LAS VEGAS—William Byron led Hendrick Motorsports to 1-2-3 finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Byron dominated the event leading 173 of the first 185 laps. While he was challenged by his teammate Kyle Larson, a late-race caution allowed Byron to seize the lead in overtime and hold on for his first victory at the 1.5-mile track.
“Just been really confident about the group of guys that I have on this 24 team,” Byron said. “They work extremely hard, and we spent a lot of time in the off-season just going through running at the sim with Chevy and running on iRacing and just trying to get better as a race car driver and as a team.
“It's all about the team. It's a great pit crew.”
Larson finished second followed by Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell.
But Byron was truly the class of the field. Although Joey Logano won the pole, Byron passed the No. 22 Ford 10 laps into the Pennzoil 400. He relinquished the lead during pitstops, then cycled back to the lead to win the first stage with Larson in tow on Lap 81.
The second stage continued caution free with Byron leading from the restart to the green-white-checkered for the Stage 2 win. Ten laps into the third and final stage, Logano attempted to take Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch three-wide entering Turn 4 while battling for 14th. He bounced off the wall and ended up spinning into the front stretch grass on Lap 183.
Logano insisted that Keselowski pinched him but the incident proved costly ending his run and his day.
“I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it,” said Logano, who finished 36th. “It is what it is. What are you going to do, right? We got fenced.”
The leaders pitted on Lap 184. With a two-tire stop, Denny Hamlin seized the lead on Lap 186 with Bowman, Larson and Byron, who exited the pits fourth after entering his box long.
Hamlin’s advantage was short-lived. The race returned to green on Lap 190 and five laps later, Larson was in command. He led 25 laps until green flag stops on Lap 220.
Larson cycled back to the lead on Lap 228 and appeared to have the race in hand until Aric Almirola hit the wall on Lap 264 to send the race into overtime.
“It's just part of Cup racing,” Larson said. “It seems like kind of laps down, lap by lap, and then sure enough, the yellow lights come on.”
Martin Truex Jr., elected to remain on track to gain the lead. But with the strength of the Hendrick Chevrolets, Truex was a sitting duck at the end.
“We just hoped we would get to the white (flag) and maybe they would crash,” said Truex who finished seventh. “We did okay the first lap. We held second there for almost a whole lap and got into one in second after the white so we were in pretty good shape there, but got real tight in one and two and got freight-trained down the backstretch.”
Byron was the first driver off pit road and took the outside line next to Truex. Larson elected to take the bottom lane behind the No. 19 Toyota and was blocked in for the restart.
“You've just got to get over that and then try to execute a good pit stop, and I thought I did a really good job getting to my sign, and getting to the commitment line,” Larson said. “I had a gap to William behind me, and their pit crew must have just did a really good job and got out in front of us, and that gave up the front row to us.
“I knew I was in trouble with the 19 staying out. I felt like William was going to get by him.”
With a push from Hamlin at the end, Byron took the lead and extended his time by .622-seconds over Larson at the finish.
“It was a great day, obviously,” Byron said. “I felt like in practice we had a good car. I was a little bit nervous about the wind today and how that would change what we had going on and whether or not we'd be as strong, but just kind of the consensus, I guess, in the garage and then talking to some of the drivers, they were pretty confident about what we had going on. I was happy about that.
“We started the race good. I thought Kyle was really strong. He could stay close to me for a lot of the runs in the first and second stage, and I felt like I was a little bit tight, but just trying to navigate lap traffic and navigate the wind and how that would change the handling.”
Austin Cindric was the top finishing Ford in sixth. Truex, Justin Haley, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10. Ross Chastain, who finished 12th, retained the points lead.
Byron, who swept both stages for the first time in his career en route to his fifth victory in 183 starts, was thrilled to win so early in the season.
“Just happy with getting the first win of the year,” Byron said. “It's been a while since we've won. It's been almost a year, and it's nice to kind of just get back to what I feel like we're capable of.
“Yeah, it's been up and down, but I feel like this is what we're capable of every week.”