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Life seemingly can’t get much better for William Byron. The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevy has won two consecutive races and now heads to Atlanta, where he scored a victory a year ago.

While Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch have also won this season, Byron is the big winner in the early going of the NASCAR season as the first driver actually locked into the Cup Series playoffs.

Alas, it’s never so simple when anointing winners and losers …

Potentially a split-decision weekend for William Byron and Hendrick Motorsports

William Byron celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
William Byron celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2023. | Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

William Byron won the fourth points race of the season, Kyle Larson placed fourth, Alex Bowman finished ninth, and Josh Berry landed one spot back for his first top-10 result. Hendrick Motorsports could hardly have asked for anything more.

Byron or Larson led the first 118 laps and 265 overall. Combined, they’ve led 504 of a possible 588 laps over the past two weeks.

That being said, there’s a cloud hanging over the organization’s head for the moment. NASCAR officials noted issues with the louvers on all four cars and confiscated them after practice on Friday. If the inspection at the R&D center determines HMS crews modified the louvers, as opposed to them simply not being manufactured to specifications, the penalties could add up to something approaching historic.

More winners from the Cup Series race in Phoenix

Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick – Two drivers who’ve been punching bags in the racing press and on social media of late (including here) acquitted themselves well by finishing second and third, respectively. Given one more overtime restart, either might have bumped William Byron from Victory Lane.

Kevin Harvick – The driver of the No. 4 Ford continued his amazing streak at Phoenix Raceway. A nine-time winner there, Harvick has placed in the top 10 in his last 20 appearances. The late caution was all that kept him from another victory.

The weekend’s Cup Series losers

Rodney Childers – We can’t fault him for it, but Kevin Harvick’s crew chief called for a four-tire pit stop on the caution with 15 laps to go. Consequently, the No. 4 Ford returned to the track with eight laps left behind Kyle Larson, William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin, all of whom went with two new tires. Having to navigate all that traffic negated the benefit of the extra rubber, and Harvick finished fifth.

Aric Almirola – The driver of the No. 10 Ford had to eat a two-lap penalty when a wheel came off on the track midway through the second stage. On a day when the rest of the Stewart-Haas Racing team finally looked respectable, Almirola had to settle for 33rd place.

The new rules package – One race is too small a sample size, but the changes to the Next Gen car setups rolled out this weekend resulted in the fewest lead changes (10) at the track since the 2019 playoff race. It’s doubtful fans will rate it a great race. This bears watching in upcoming weeks.

Got a question or observation about racing? Sportscasting’s John Moriello does a mailbag column each Friday. Write to him at JohnM@Sportscasting.com.

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