrated for sure.”

“We got lucky with the one caution. Team made a great call to take two, get us out in the lead,” said Larson. “Restarts are just tough. I felt like I ran William up pretty high. I was expecting him to lose some grip. But he did a really good job of holding it to my outside, clearing me down the back. It’s a long season, but hopefully we’re in the Final 4 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 at the end.”

“I just didn’t get a couple cars when that first caution came out. Kind of lost our chance. Still thought I had a chance there at the end. Those cars were quite a bit slower. They get all jammed up,” said Harvick. “That’s the way it goes. Just smoked ’em up until the caution. They did a great job with our Hunter Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang. Didn’t need the caution at the end.”

NASCAR wrapped up its Western Swing Sunday.

The series heads to Atlanta next weekend for the Quaker State 400.

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