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March 5, 2023

Analysis: Is Hendrick Motorsports the organization to beat in 2023?

It’s always impressive to win a race, but a single team sweeping the podium at the premier series level just exhibits a different level of dominance.

Three veteran Hendrick Motorsports drivers — William Byron, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman — put on a dazzling show at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the absence of teammate Chase Elliott, finishing 1-2-3 on an afternoon where it was the organization’s race to lose. The trio combined to lead an astounding 241 of the race’s 267 laps, extended by NASCAR Overtime, and Byron swept the stages en route to winning the race.

Overall, in a tightly contested competition featuring many other strong contending cars, Hendrick Motorsports just looked that much stronger.

RELATED: Las Vegas results, recap | Watch Byron’s burnout

Through the first few weeks of the season, Trackhouse Racing’s continued rise at the sport’s top level, Kyle Busch’s resurgence at Richard Childress Racing and Joey Logano’s hot start to his title defense have dominated the story lines — and rightly so. But Sunday’s cumulative performance from Hendrick Motorsports won’t go unnoticed in the garage.

Perhaps the entire effort was aided by lessons learned from Larson’s early exit at Auto Club Speedway, resulting in the No. 5 team logging non-contending laps last week to gain extra knowledge and track time. Or, perhaps there was extra motivation to perform well after Elliott was sidelined just before the race weekend began. However you want to explain it, this version of Hendrick Motorsports is scary good.

From start to finish, Sunday’s showing was one of the most impressive wins of Byron’s career. He had never won a race from a front-row starting position in 21 previous attempts at the Cup Series level, and his 176 laps led shattered his previous standard 1.5-mile high of 102, achieved at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2021. … Note: Byron led 111 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s new superspeedway configuration in 2022.

Byron’s biggest threat to the stage sweep-race win combo was his teammate Larson. The 2021 Cup Series champion was clicking on all cylinders, leading 63 laps before the final caution set up a dramatic overtime finish.

Needing a clutch moment, Byron and his No. 24 crew’s execution on the pit stop was perfect, and he regained the lead by inches.

“Most of us had 40 green laps on our tires,” said Byron’s crew chief Rudy Fugle after the race. “I thought there would be some more (who stayed out), yes. I thought we would be restarting row 3 if we pitted with rights. I expected three or four. I don’t know if they just weren’t good enough or whatever. Thankfully it worked out that way, but yeah, it’s a super hard decision with only two laps to go, how hard it is to break that first row up. I think somebody potentially could have won if there would have been enough people staying out, but there wasn’t.”

Despite the caution sending a number of teams into a flurry before NASCAR Overtime, when the chips are falling as they did for Hendrick Motorsports late down the stretch in Vegas, they’re hard to beat – as if they needed any help in the first place.

And if Byron and Co. were lacking any confidence, they gained a lot of it Sunday.

“I think I haven’t really dominated — I’ve led a lot of laps in a couple races, but to be this good in a race with our team is definitely a good sign,” an exuberant Byron said after the win. “I think it’s just a different feeling, I think, for me, just having a team around me that can execute that well on pit road that well, strategy that good on adjustments. That’s just a team effort.

“I think that’s a different — something different than I’ve had in the past in terms of wins, so that’s nice.”

MORE: Byron says it’s all about the team

And with Larson racking up 13 victories in his time at Hendrick Motorsports and Bowman on a streak of four consecutive seasons with a win, the question is when not if, they will reach Victory Lane, too.

Sure, the dynamic four-driver stable is normally atop the oddsboards and should never be considered an underdog at any track. The absence of 2020 Cup Series champion Elliott is a big loss for the short term, but he will be back at some point and should quickly return to his winning form based on his talent alone.

So, if Sunday’s race is any indication, we may be in line for another historic season.

In conclusion, a way-too-early but confident prediction for 2023: Hendrick Motorsports is indeed the organization to beat.