NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN)

Can Harvick Pick Up 10th Phoenix Victory?

When he won at the Phoenix Raceway in 2018, Kevin Harvick became just the ninth different driver to have won nine or more times at a single track. Now he can attempt to become just the sixth driver to win 10 or more races at a single track with a win this weekend:

Drivers with 10 or More NASCAR Cup Series Wins at a Single Track

Race WinnersNo. of TracksTracks With 10 or More Wins
Richard Petty5Martinsville (15), North Wilkesboro (15), Richmond (13), Rockingham (11) Daytona (10)
Darrell Waltrip3Bristol (12), Martinsville (11), North Wilkesboro (10)
Jimmie Johnson1Dover (11)
David Pearson1Darlington (10)
Dale Earnhardt1Talladega (10)

In saying that, Harvick hasn’t exactly been like the Harvick of old at Phoenix lately. While he does have seven wins to go along with nine top two finishes in his last 20 starts, to go along with finishing worse than sixth just three times since 2012, he’s not won since the track was reconfigured. He’s 0-for-6.

I think part of this is two fold though.

Step 1 is that this change has been his kryptonite. It’s kind of like we all saying if Kyle Larson could ever get to the Championship 4 when the final race was held at Homestead, then just give him the trophy in prerace. Well, we all thought that about Harvick when the final round was moved to Phoenix for last few years. Harvick, was eliminated in the Round of 8 the last two seasons and even if he made the final round, he said his car wasn’t good enough to compete for a championship. He finished seventh and eighth respectively in those two championship deciding races.

6 of his last 7 Phoenix results have seen him finish fifth or worse. 10 of his previous 13 on the old configuration saw him finish fourth or better.

The second part is that Harvick hasn’t been very Harvick like lately.

Harvick won nine times in 2020 but all came in the first 29 races. In fact, if you go back to the end of the 2019 season, he had 10 wins in 32 starts. But, over his last 46 starts, he’s been shutout. He was only 30th, 7th and 12th so far this year and looking a lot now like he did in 2021.

“We struggled with traffic on the restarts, but we worked through it and everyone on the crew did a good job,” Harvick said of last weekend in Vegas, a spot that he’s been very good at in the past too.

He currently sits 16th in points. In house, that’s third out of four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers. Aric Almirola leads the way with three top sixes in as many starts this season and sits sixth in points. Chase Briscoe is 14th.

For Harvick, it just doesn’t look much better for him yet but the season is still early too. Can he regain his 2020 magic? Being in contention to win on Sunday would go a long way.



AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 07: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 07, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

How Much Do You Prepare For November?

Phoenix is this weekend, but for the third consecutive year, this track will serve as the championship decider in November too. While we’ve only had three races to start the 2022 season in the books and Sunday’s race being the fourth, how much do you look ahead to November rather than focus too much on this weekend?

I mean, we know only three of the drivers in this weekend’s field will even be championship eligible the next time we come to Phoenix this Fall. In order to focus on the championship, you first have to make the playoffs and right now, only Austin Cindric, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman can say that they’re definitely going to be in them. Why throw away a shot at a win and focus on November when you don’t even know if you’ll be in a championship position come November anyways?

But, with minimal practice again this weekend, why not build that notebook even more just in case that it does translate over? I mean, how much did the drivers last year go to November basing setup off the March race? Do they expect to do so again this time around in 2022? Plus, how much does the track differ from the spring race and the fall race?

Most drivers say very little. So what you have this weekend will be similar to November.

If that’s the case, then why not keep one eye on the track this weekend but one eye to the future for this track too? Why not try something that may only work in November? A championship can be won by decisions make for this weekend’s race.

Well, with how this new COVID era of NASCAR is going, track time is even more important. Plus, with everyone trying to keep learning this car, this weekend can serve as the ultimate test session for everyone.


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Did West Coast Swing Serve Its Purpose?

I wrote leaving Daytona that the trip out west is going to set the cursor for the rest of the 2022 NASCAR season. Now that it’s about to come to a close, did it serve it’s purpose?

See, 2022 is a new era in NASCAR. A new car which features new number placement, a new way to pit cars, a new schedule for a second year to go along with basically a new everything. It took a leap of faith and arguably a major risk to move the Clash from NASCAR’s backyard at the Daytona International Speedway to the LA Coliseum.

It paid off. That was a major success. An 168% TV increase paved the way for more opportunities to grow this sport even further in suburban markets.

It drew a 2.32 rating which equates out to 4.283-million. By comparison, Fox Sports 1 saw 1.577 million viewers for the 2021 race which was a .93 rating. That was down almost 1 million people as 2.455 million tuned into the 2020 Busch Clash.

Granted, the 2020 race was on a Sunday afternoon on the oval compared to 2021 on a weeknight on the road course. 

Still, this year’s race outdrew last year’s by almost 3 million people and nearly doubled the last one held on a Sunday afternoon on the Daytona oval.

The guts that it took for NASCAR to take the leap and try an event like this and then seeing how practice went and how smooth everything has gone. The doors that are open have been blown wide open now,” said Kevin Harvick.

Also, the season finale at Phoenix last year drew a 1.95 rating with 3.214 million viewership. So the Clash out drew the championship deciding race by a million people as well. 

On top of that, the estimated attendance was north of 50k and some reports of 60k+. Daytona was lucky to draw 10k over the last few years, so they saw 5x the crowd and over double the viewership. 

Mission accomplished.

My photo from pre race Sunday in Daytona

Then we went to Daytona for the annual season opener. A buzz was hanging around the Florida racetrack for Speedweeks that saw chamber of commerce weather all week capped by a sold out Daytona 500.

Austin Cindric topped Bubba Wallace in the third closest finish in the events 64 year history. The estimated crowd of 135-150k were treated to a hell of a debut of the Next Gen.

Also the worries and concerns from this car seem to have dissipated. It wasn’t really a talking point.

Now, could NASCAR sustain this out west? The attention was back. The youth movement is here. We get a 23 year old Daytona 500 champion beating a 28 year old Bubba Wallace by .036-seconds at the finish.

27 year old Chase Briscoe was third. 28 year old Ryan Blaney fourth.

29 year old Kyle Larson won the pole for this years race after taking home last years championship. He then won in Fontana.

26 year old Chase Elliott signed a five-year extension to remain with Hendrick Motorsports, arguably NASCAR’s top team again.

You get team owners like Emmitt Smith (Xfinity Series) and Floyd Mayweather showing up. That comes after Michael Jordan and Pitbull entered last year.

NASCAR is booming again and the season will have nothing short of major storylines to come from it. The first two races of February further shifted NASCAR to a new era for the sport. A much brighter one too.

The main question was, would going west help or hurt them? They went back to the LA market, then to Vegas last weekend and now to Phoenix to close out the three week stretch. Three of the biggest markets the west has to offer before coming back east to Atlanta next week.

The question is, will the attention brought on to the sport leaving Daytona be the same returning east after Phoenix?

The first two races on the west coast swing were phenomenal. They were vastly better with this Next Gen car than the previous ones in recent memory. Will Phoenix be the same?

Will the attention match the product?

If not, is it a byproduct of going out west too early? I get that you have if all three tracks are going to have a spring date, it has to be early. That’s because Vegas and Phoenix have playoff dates and you don’t want them too close together. If Fontana doesn’t get a postseason date, then they also need to be grouped with Vegas and Phoenix in the spring because this track in the summer range around Sonoma is basically off limits due to the heat.

But, would it have served NASCAR better going to tracks closer to base after Daytona? The problem with that is, there’s not many available to race at in February or early March. The weather factor is a large one to consider.

You’re not doing Talladega a week after Daytona. Charlotte isn’t moving from the ‘600. Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond seem a bit early for that stretch. So, what do you do?

The west coast has great weather and you don’t have to worry about rain outs in these markets. It keeps the schedule going. But, do people tune out. How many fans can you keep from Daytona around between February and late March?

Scheduling is big.

NASCAR has the “it” factor and a boon coming. Can they sustain it better this time around?



Another Close Finish?

The margin of victory in the season opening Daytona 500 was .036-seconds. That was the third closest in the 64 year history of the race. Last week, Kyle Larson topped Austin Dillon by just .195-seconds in Fontana. That was the second closest finish in 31 tries at the Auto Club Speedway. On Sunday, Alex Bowman beat Larson by .178-seconds for the third closest finish in 29 races on the 1.5-mile Nevada race track.

We saw close finishes last year in Phoenix. Larson beat Truex Jr. By just .398-seconds last Fall. Hemric beat Cindirc in the Xfinity Series race a day prior last November by .030-seconds.

With this year combined with the last time out in Phoenix last November, get the cameras ready.


LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Is Hendrick Better Now Than Ever Before?

I wrote earlier last week that Rick Hendrick needed to get a quick grasp on this Kyle Larson vs Chase Elliott potential drama before it got out of control.

See, Hendrick Motorsports was very open to the fact last year that a large part of their new found success was a new culture that was being established within their North Carolina walls. While they had four separate teams within the organization, they would operate as one.

One team, one goal. One for all. No moving pieces in opposite direction. HMS wasn’t the 5 team (Kyle Larson), the 9 team (Chase Elliott), the 24 team (William Byron) and the 48 team (Alex Bowman). They were one.

Unfortunately, all that mantra was being threatened by a run-in between Larson and Elliott at Fontana. Towards the end of the race, Elliott had a run on Larson and Joey Logano for the lead and while Larson was moving to side draft Logano coming across the finish line, he moved up to break the air and push him forward. While doing so, he inadvertently pushed Elliott into the wall.

Larson said then that he didn’t know Elliott was there. His spotter even took the blame in saying he was focused on Logano and didn’t alert Larson that Elliott was outside until it was too late. Elliott, wasn’t very happy with Larson and rightfully so.

HMS officials and Larson said then that they’d all sit down with Elliott and his team to clear the air. Sounds like that happened and the big boss man led the talks.

“Rick called a meeting with all four teams and just kind of reiterated his expectations with us drivers, so it’s good to get those reminders every now and then,” Larson said Saturday from Las Vegas.

“We’ll continue to race good in the future with each other, so I’ll catch up more with Chase here in a little bit and we’ll be good.”

He said that they didn’t get to meet in person, but it was the first time since he’s been at HMS that Hendrick himself led the meeting.

“(Hendrick’s) been to competition meetings and stuff like that, and we’ve had multiple meetings about different things,” Larson said. “But as far as racing and stuff, that’s the first one I can remember him getting involved in.

“I think we all know his expectations and after the incident last weekend, it was good for him to get involved again and tell us what the expectations are.”

Well, here we were again at the end of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. HMS restarted 1-2-3 in overtime. All three on just two tires while the best cars over the second half of the race restarted fourth and fifth on four scuffed tires.

Would they play nicely?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Well, with only the fourth overtime in Cup Series history at Vegas, it only allowed for two green flag laps until the checkered. It allowed Larson and Bowman to pull away and battle each other for the win.

Bowman, prevailed by just .178-seconds in what was the third closest finish in Vegas history over Larson who netted his third runner-up in 12 starts on the 1.5-mile track. That ties Dale Earnhardt Jr. for most ever there.

This thing was so fast all day. Just never really had the track position we needed to show it,” Bowman said. “Man, what a call by (crew chief) Greg Ives and the guys to take two (tires) there. Obviously it paid off. Racing Kyle (Larson) is always fun. Got to race him for a couple wins. We’ve always raced each other super clean and super respectfully. Just can’t say enough about these guys. It’s been a pretty awful start to the year, so to come out here and get a win on a last restart deal is pretty special.”

Bowman says even he was shocked that the two tires worked.

“I was really surprised,” he said. “On the front row there, you have to run so much throttle. We had been free on the short run, pretty good on the long run. I mean, I kind of feel like I know. Obviously a lot has changed with this race car, but typically two tires tighten you up a ton.

“We were on old tires earlier in the day, like cold old tires. When we had the pit road issue, we came back and put old tires on. I was super tight the whole run. I was worried we were going to be super tight.

“On the front row, you got to drive it like it’s going to stick. Thankfully it stuck.”

Larson agreed.

“I was happy we made that call,” said Larson. “It’s kind of what I wanted to do and when I heard them say we were taking two tires, I was pleased by it. The grip was surprising. I had good grip there on two tires. I just got a little too focused on side-drafting him into (turn) three. Maybe if I could play it back again, I would try and just get a better arc and angle into three because when I got in there next to him, I just got really tight and had to lift out of the throttle.”

After how last week went between Larson and Chase Elliott, was Bowman thinking in his mind that with how Rick Hendrick led a meeting this past week that he’d take it easy on him?

“Uhm, I don’t know. I don’t know that there was, like, really something Kyle could have done any differently, or even if he was trying to be dirty about anything,” Bowman said. “He was super tight on my door, side drafting me as hard as he could. He just ended up getting tight in three and four.

“I think the talk was a big wake-up call. Obviously when Mr. H calls a meeting like that, it gets your attention, it’s always going to. Anytime Mr. H talks, he’s got your attention, but especially in a situation like that.

“I think Kyle and I historically have always raced each other really clean. I think that this was no different.”

This is good for them all because until they all talked HMS wasn’t operating as one team. There’s separation there. Now, they’ve proven that it’s squashed and HMS is sitting here with half of their fleet already locked into the playoffs with a start to the season that saw them sweep the front row for the Daytona 500 and win the next two races after.

“They raced really, really hard, I know that,” Jeff Gordon said of watching his cars race there at the end.

“I mean, when I came to Hendrick Motorsports it was: Race hard but don’t wreck your teammates. That’s what you do. You want to go race your teammates for wins and settle it among yourselves.

“I thought they raced one another clean but very aggressively. I talked to Kyle Larson there at the end. He said he was just trying really hard to get to the outside, stay on the outside of Alex, maybe even pushed it a little bit too hard, got the car tight.

“Alex, I was talking to him in Victory Lane, he’s like, I drove in there as hard as I possibly could. I wasn’t sure if it was going to stick, and it did.

“The conversation that Rick had with us was really more pertaining to what happened at the end of that race last week, those similar types of scenarios, blocking, also working through when things like that happen how you work through it internally.”

Does 2022 now rival 2021?

The 2021 season was extra special with what the Hendrick Motorsports organization was able accomplish. They took home their second straight championship via Larson’s triumph in Phoenix. It was their 17th win of the season.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, walks the grid during practice for NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports’ second-most in a single season and third-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972-Present). 2021 was the organization’s 36th straight season with a victory; longest-ever streak by a team in the series and its 37th season overall with a win; the most-ever by a team in the series. Plus, Hendrick Motorsports swept first and second in seven races last season; tied for the second-most all-time and most by a team in NASCAR’s Modern Era. They also became one of two teams in Cup Series history to finish 1-2 in four straight races (between Dover and Sonoma). And to top all of that, the organization became the all-time wins leader in the NASCAR Cup Series with 279 total Cup wins – lead all other teams by 11 victories. Kyle Larson’s win in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway broke the all-time record previously held by Petty Enterprises (268 wins).

The Hendrick Motorsport’s foursome of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman also became the only team in NASCAR’s Modern Era to win six straight races (between Dover and Pocono) and the only team in Cup history to have all four Cup cars entered in a race sweep the top-four finishes positions (Dover). They also became the first team in history with four winners under age 30 in a single season.

Absolutely,” Hendrick said on if he thinks the organization is back where it needs to be in terms of dominance. “I mean, when you have a Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte, you won four championships in a row, you won a ton of races, then you kind of go through a rebuilding year, you don’t Jeff or Jimmie or Dale, and you’ve got Alex Bowman and William Byron and Chase Elliott.

“You watch Larson. He say, Hey, he’s got a tremendous amount of talent. Can he be a team player? Can he come in an organization and have an impact, really help the other guys? The answer to all those is yes.

“I’ve been amazed with William Byron, his year. You work at where he was, if he had gotten in the Roval, he looked like he was going to win that race. He could have been a player in the championship.

“Alex won four races. Chase is going for the back-to-back championship. When you have everybody working together, when you have the crew chiefs not trying to hide things but legitimately wanting to help each other and make all the cars better. Communication between the drivers where you don’t have a driver that’s upset with the other driver or jealous, just building a wall between them.

“Again, it’s the best we’ve ever had when you look at four crew chiefs and four drivers. We had Jimmie Johnson that won seven, won five in a row. The rest of the organization was running at that par.

“This has been a phenomenal year for us.”

They led the fifth-most by any team in NASCAR’s Modern Era (1972)-Present); but set a new Hendrick Motorsports team record that stood for 12 years (4,017 in 2009). Junior Johnson and Associates holds the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era organization record for the most laps led in a single season with 4,296.

Hendrick Motorsports 2021 dominance doesn’t end there, they also posted 33 finishes inside the top two; most in the Modern Era (since 1972), scored 83 top-10 finishes; the team’s second-most (84 in 2007, 82 in 2012), posted 55 top-five finishes; the team’s second-most (57 in 2007) and won 28 stages; had only won 33 prior to 2021.

Since the inception of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2004, the 2021 is the first time Hendrick Motorsports has placed two drivers in the Championship 4 Round (Elliott, Larson). Impressively, Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one Playoff race in each of the 17 Playoff seasons (since 2004) for a combined 53 postseason wins, most all-time.

Now though, one can make a case that they’re setup for the future to get better each and every year. They arguably have the four best driver-crew chief pairings in the sport.

Larson-Cliff Daniels, Bowman-Greg Ives, Elliott-Alan Gustafson and Byron-Rudy Fugle.

Larson’s championship last year was a direct result to Daniels’ eagerness to learn Kyle Larson. In order for Daniels and Larson to click, Daniels went to school — dirt racing school.

He was an asphalt guy by nature but Larson is a short track dirt guy. In order to learn what his driver would need on a Cup car, he first had to learn what makes him click on dirt.

So, Daniels went to school to learn his new driver and what makes him so good. To do so, you have to witness his greatness on dirt and hope to apply that to asphalt.

“The first thing that I would say, he (Larson) grew up dirt racing out west. I grew up pavement racing on the East Coast. You literally could not get farther apart on the spectrum of racing,” Daniels said.

“The connection that we had was our passion for racing, so yes, I grew up pavement racing on the East Coast, very specific types of racing, very specific way that you progress through the different series. So that was what I was accustomed to.

“Then getting to know him, there was this entire different world of dirt racing that I had really only had small exposure to, some friends in college, maybe some friends in high school a little bit that I kind of learned there, but I took it upon myself to consider myself the weak link between the two of us and that I needed to learn the discipline of dirt racing and get to know Kevin Rumley that was his late model crew chief, get to know Paul Silva, his sprint car crew chief, which I’m very thankful I got to know both of those guys.

“I went to late model races, I went to midget races, I went to sprint car races just to learn that discipline to understand the language that they speak and to understand when he says that racing three or four nights a week makes him better, what does that mean? What does that look like?

“I know Mr. H talked about that having him not race during the playoffs was a little bit of a safety factor for us, but honestly I was kind of worried for the opposite, because he raced all season long during the week, and when we won our — we were Turn 3 at Pocono away from winning five weekends in row, it would have been the fourth points race but five weekends in a row. He was racing two or three nights a week then, and I was getting so much information from him about himself, like he was up front every night, and if he got beat by somebody on a restart, he would tell me what he did wrong.

“And it would help me learn what he needed to look for out of himself and out of the car, whether dirt or pavement or any series moving forward. So that information to me was really invaluable because I don’t know how else I would have gotten it.

“Even if we had Cup practice and Cup qualifying, I would not have seen Kyle Larson on the front row of some race getting beat by anybody that he could then tell me, Hey, man, when this guy beat me, this is what I did wrong, and I could see this playing out in a Cup race or sprint race or late model race or whatever.

“That perspective for me taught me a lot so that when we talked during the week of our approach for a Cup race, not only the Cup race in its entirety, but like, Hey, man, how do you win the last restart? How do you set up a guy to pass for the win, whether it’s at the end of a playoff race or not, championship race or not, how do you position yourself? How do I make adjustments to the car? How does he see what he needs to see? That meant so much to me throughout the year.

“I know it did to him. I don’t know that he recognized it at first, that I was learning that much from him; but later in the year, especially in the playoffs, he knew the page that I was on, kind of learning from him and, again, trying to understand that world and understand him more, that I could put underneath of him what he needed to go get it done.

“We were the third or the fourth place car for most of the day today. For the final restart, we made a handful of adjustments, had an amazing pit stop, and our car held off everyone in the field for the final run of the race. Well, I made a lot of adjustments to do that because I knew what he needed, if that makes sense.

“All of that — I know I’m rambling a bit, but all of that led us to that final pit stop, those final adjustments to get it done.”

A similar approach is how Greg Ives and Alex Bowman are working. Ives, is learning from past mistakes and Bowman is thriving based off of that.

A prime example is how he won last Sunday’s race in Las Vegas. See, you have to go back to the 2020 spring race there. Bowman, was second coming to the final caution. They elected to pit that day in that part of the race and it cost them a win that day.

With Bowman running fourth this time around and a yellow with three laps-to-go, he wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

“I’ve been prepared since 2020 for this one,” Ives said.

“Another late caution, Alex was fast. Him and Ryan Blaney were having a good battle. Caution comes out late, and we all elect to pit. Some guys stayed out. We made the wrong call. I made the wrong call.

“We’ve talked about this redemption for a long time. It’s something that never goes away. I may get the years messed up, the time messed up, but I know 10 years from now it’s going to be the same. I made a bad call, redeemed myself a couple years later on it.

“We talked about it a little bit on the radio. Like Alex says, I’m a little bit of a wriggler. This is what we talked about. We didn’t really want to say exactly what we wanted to do, but I feel like him in the car wanted us to stay out, me thinking everybody was going to come down and at least take two tires, and ultimately that was the right call.

“I got lucky maybe with that call and lucky that we have Alex driving that thing, picking up on the restarts. He had a lot of confidence on restarts all day. It doesn’t come down to the last restart and say, Yeah, I got confidence now. It comes down to every restart he was confident in the race car, in what he was capable of, and slowly got us to the point where two tires he wasn’t going to lose.”

Ives and Bowman knew via Kyle Larson’s win last week that they’d take two tires. He knew the three in front would likely take four. So, why not gamble?

“Ultimately when it came out that way, you try to figure out who you can work with and who you can’t,” Ives said. “Ultimately for me it was the front row. If we didn’t get the front row, we weren’t going to win the thing. We might have finished 2nd to 20th. That was my mindset. It wasn’t planned. We don’t have time to plan that well for all that.

“Ultimately I know the situation, the 5, how Cliff thinks. Like I said, we work together. He’s got a win. He’s going to gamble. He’s going to either take two tires or stay out. He pitted. I knew two tires were coming. Same with Rudy. Trying to win the race. We have great cars. We have the speed capable of giving us a front row and winning the thing.

“Ultimately, like I said, we came out on top, but there was no plan between all of us, that’s for sure.”

Well, with only the fourth overtime in Cup Series history at Vegas, it only allowed for two green flag laps until the checkered. With William Byron lining up in third too, it allowed Larson and Bowman to pull away and battle each other for the win.

“I was really surprised,” he said. “On the front row there, you have to run so much throttle. We had been free on the short run, pretty good on the long run. I mean, I kind of feel like I know. Obviously a lot has changed with this race car, but typically two tires tighten you up a ton.

“We were on old tires earlier in the day, like cold old tires. When we had the pit road issue, we came back and put old tires on. I was super tight the whole run. I was worried we were going to be super tight.

“On the front row, you got to drive it like it’s going to stick. Thankfully it stuck.”

Bowman, prevailed by just .178-seconds in what was the third closest finish in Vegas history over Larson who netted his third runner-up in 12 starts on the 1.5-mile track. That ties Dale Earnhardt Jr. for most ever there.

This thing was so fast all day. Just never really had the track position we needed to show it,” Bowman said. “Man, what a call by (crew chief) Greg Ives and the guys to take two (tires) there. Obviously it paid off. Racing Kyle (Larson) is always fun. Got to race him for a couple wins. We’ve always raced each other super clean and super respectfully. Just can’t say enough about these guys. It’s been a pretty awful start to the year, so to come out here and get a win on a last restart deal is pretty special.”

This was a similar circumstance to their Richmond win together last spring.

Bowman led exactly 11 laps in the NASCAR Cup Series race at the Richmond Raceway. They were the most important ones though too. Bowman, had help via a late race caution when Kevin Harvick got into the Turn 1 SAFER barrier on Lap 382 of 400 to bring out the final caution. The drivers all came down pit road and there Bowman was getting an adjustment to his No. 48 Chevrolet that he didn’t even know was occurring.

Ives learned of this move when he was on top of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s pit box a few years ago.

Bowman, would restart third, one row behind Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. At that point of the race, Hamlin had led over half of the race and was restarting in the top spot. He took the lead on pit road during that yellow flag pit sequence when he got by Logano on pit lane.

See, Hamlin who had swept both stages prior, was on the bumper of Logano in the closing laps for the lead and what he thought would be the race win. Then, Harvick crashes and changes everything all over again.

Logano, led 49 laps, came out of the pits second and hoping it would be a battle between he and Hamlin for the win. Prior to the final restart, Logano and Hamlin had combined to lead 179 of the previous 182 laps. Instead, it was Bowman who came out of no where and snookered them both.

Ives’ call for an adjustment paid off for them and put Hamlin behind.

“We just didn’t take off very good there,” Hamlin said of the final restart. “Definitely was the worse that our car took off after a restart. The 48, I’m guessing, his tires pumped up and he was able to take off there, get the lead and then build a lead big enough I didn’t have enough time to get back to him.”

Logano agreed with that too.

“I think that’s probably what it kind of came down to,” Logano said on Sunday. “They (Bowman) made great adjustments to make their car fire off better and what we saw was him being lights out for five, six laps. Then, it equaled out. Then last maybe four, five laps, Denny and I were able to catch him a little bit back.

“I’m just assuming he pumped up his pressure. I’m not sure how much. But seemed like the obvoius play to me. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the strategy of the play, right? IF he didn’t get to the lead in the first two or three laps, he was done, right? He was going to probably finish fifth or sixth. That’s the gamble they took. He took advantage of it, got by everybody pretty quick and kind of made us all look kind of goofy there for a minute.”

Bowman said that even he was surprised by the car coming around on that final restart.

“It did not go the way I thought it was going to go,” said Bowman. “We were pretty awful on short runs all day. To be honest with you, when the caution came out, I was like ‘man we’re going to struggle to get out of here with a top five.’ When we drove away, I was like, “oh my gosh, what is happening?’

“I don’t have a clue what Ives did. I didn’t see a wedge wrench go in it, so I would say air pressure stuff which is typically our go to for short run vs. long run stuff. I sure woke it up, that’s for sure.”

Since the start of last season, Larson and Daniels have won 11 races together. That’s most in the sport. Bowman and Ives are second with five. Those two plus Elliott and Gustafson and the fourth between William Byron and Rudy Fugle may have HMS with the best driver-crew chief combos in the sport.

Elliott-Gustafson won the championship in 2020 and Byron-Fugle had a win, 12 top fives, 20 top 10’s and 425 laps led a year ago in 36 races together. In 108 prior starts without Fugle, Byron had one win, 9 top fives, 31 top 10’s and 434 laps led.

With Gordon taking on a bigger company role, Chad Knaus leading the competition side and the drivers/crew chiefs getting along so well, the future is as bright as ever for HMS.

They’re 2-for-3 this season, ended last year with 5 straight and 6 of the final 8 for 7 wins in the last 8 overall.

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