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William Barton took the win for Hendrick Motorsports in the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday March 12, 2023. (Photo Courtesy of Olivia Dow)
William Barton took the win for Hendrick Motorsports in the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday March 12, 2023. (Photo Courtesy of Olivia Dow)

Column: NASCAR Rolls into Phoenix

The action-packed weekend was full of twists and turns. (literally!)

Nascar closed its three-week west coast swing with its annual visit to Phoenix Raceway. The Craftsman Trucks series was off this week and was replaced with the ARCA Menards series.

The weekend got kicked off on Friday with Cup series practice and the ARCA Menards series race on Friday night. Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson topped Cup Series practice on Friday night leading into Sunday’s main event.

Friday was capped off with the ARCA Menards series General Tire 150. For those who may not know Nascar or are just new to the sport the ARCA Menards series is like the level of single A baseball. This is the series where most drivers get their start in the Nascar national series with hopes of climbing the ladder and making it to the big show. The race was very exciting and came down to an overtime finish to decide a winner. After everything was said and done 15-year-old Tyler Reif got his first ever ARCA Menards series win in just his third start. Friday was a great day of action, but things were just heating up at the track.

Saturday at Phoenix Raceway was filled with tons of on-track action between the Nascar Xfinity series and Nascar Cup series. Xfinity series had practice, qualifying and a race while the Cup series just had qualifying. Thousands filed into the grandstands and infield to watch and even get up close and personal to the cars. During practice and qualifying security is much more relaxed so it is a great way to get up close to the cars and meet your favorite drivers.

For Saturday’s practice former Cup series driver and now full time Xfinity series driver Cole Custer had the fastest lap with Cup series driver Kyle Busch right behind him in second. Right after practice came qualifying and the cream of the crop rose to the top. Just like practice the 00 of Cole Custer had the fastest lap earning him pole position for the race later that day. Chevrolet dominated by having six of the top ten starters for the race.

Now onto the Xfinity race itself. The quick 200 lap race was action packed despite it being one of the shortest races of the season. Despite the few numbers of laps over a fourth of the race was run under the caution flag. There were 11 cautions that resulted in 69 total laps under yellow. 18-year-old Sammy Smith for Joe Gibbs Racing led a race high 92 laps including the one that matters most. Smith captured the checkered flag for his first Xfinity series win and became the youngest driver to ever win in the Nascar Xfinity series. In his post-race interview Smith said “This is a dream come true, and I did not know that at some point this was coming. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of great people around me. Without all of these guys, I wouldn’t be here.”

After all the excitement on track for Saturday’s Xfinity race it was time for Sunday’s main event. During Sunday afternoon’s drivers meeting Phoenix Raceway track president Latasha Causey announced that the race was sold out. This marks the third race out of four to be sold out to start the 2023 Nascar season. The Hendrick Motorsports stable dominated most of the race having the 24 of William Byron and the pole sitter Kyle Larson battling for the lead for most of the race. The caution flag for the end of stage one came at lap 60 seeing the 24 of William Byron win the first stage. The second stage was calm except for one caution caused by the 10 of Aric Almirola. At lap 139 Almirola came off turn four and hit the wall causing his wheel hub to fly off. This prompted the only caution of stage 2. Larson led all but three laps in stage two and ended up leading the most important one, the last lap of stage two. The number one pit stall continued to help Larson retain his lead going into stage three. Stage three was as calm as stage two until the end. In stage three there was one round of green flag pit stops that saw the lead change hands momentarily until Larson would get it back. Larson would be put up to the challenge by the master of Phoenix himself Kevin Harvick. For the better part of 10 laps with less than 50 laps in the race the two battled back in fourth. Harvick would get the better of Larson driving way seemingly looking at the victory. Everyone thought Harvick was about to win his tenth race at Phoenix but not everyone cooperated with that. At lap 303 Harrison Burton blew a tire and spun out causing a yellow flag. All the cars on the lead lap came down pit road and things got interesting. A total of six cars decided to change two tires instead of four and came out in front of Harvick. Harvick ended up coming off pit road in seventh place making his battle an uphill climb until the end. Teammates Byron and Larson who had dominated all day found themselves at the front again toward the end. There was one last yellow that put the race into overtime. On the final restart Byron got the better of teammate Larson and took home the checkered flag for his second win in a row.

Byron said that the new aero package was hard to drive and that everyone’s true talents came on full display today.

Byron will go for his third win in a row next week as Nascar travels back east and stops in Atlanta.


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