Larson riding momentum into NASCAR's spring race at Phoenix Raceway

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kyle Larson spent most of the afternoon near the front of the pack during the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, putting himself in position for a second NASCAR Cup Series championship in three years.

When his car lost some of its balance, Larson's championship hopes wobbled away.

Four months later, Larson returns to Phoenix for another chance to take the checkered flag and build on a strong start to the 2024 season..

“Our team has done a really good job this year of executing with the race cars that we bring,” Larson said. “Our pit crew has been doing a great job. It takes everything to be up front and I think that’s how we can continue our momentum.”

Larson has plenty heading into Sunday's 312-mile race on Phoenix Raceway's one-mile tri-oval after winning at Las Vegas last week.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver and the rest of the field will face a few adjustments in the desert.

Hoping to create more competitive racing, NASCAR developed a new short track aerodynamic package for road courses and tracks of a mile or less. The hope is the package along with new, thicker tire treads will create more opportunities for passing on tracks that haven't had much in the past.

Six teams got a chance to test the new package at Phoenix Raceway in December and the rest of the field got their first taste after unloading this weekend.

“I would say that it was probably a little bit better in traffic," said Denny Hamlin, who will start on the pole in Sunday's race. "Very small from what I could tell. Nothing earth-shattering,” he said. “If you got caught behind somebody, you would really get caught behind someone, but that is typical of what we’ve had before."

The last race at Phoenix, in November, was a four-man battle for the title between Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Christopher Bell.

Larson, the Cup Series champion in 2021, was first among the Cup contenders off the final pit stop, but got passed by Blaney. Larson never caught him, finishing third, while Blaney won his first NASCAR championship by finishing second in the race behind Ross Chastain.

Larson returns to Phoenix after a strong run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 31-year-old controlled the race and held off Tyler Reddick for his 24th career Cup victory. Larson's win made Chevrolet a perfect 3 for 3 to start the season and gave Hendrick Motorsports its second win in 2024, with Byron's Daytona 500 victory.

Larson won his first NASCAR championship at Phoenix in 2021 and has 12 top-10 finishes in 19 starts at the track.

“Phoenix has been a pretty decent track for our team the last few years since I’ve been with Hendrick Motorsports,” said Larson, who qualified 17th for Sunday's race.

Blaney clearly has good memories at Phoenix after wrapping up his first NASCAR championship in the fall. The Penske driver has finished outside the top 10 just once in his last 10 races and has been in the top four five straight times, including three consecutive runner-up finishes.

But, for all the successes he has had in Phoenix, Blaney has yet to take the checkered flag at the tri-oval.

"It’s a place that’s been really good to us, our whole group, really, for a long time, and especially the last two or three years,” he said. “I’ve had a few seconds there in a row, so hopefully we can figure out how to get one spot better.”


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