By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Inspection problems were the name of the game for Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. The trio had to work from the rear of the field to score top-10s in the Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
Following the Xfinity Series race Saturday, NASCAR reported that Larson and Byron failed pre-race tech twice. Therefore, relinquishing their second and 10th starting spots.
Sunday morning rolled along and Elliott, who won last November, was also sent to the rear. He was scheduled to roll off sixth.
Given how strong HMS has been the last handful of races dating back to last fall, business quickly picked up. The trio navigated the mile circuit with patience and challenges, all reaching the top-25 before 15 laps were on the board.
Throughout the race, all three ran quite well in the top-10. Among them, Byron would have a quiet and decent afternoon, crossing the line in eighth.
“We had a good car; ran in the top-10 all day and it just kind of ended there in 8th,” said Byron. “We’ve got some things we need to work on when we come back, but we definitely know the areas to work on and improve. So, we just have to go to work on those things. Looking forward to it and looking forward to the challenge.”
The same can’t be said for Elliott and Larson. While they crossed the line fifth and seventh respectively, they were plagued with two pit road speeding penalties apiece.
Elliott battled his car all afternoon with his No. 9 crew making several adjustments. Things didn’t look bright until the final run when he bested Larson, who was the superior car out of the Hendrick trio.
“We struggled really bad all the way up to that very last run, to be honest,” said Elliott. “We got better and had a good pit stop there at the end. Proud of the effort that the Unifirst team put in to pull out a top-five.”
By far the strongest Hendrick car was Larson, who had to be exhausted after passing many cars. Reaching three digits, Larson had to work from the rear three times, but proved he was a contender.
That would change in the end when Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE drastically waned. Rather than being in the mix for a possible win, a loose car resulted in losing valuable spots.
Larson noted the loose car during the final run where the aggression level on corners regressed.
“I ended up guarding my entry zones; my angles for exit aren’t great. It just kind of made everything harder,” said Larson. “The No. 9 (Elliott) and No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) got behind me and finished seventh. It was weird that I hadn’t had it all day, but all-in-all, I had a really fast car again.
“That’s very promising and just have to clean up mistakes on my end and have a smoother race.”
Quite the day they had, but it wasn’t a full on comeback trail they would’ve liked. For now, it’s off to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the sixth Cup race of the season.
Race coverage of next Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX. Jimmie Johnson is the most recent Hendrick driver to win at the popular 1.5-mile circuit back in 2016.