One way or another, a Hendrick Motorsports driver figured to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas.
Kyle Larson nearly won the Pennzoil 400 in regulation, but a late caution put teammate William Byron in position to capture the checkered flag in overtime.
Byron took the lead on the second-to-last lap of OT to put an exclamation mark on a dominant day for Hendrick. The top three drivers were from Hendrick, with Byron, Larson and Alex Bowman pushing their Chevrolets across the finish line in that order.
Bowman won last year’s March race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Byron led 176 laps and won for the fifth time in his six Cup seasons.
“I’ve led a lot of laps in a couple of races, but to be this good with this team is definitely a good sign,” Byron said. “It’s a different feeling for me having a team around me that can execute that well. That’s just a team effort.”
Larson appeared headed for victory when Aric Almirola hit the wall in turn four on lap No. 264, leading to the second caution of the day.
“I feel like I could have eight or 10 more Cup wins if it wasn’t for cautions in the last five laps,” Larson said. “I don’t remember many of those working out in my favor.”
Most of the leaders pitted a lap later, with only Martin Truex Jr. in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota choosing to stay out. Byron, in the No. 24 Chevy, came out of pit road ahead of Larson and then easily overtook Truex after the restart.
Byron, who started in the first row with Joey Logano, swept both stages for the first time in his career. Truex in 2017 and Kevin Harvick in 2018 also won both stages in Las Vegas and went on to win.
ELLIOTT TO BEGIN REHAB
Chase Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion, will begin physical therapy Monday, his team owner Rick Hendrick told Fox Sports.
Elliott had surgery Friday to repair a fractured tibia, and Hendrick said Elliott has returned to his home in Dawsonville, Georgia. Elliott was injured in a snowboarding accident Friday. He and his family own a home in Vail, Colorado.
Elliott joked on Twitter “that the formal request I submitted for a slight edit to the March section of my script was indeed… declined.”
“In all seriousness, the support I’ve received over the last couple of days is far greater than I deserve,” he posted in a follow-up tweet. “I want to thank everyone who has lended it over in any form!”
Josh Berry took Elliott’s seat in the No. 9 Chevy and finished 29th. Hendrick general manager Jeff Andrews said a decision would be made on who drives that car next weekend at Phoenix.
DEFENDING CHAMP HITS WALL
Logano, the defending Cup champion who won the Las Vegas race in October, hit the wall in in turn four on lap No. 183, ending his day. He was running three-wide with Brad Keselowski in the middle and Kyle Busch on the apron when Logano bumped into Keselowski, sending his Team Penske No. 22 Ford into the wall.
“I’m sure (Keselowski) didn’t mean to do it,” Logano said. “What are you going to do, right? We got fenced.”
It was a tough day all around for Logano, who was running 15th after starting on the pole.
“Considering how we’ve been here in the past, you kind of expect it a little bit more performance today than what we had,” Logano said. “Just off on overall speed. We had the balance somewhat close, just not fast.”
TOP NON-HENDRICK CAR
Bubba Wallace, who drives the 23XI Racing No. 23 Toyota, finished fourth. He was the top finisher not part of the Hendrick garage.
“It was right there in the top seven or eight the whole time,” Wallace said. “I was going to settle for sixth and the caution came out. My car fired off really, really good (on the restart), the best it had all race.”
NO HOME-TRACK ADVANTAGE
Sunday’s first stage wasn’t kind to Las Vegas drivers Busch and Noah Gragson. Busch bumped the wall, and Gragson twice was penalized for speeding on pit road. Gragson later was docked a third speeding penalty.
Struggles in his hometown are nothing new for two-time Cup Series champion Busch, whose only top-level win at Las Vegas was in 2009. He was 14th Sunday.
Gragson, a Cup Series rookie, finished 30th.