NASCAR Barometer: Hendrick Motorsports Dominates Las Vegas

NASCAR Barometer: Hendrick Motorsports Dominates Las Vegas

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

What a range of emotions Hendrick Motorsports must feel after the week in Las Vegas. News breaks before cars hit track on Friday that Chase Elliott suffered a broken left tibia in a snowboarding accident and will be out of the car for several weeks. Josh Berry was given the tough task of having to pilot a Next Gen car for the first time ever and struggled to a 29th place finish on Sunday behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet. On the other side of things, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman finished 1-2-3 in what was one of the most dominant performances we've seen by a team in the Next Gen era. Those three drivers combined to lead 241 of the 271 laps on Sunday at the Pennzoil 400 and scored the most points of anyone across all three stages. 

UPGRADE

William Byron - Byron became just the third driver in the Next Gen era to sweep all three stages of a race, joining Chase Elliott at Atlanta-2 and Kyle Larson at Homestead-Miami last year. Byron's speed was apparent in practice, easily topping the 10-lap averages and then putting his No. 24 machine on the front row in qualifying. Larson was really the only other driver to be able to match Byron's pace throughout much of the day, and the No. 24 team was able to beat the No. 5 team with a quick two-tire pit stop to start on the front row for the Green-White-Checker

What a range of emotions Hendrick Motorsports must feel after the week in Las Vegas. News breaks before cars hit track on Friday that Chase Elliott suffered a broken left tibia in a snowboarding accident and will be out of the car for several weeks. Josh Berry was given the tough task of having to pilot a Next Gen car for the first time ever and struggled to a 29th place finish on Sunday behind the wheel of the No. 9 Chevrolet. On the other side of things, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman finished 1-2-3 in what was one of the most dominant performances we've seen by a team in the Next Gen era. Those three drivers combined to lead 241 of the 271 laps on Sunday at the Pennzoil 400 and scored the most points of anyone across all three stages. 

UPGRADE

William Byron - Byron became just the third driver in the Next Gen era to sweep all three stages of a race, joining Chase Elliott at Atlanta-2 and Kyle Larson at Homestead-Miami last year. Byron's speed was apparent in practice, easily topping the 10-lap averages and then putting his No. 24 machine on the front row in qualifying. Larson was really the only other driver to be able to match Byron's pace throughout much of the day, and the No. 24 team was able to beat the No. 5 team with a quick two-tire pit stop to start on the front row for the Green-White-Checker finish. This was Byron's fifth career victory and first since Martinsville last April. This team has gotten off to strong starts the last couple seasons, but has lost speed over the summer months. Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle are focused on making sure that doesn't happen again in 2023. 

Kyle Larson - Larson was able to bounce back from a mechanical issue last week at Auto Club with an strong performance at one of his best race tracks in Las Vegas. Larson finished second to his teammate William Byron in all three stages and finished with 63 laps led. After getting out front of Byron during a pit stop cycle near the beginning of Stage 3, Larson was able to pull away from the field. Unfortunately, a late race caution would bunch everyone back together and force Larson to settle for second after his crew was just barely beat by the No. 24 bunch. With Chase Elliott now gone for at least the next couple months, Larson will need to step up as the leader of the Hendrick camp and continue to give the the team these kind of runs. 

Alex Bowman - It's a Hendrick theme this week and Bowman had another strong showing. The No. 48 car faded a bit during the first run of the race, but after some adjustments that car absolutely came to life. Bowman came back to finish seventh in Stage 1 and then moved through a bunch of Toyota's in the second and third stages to scored third place finishes in both. Bowman is now just three points back of the points lead and has the best average finish (5.3) of any driver through the first three races. Bowman has notched seven wins during his time with Hendrick Motosports, but the knock on him has always been the consistency. This is certainly a great start to the season in that department and now we head to Bowman's home track of Phoenix. 

Christopher Bell - The 45 points that Bell scored on Sunday were the most of the non-Hendrick brigade. Bell even lost track position a couple different times, but great strategy and pit work by the No. 20 crew was able to get their driver back into position to challenge inside the top-five. Bell now joins Alex Bowman as the only drivers to have multiple top-five finishes in the first three races. Bell doesn't have the best track history in the Cup Series at Phoenix, but always ran strong here in the Xfinity Series and his crew chief Adam Stevens always gave Kyle Busch a fast car at Phoenix in their years together. 

Brad Keselowski - A 17th place finish won't light up the cameras, but throughout the majority of the race it was Keselowski who was the best running Ford driver. It was a really good weekend for RFK after some struggles at these types of tracks last season. Keselowski would qualify in seventh and then scored stage points in both stages while also leading five laps. Things are definitely looking up for Keselowski after he led the most laps in the Daytona 500, came back from being spun out to finish seventh at Auto Club, and then showed speed at Las Vegas. The veteran will head to a flat one-mile track where RFK, and Ford in general, ran a lot better on last year than some of the high speed intermediates. 

DOWNGRADE

Ty Gibbs - Many were excited about the defending Xfinity Series champion's prospects for this race at Las Vegas after he qualified fourth, but as soon as the green flag waived he dropped like a rock through the field. It had to hurt even more seeing that most of the rest of the Toyota's filled out the majority of the top-10 throughout much of the day behind those three Hendrick cars. Gibbs got to drive a 23XI Racing car throughout most of the second half of last season while Kurt Busch was recovering from a concussion, so he isn't truly a rookie in these cars. Patience still needs to be used here and we just have to recognize that Gibbs will likely be outrun by his other talented JGR teammates most weeks going forward. 

Chase Briscoe - It has been a nightmare start to the season for Briscoe. He wrecked out early in the Daytona 500 and then ran between 25th and 30th for much of the race at both Auto Club and Las Vegas. Kevin Harvick is really the only thing that's been keeping SHR afloat and it has to make Tony Stewart and Gene Haas wonder about the future of their Cup team with Harvick set to retire at the end of the season and their other three cars running so bad. Briscoe made the Round of 8 last season so there was hope coming into 2023 that Briscoe could step up as that lead driver for the long-term future of the team, but clearly that hasn't happened yet. Briscoe is in desperate need of a good run going to Phoenix where he picked up his first win last year. 

Austin Dillon - After such great runs in the Clash, Daytona 500, and Auto Club, many thought RCR would have another really strong performance at Las Vegas. That was not the case and Dillon in particular was way off. The No. 3 car was lapped at the end of every stage and didn't spend too many laps higher than 25th place. Hopefully this is just a case of a missed setup, but Dillon is always due for a few really bad runs like this every season. It'll be hard for him to bounce back at Phoenix, a track where he has only a 20.4 average finish and only has a pair of top-10's in 18 career starts. 

Tyler Reddick - Reddick is in need of a smooth, incident-free weekend. He was crashed out at both Daytona and Auto Club, then came to Las Vegas where a mechanical issue caused him to get zero practice laps and miss out on qualifying. Surprisingly, Reddick actually drove it straight to the front on the first run, but once everyone was able to put some adjustments in, the No. 45 was really just a 15th place car. The good news is that Reddick was able to keep what was a very loose car in one piece this week, but he was quite clearly off the pace of most of the other Toyota's, and more notably his teammate Bubba Wallace who finished fourth. Reddick has scored the same amount of points this season as Travis Pastrana, who only drove one race for 23XI Racing. He's gotta figure something out going to Phoenix where he owns a 21.0 average finish in six career starts. 

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Penske Racing - I could have put the whole Ford camp in general here, but even in recent years when some of the other Ford teams have been off, Penske has at least come through for the blue ovals and given them some solid showings. This race was just a disaster for the most part for Penske Racing who had Joey Logano starting on pole, Ryan Blaney starting third, and Austin Cindric starting ninth. After about 10 laps, all of the Penske cars just fell through the field. Over the last decade Penske has been notorious for having short-run speed, but even then they never fell off this bad. Not a single stage point was scored by a Penske driver on Sunday, and to make matters worse defending champion Joey Logano was taken out at the start of Stage 3 and was relegated to a last place finish. We expect this team to bounce back, but it was shocking to see how far off on race pace this team was on a type of track that we will see plenty of other times throughout the season. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan  Andrade
Ryan has covered golf, college basketball, and motorsports for RotoWire since 2016. He was nominated for "DFS Writer of the Year" in 2021 and 2023 by the FSWA.
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