LAS VEGAS – After an up and down day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, William Byron ended on an unlucky spin at the conclusion of the South Point 400 for the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 Playoff race.
The day started with Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and J.J. Yeley joining Byron at the rear for pre-race failed inspections. At the drop of the green flag, Byron took off in a different gear, reaching the top-20 by Lap 8 and cracking the top-10 shortly after. In comparison, Truex reached 19th and couldn’t advance further in Stage 1, Almirola was not able to break into the top-20 and Yeley eventually resulted in a Did Not Finish (DNF) for a mechanical issue.
At the start of Stage 2, Joey Gase had a vicious crash in Turn 2 to bring out the yellow flag. Various strategies took place across the field, but as the Cup drivers took the green, Byron was able to get by his teammate Kyle Larson to lead for the first time of the day.
“I thought we were really fast,” recalled Byron. “We came from the back to the front, took the lead and then obviously had that caution. I chose the wrong lane there and had to run second there for a while to Kyle.”
But as the second stage progressed, crew chiefs quickly realized they were short on fuel by roughly 10 laps. It was a dagger to some, but just the start of the night for the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro as trouble on the right front called for an audible to only take two tires. Teammates Chase Elliott and Larson among others also had to pit for fuel, knocking them off the lead lap. Elliott would pass Hamlin to put himself back on the lead lap the hard way, and Byron hunted down Ross Chastain in the closing laps to earn the Lucky Dog position.
“We had the strategy deal with not being able to make it on fuel and had to recover from that. We had to take two tires and that hurt us.”
That set up another charge by the 23-year old to march toward the front. The final stage saw a long green flag run with no cautions to break up the 107 lap distance. On the final set of green flag pit stops, some drivers were reporting debris in Turn 2, roughly where Gase’s crash was earlier in the event. Kyle Busch appeared to hit something, Alex Bowman broke a valve stem and then Byron punctured a tire. The string of bad luck continued as he wasn’t able to catch a timely yellow. Ultimately, he finished 18th, one lap down.
“We had an awesome car,” sighed Byron who tried to stay optimistic. “The No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet was amazing. I think it was right there with the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin). And then we had the flat tire. We’ll just have to keep bringing that speed.”
Optimism may carry him into the Round of 8. He passed 126 cars during the race, the most of anyone in the field by 31, so his focus is planned to stay on that competitive level. He sits right on the championship bubble in ninth with two races left in this round, four points below the cutoff line. With races like Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, everyone knows anything can happen. Byron has a restrictor plate victory in his Cup career, and has five top-10’s on road courses, so his plan is simple.
“Just be aggressive.”