By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
With a top-five finish at Bristol Motor Speedway, William Byron climbed out of the bottom four on the playoff grid to advance to the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12.
The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE entered the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race 18-points below the cutline. Misfortune for other playoff drivers Aric Almirola, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott closed the gap between Byron and the cutline.
Top-10 finishes in both Stages dropped the gap down to just 10-points. In the waning laps of the 500-lap race at Bristol, Byron found himself inside the top-five, trying to hold off Ryan Blaney. Running third, the gap between himself and both Almirola and Tyler Reddick, who were further down the running order, bounced between one and two points.
The lapped traffic ultimately aided Byron as his competition for the final spot in the Round of 12 struggled to pass. Almirola slipped behind Ryan Preece, increasing the gap. Meanwhile Reddick got stuck behind Joey Logano. When the checkered flag waved, Bryon was third with just two points to spare over Almirola and Reddick.
“Honestly, I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps,” admitted Byron. “I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could. I had the best seat in the house for the leaders getting together. Was just trying to make as much speed as I could. I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the No. 12 (Blaney) and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment that we could pull through being 18-points out and come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”
Having advanced to the Round of 12, Byron now faces Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. He won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-mile track earlier this year. Byron’s Hendrick teammate, Kyle Larson won at Las Vegas in the spring. The Charlotte, N.C. native is optimistic about the upcoming tracks.
“I think we’re going to some really good tracks,” explained Byron. “We won on a 1.5-mile earlier this year. The ROVAL, we’ve been really fast there and have had a number of poles on road courses, so I feel like we just had to get through this round. We had a really unfortunate start to it, and we made up for it tonight. Thanks to Axalta, Chevrolet, and Mr. Hendrick, and everybody back at the shop. It’s pretty awesome.”
The third-place finish is Byron’s 10th top-five finish this season. It is also the 19th top-five of his Cup Series career.
After the points reset for the Round of 12, Byron holds the final spot for the Round of Eight. He is 45-points behind leader Larson and just one point ahead of Brad Keselowski in ninth.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo