Game of chicken pays off for William Byron with Phoenix win

AVONDALE, Ariz.—William Byron out-dueled Kyle Larson in the desert on Sunday.

Despite dominant runs by Larson and Kevin Harvick, two late-race cautions changed the complexion of the United Rentals 500.

With a stellar launch on the final restart and a push from Tyler Reddick down the backstretch, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet sailed off to his first victory at Phoenix Raceway and his second win in as many weeks.

“Owe the last couple weeks to him,” Byron said of crew chief Rudy Fugle’s two-tire pit call. “He's done a really good job strategy-wise and execution-wise we've done a good job to put ourselves in those positions on the front row with a shot at the end.

“Thanks to everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports, putting together great cars, doing a great job. This is a big credit to them, engine shop, Mr. Hendrick, everybody.”

Ryan Blaney, who gave Larson a nudge on the restart, slipped into second for his first top-five result of 2023. Reddick finished third followed by Larson, Harvick, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman and Josh Berry. 

“We did a good job of putting two on it there,” Blaney said of the No. 12 team’s tire strategy. “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.” 

Byron took the lead from Larson on the second lap and led the first 62 laps en route to the Stage 1 win. Aric Almirola triggered the first accident on Lap 138 when the wheel broke on the No. 10 Ford and he hit the wall out of Turn 4. Following repairs to the wheel and the toe link, Almirola served a two-lap penalty and finished 33rd.

After the field pitted, Larson led Byron off of pit road with Denny Hamlin, Harvick and Ross Chastain in tow. When the race restarted on Lap 147, Harvick surged to fourth while Bell passed Brad Keselowski for sixth.

Chase Briscoe, who restarted the second stage 12th, worked his way into the top 10 on Lap 169 after Bowman slipped in Turn 2. Larson maintained the point and held on to win Stage 2. Byron, Harvick, Keselowski, Reddick, Hamlin, Bell, Blaney, Chastain and Briscoe received stage points.

The third and final stage started on Lap 195 with Larson in the lead, but Harvick was on the move. Larson executed a solid restart and extended his lead by more than 3.5 seconds before green-flag pit stops. Larson left pit road on Lap 248 and cycled back to the lead on Lap 261 after Erik Jones pitted.

Eight laps later, Harvick passed Larson low for the lead. The veteran appeared to have his 10th win at the track in hand when Harrison Burton spun at the start-finish. Pit stops proved to be the game changer. The decision for the No. 4 team to take four tires mired Harvick in seventh-place and turned the lead over to Larson. Byron lined up alongside followed by Blaney, Reddick, Chastain, Hamlin, Harvick and Bell.

Before the field could complete the first lap, Ty Gibbs wrecked on the backstretch and then piled into the back of the AJ Allmendinger/Noah Gragson skirmish.

Once again, the drivers lined up to battle with Larson in the lead and Byron in second. Larson cruised to the bottom, then pushed Byron towards the wall on the backstretch. But the No. 24 had enough momentum to take the lead and the win.

“I had a really good launch,” Byron said. “No wheel spin. At that point I was just focusing how can I get through the gears, how can I side draft Kyle. When they all pulled down to the apron, the outside guys at a bit of a disadvantage because of the distance. Trying to stay as close as I could there.

“Then it's who can beat each other to the corner without hitting the wall. We both got in there deep, both were up the track. He held me really tight there through the middle of one and two, off of two. There was just enough grip up there. I think I was just far enough up on him I was able to stay in it.”

The 25-year-old racer, who is in his sixth season with Hendrick Motorsports, continued to prove he won’t be pushed around.

“In my situation having a win, him not having a win yet, like, I assumed he would be more aggressive,” Byron said. “But my counter was that I got a win, I'm going to do whatever I can, too. It was a game of chicken a little bit.”

For the second-straight week, he’s held his own against the most naturally talented driver in the paddock—his teammate Larson.

“Restarts are just tough,” said Larson, who led a race-high 201 laps. “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. 

“Yeah, I'm pissed off. Great fight by the team, great car, way better than we were here last year.”

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