Phoenix Raceway, Avondale, AZ — March 12, 2023
The NASCAR Cup Series completes its West Coast swing with a stop at Phoenix today. Crew chief notebooks will be filling up with observations that might come in handy when the series returns to Phoenix for the championship race in November.
Kevin Harvick may be retiring at the end of 2023, but don’t count him out today. Harvick holds the record with nine career NASCAR Cup Series wins at Phoenix Raceway, his latest coming in 2018. That’s the most victories for Harvick on any track currently on the NASCAR schedule.
Chase Briscoe had to hold on through two late-race restarts but did just that to score his first NASCAR Cup Series win one year ago at Phoenix Raceway. Briscoe held Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick at bay as all three drivers were searching for their first Cup wins, but Briscoe emerged to become the 200th different winner in Cup history.
Through three races of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suárez have been putting up some impressive performances. As a result, both are ranked inside the top five in the NASCAR Cup Series driver points standings for the second consecutive week – the first season that the organization has had both drivers ranked within the top five in points.
New Shortrack Setups
NASCAR has announced updates to the components of the NASCAR Cup Series car for races held at road courses and short tracks (excluding Bristol and Dover). The Road Course and Selected Short Track Package will consist of the following:
- 2” Spoiler
- Remove Engine Panel Strakes
- Remove the Center and Inner Diffuser Strakes. Only the Outer Diffuser Strakes will remain installed. Spacers will be installed between the diffuser flap and diffuser due to removing the inner diffuser strakes.
- Remove Diffuser Fences and Replace them with Baseline Fences.
- Splitter stuffers will remain unchanged from the current components.
The rules are in place at the following tracks: Charlotte Roval, Chicago Street Course, Circuit of The Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Martinsville, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, Richmond, Sonoma, and Watkins Glen.
Drivers indicate the changes make the race cars looser. Expect some sliding around as they complete 312 circuits of the one-mile track located 20 miles into the desert southwest of Phoenix.
Kyle Larson(5) sits on the pole for the United Rentals Work United 500, and Denny Hamlin(11) sits next to him in the front row. Stages are set for 60/125/127 laps, and tires will be the key on pit stops as drivers will be calling for fresh rubber long before the fuel tank runs dry.
Larson led lap one. His teammate William Byron(24) moved past Hamlin for second place and then passed Larson on the bottom of the track out of the trioval just past the start-finish line.
Byron quickly began to stretch the lead, and 15 laps in Larson, Hamlin, Brad Keselowski(6), and Christopher Bell(20) made up the top five. Lap times were off a full second, just 20 laps into the race. The track temperature was 107 degrees Fahrenheit as the hot sun beat down from a clear blue sky.
The fuel window at Phoenix is approximately 90 laps. With a 60-lap first Stage, that is an easy calculation. Whether the tires will last that long is the question everyone wants answered.
No one opted to split the stage in half by taking tires around the 30-lap mark. Drivers rose and fell on the leaderboard depending on the handle adjusted into their race cars. With ten laps to go in Stage One, Byron held a 2.62-second lead. Kevin Harvick(4) moved from the 15th starting position into the top ten by the time the green and white checkered flag waved.
Joey Logano(22) went a lap down in Stage one but held onto the lucky dog position as the first car a lap down when the Stage ending caution was displayed. Allowing him to rejoin the lead lap for the restart.
Stage One Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson was first off pit road after Stage ending pit stops. Byron came out right behind him. The pair battled back and forth for the lead on the restart. This time Larson held off the charge of his teammate.
Hamlin was the first of the lead pack to pit 58 laps into Stage Two. Larson and Byron came to pit road on the next lap. That opened the door for all of the lead lap cars to come in for service.
After all pit stops cycled through, Larson maintained the lead, Byron ran second, with Hamlin in third. Harvick entered the top five in fourth, with Ross Chastain(1) in fifth. Kyle Busch(8) was nabbed for being too fast on pit road, and then his crew allowed a tire to escape from their pit box, incurring an additional penalty.
On lap 137, Aric Almirola(10) had a wheel come loose on the right front of his car as he approached the flag stand. The tire exploded, and the wheel came apart, sending debris across the race track. Almirola hit the wall and broke the right rear toe link when he impacted the outside wall. His crew was able to repair the car, but he faced a two-lap penalty for losing the wheel on the track.
Despite having changed tires just a few laps earlier, the field came back to pit road for new Goodyear rubber. Again Larson stayed out front with Byron exiting the pits right behind him.
With 30 laps to go in Stage Two, Larson led Byron by almost a second. Harvick, Keselowski, and Hamlin followed.
Either Byron or Larson has led every lap of the race, with the exception of two laps during green flag pit stops.
Stage Two Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Once more, Larson was first off pit road. However, Harvick exited second, and he will restart on the front row. Byron lines up behind Larson, and they both drive low when the green flag drops. The top three hold their positions, but Keselowski begins to put pressure on Byron for the third spot.
Green flag pit stops may well determine the winner of the race. Expect teams to split the final Stage in half, with service stops coming with 55 to 65 laps to go. Of course, a caution flag throws a wrench in everything.
The top three remain static. Keselowski dropped to sixth behind Bell and Tyler Ressick(45) with 75 laps to go. Defending race champion Chase Briscoe(14) and Hamlin fight it out for seventh. Ryan Blaney(12) and Alex Bowman(48) fill out the Top 10.
Green flag pit stops began with 66 laps to go. Larson and Harvick were first and second among the leaders after stops. Erik Jones(43) was the only lead lap driver to stay out, and he inherited the race lead. If the caution comes out, Jones’s gamble will pay off. If not, and he pits under green, he will likely lose two laps.
Larson passed Jones with 51 laps to go, and eight laps later, Harvick passed Larson for the lead. With a car that seems to come in on the long runs, Harvick begins to pull away and hopes the race finishes under green.
Jones fell out of the top ten and eventually pitted with 31 laps to go. Out front, Harvick built an almost two-second lead. The interval will rise and fall as both leaders have caught lapped traffic and have to work around drivers who are trying to avoid going a lap down.
With 20 laps to go, Harvick built the lead to over three seconds. As the laps wound down, Harvick grew the interval between him and Larson. Then with ten laps to go, Harrison Burton spun down the front stretch, the right front blew, and scattered debris all over the track. The one thing Harvick did not want to see happen did. The caution came out.
Everyone pitted for new tires. However, some teams opted only to take two new Goodyears. Larson, Byron, Blaney, Chastain, Kyle Busch, and Hamlin all took only two. Harvick took four and came out seventh. The restart will come with three laps to go. Who made the right call?
Ty Gibbs got into the wall in turn two, bringing out the caution and sending the race into NASCAR overtime. Reddick replaced Busch in the top seven. Harvick could not take advantage of the four tires and remained in seventh. Will it be the last yellow flag?
Byron and Larson went door-to-door for the lead as they fanned out three wide behind the leaders. Byron prevailed and took the win. Ryan Blaney took advantage of the low side of the track to run second. Tyler Reddick, with four fresh tires, took third. Kyle Larson finished fourth, and the most disappointed man in the place, Kevin Harvick, finished fifth.
Of note, Josh Berry(9), subbing for Chase Elliott, finished in the 10th position.
Byron becomes the first two-time winner in 2023. The series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway next Sunday, and The Lasco Press will be on hand to report live all weekend.
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings
|1||William Byron||144||In Win(2)|
|2||Kyle Busch||122||In Win|
|3||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||104||In Win|
|11||Martin Truex Jr.||122||+41|
|NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the United Rentals Work United 500 from Phoenix Raceway
|17||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2.154||317|
|19||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.387||317|