Coming off pit road as the first car on two tires, William Byron lined up alongside Martin Truex Jr. (who stayed out from fourth place) for an overtime restart. Byron made quick work of Truex with fresh rubber and then cruised to his fifth career NASCAR Cup Series win and his first at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 5. Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman came home second and third to complete a 1-2-3 sweep for Hendrick Motorsports.
But What Really Happened?
In an uncharacteristically uneventful race for the Next Gen car at 1.5-mile tracks, Hendrick Motorsports was the story out front for the entire afternoon. HMS cars combined to lead all but 30 of the 271 laps, and once Byron took the lead from polesitter Joey Logano on lap 10, no one was able to touch him for the first two stages.
With a car that has wowed on the intermediate tracks since its inception, the first two stages ran caution free and were largely devoid of action out front. Byron was on cruise control after taking the lead in stage one and only Larson was able to keep pace with him by the time stage one concluded.
Stage two was much of the same. Larson was once again the only car to keep touch of Byron, who was in his own zip code by this point. Byron swept the stages for the first time in his Cup career, and the No. 24 car was sitting pretty after retaining the lead for the start of the final stage.
But a three-wide squeeze sent Logano into the outside wall and spinning through the grass on lap 183, and Byron lost the lead on pit road after leading 172 of the first 185 laps.
Larson took control of the race after the dust settled on the restart and with 10 laps to go, it was the No. 5 car with a near insurmountable lead over Byron. But the caution came out for Aric Almirola with four laps to go, and it was deja vu from this race one year ago as the leaders had a choice to make on pit road once again.
Four tires was the losing call last year, and all the frontrunners sans Truex took two tires this time around. But Larson had a longer pit stop that allowed Byron to have a front-row starting spot on the restart, and that proved to be the difference as the Las Vegas spring race was won (and lost) on pit road for the second straight year.
Who stood out?
Coming off of a somewhat frustrating 2022 that saw him win twice but only finish in the top 10 11 times, the No. 24 car meant business from the moment the green flag dropped. Byron ended the day with 176 laps led, and he is now 4-for-5 in winning Cup races where he reaches triple digits.
Larson and Bowman completed the Hendrick dominance, as both cars ran in the top five for essentially the entire afternoon.
Joe Gibbs Racing appeared to have the second-most speed behind HMS, as Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Truex were all fixtures in the top five and 10 throughout the race. Bell finished fifth and Truex finished seventh, and while the running order didn’t completely reflect the team’s day (Hamlin was third before the final caution and finished 11th), it appears that Gibbs has top-five speed to start off the season on intermediates.
Bubba Wallace led the charge for 23XI Racing and only got better as the race went on; he ended the day in fourth as the first car behind the Hendrick trio.
Ross Chastain backed up his speed at Auto Club Speedway by being the fastest Chevy behind HMS, but like Hamlin, he fell back to 12th in the overtime restart shuffle after running top five for much of the day.
Who fell flat?
Logano and Ryan Blaney both started out front, but they quickly fell backward in the first stage and struggled to run in the top 10 from there.
Stewart-Haas Racing was completely out to lunch outside of Kevin Harvick, as Aric Almirola, Ryan Preece and Chase Briscoe finished 16th, 23rd and 28th, respectively, after running there for much of the race.
Brad Keselowski was the strongest Ford at the start and looked impressive in the first two stages, but that did not hold toward the end as he wound up 17th.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the final caution was Austin Cindric, who finished sixth after having an average running position of 18th. But he and Harvick (ninth) were the only Fords to finish in the top 10, and not a single Ford driver had an average running position better than 11th.
And for as dominant as Chevrolet has been, Austin Dillon was nowhere to be found in the front half of the field. He started 26th, had an average running position of 27th and finished 27th by the end of the afternoon.
Better than last time?
If you’re a fan of Hendrick Motorsports, yes.
Otherwise, this race fell flat compared to last season.
The field was spaced out through three long green-flag runs and unlike the finish of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, there was no serious challenge for the lead. Larson did begin closing on Byron toward the end of the first two stages, but he immediately drifted back when dealing with lapped traffic.
The race saw three green-flag passes for the lead and all but one of them came within five laps of a restart. The restarts and the dozen laps afterward were intense throughout the afternoon, but the race turned tedious once everything settled into place.
The next 1.5-mile track on the schedule that doesn’t rely on drafting is Kansas Speedway in May. And while it’s too early to draw any conclusions for the next several weeks, Chevrolet has had everyone’s number to start off 2023.
Paint scheme of the race
From starting on the pole to falling outside the top 10 and finishing dead last after a mid-race crash, it was certainly not the result that three-time Las Vegas winner Logano had hoped for.
But his new-look Pennzoil scheme still deserves a shoutout for its sleek design, its mix of black and yellow and its resemblance to NASCAR’s past.
Because while no connection was ever announced, the black stripes on Logano’s No. 22 bared a striking resemblance to Steve Park‘s Pennzoil paint scheme for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Logano has traditionally run the all-Pennzoil car for both Las Vegas races in years past, so this scheme will be put back on the shelf until October.
NASCAR continues its West Coast swing for its third and final stop at Phoenix Raceway.
Chase Briscoe scored his first Cup win at Phoenix a year ago in March and defending Cup Series champion Logano dominated the November edition to claim his second championship.
This race will also be the debut for the new aero package designed for short tracks, 1-mile tracks and road courses; the Next Gen car received considerable criticism in year one for the majority of races at these facilities.
The Ruoff Mortgage 500, race number four of the 2023 season, will take place on Sunday, March 12 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf joined Frontstretch in September 2021 and currently pens the weekly columns 4 Burning Questions and Stat Sheet. He also contributes to Frontstretch with social media, editing and rotating commentary while occasionally serving as an on-site reporter. A Texas native, Stephen started following NASCAR at age 9.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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The race was decided by another G-W-C finish. Caution laps shouldn’t count during the last 10 laps of a race. Was Vegas a sellout like Fontana last week too?
Looked like Plenty of good seats available there!
The California race was excellent compared to the super boring Vegas race. Vegas was easily the worst race of the year and it wasn’t just because Hendrick stunk up the show.
There were definitely quite a few empty seats at CA even though it was supposedly sold out, but there were far more at Vegas.
For all intents and purposes the race was just one more mile and a half unwatchable follow the leader. Yea, I couldn’t even watch it to the finish of the first stage….it was that bad….
Yes, it was a boring race. The race looked more like a typical pre-Nextgen car race at a 1.5 mile track. Which makes me wonder, were the exciting 1.5 mile races last year just the result of the new car? If so, now that the teams have figured it out, can we expect all the 1.5 races to be similar from here on out? That would not be good, but I fear that might be the case.
The only good thing is that the car that deserved to win, the one that led the most laps, did win.
So another late event caution that wasn’t needed to set up a GWC to give the Toys a last shot at the Mr. H cars. Who’da thunk that would happen. And another last lap crash with no caution. Who’da thunk that either? If you recorded it you could watch it again at bed time since Brian’s product is cheap medicine for insomnia.
Remember, in NASCAR’s eyes it isn’t as much about who wins or loses, it’s about creating “game 7 moments” and “hail Mary” opportunities.
The Daytona Brain Trust (?) is keeping Brian’s vision alive and thriving.
It’s an “entertainment” event not a “race”.
Where was Truex running when the last caution came out? I missed that, and don’t know if the gamble paid off or not.
And yes, another quick caution for a single car spin, but no caution for multiple cars spinning on the back stretch during the final lap. Interesting…..
He was running fourth. Might have worked out if anyone stayed out with him. Ended up seventh, could have been worse.
Re: Could have been worse…. see Denny Hamlin,,, hahaha.
A SNOOZE FEST! For a track that has multiple grooves, there wasnt much action.
Been to this race many times over the years and have never seen it so empty. Unfortunately the racing did not help the cause, super boring follow the leader no passing at all. Usually takes hours to get out of parking lot and back to strip but hardly any traffic made it a breeze. Not sure I will be back unless a reconfigure is in the works.