By Justin Schuoler, Senior Writer
The rains fell heavily at Circuit of the Americas during the EchoPark Texas Grand Prix. NASCAR Cup Series inaugural race was eventful to say the least, ending 14 laps short due to inclement weather. All across the 20-turn layout, rain poured across the facility with partial flooding in various turns and straights. Although the race started with wetter and drier sections throughout the 890 acre track, NASCAR called the race early as there wasn’t a square inch of racing surface covered in water.
Hendrick Motorsports celebrated with Chase Elliott victorious and Kyle Larson settling for another runner-up finish, his fourth of the season and third in a row. Last week’s winner at Dover International Speedway, Alex Bowman, skidded his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet to an eighth place finish.
But the rain fell also on the fourth Hendrick driver who found himself one spot shy of the top 10, ending his streak at 11.
“To finish 11th after (getting run into) is good,” said William Byron after the race was declared official. “It’s a bummer, but I thought for sure we would get a top 10 the way it was going and just unfortunately the rain came too hard.”
Byron’s top 10 streak earlier this year at his win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Dixie Vodka 400. Since then, he earned top 10 finishes at a variety of tracks: superspeedway (Talladega Superspeedway), short tracks (Martinsville and Richmond), 1.5 mile ovals (Las Vegas, Atlanta and Kansas), concrete tracks (Dover), and even the Bristol dirt race. The one track layout not yet competed on during his streak was a road course. Odds were not in his favor considering his 33rd place finish at the Daytona Road Course back in February, and unfortunately that ended up being the final say with an 11th place result for the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet.
The day wasn’t a struggle though. They finished fifth in Stage 1, but a collision with Matt DiBenedetto dropped them back through the running order. Byron’s team was able to make repairs and the 23-year old made his charge back up through the field. That in combination with the tough strategy call for the rain created a challenging day.
“We honestly wanted to win today,” said the Charlotte native, “and I thought we were in a great position and I just kind of jumped the gun on pitting too early. I got the rain tires on the car and we were a little too dry for it and wore them out. We were running fifth there in Stage 1 and the 21 got into us and tore the right rear up and we just had a bunch of damage after that.
“To finish 11th is awesome for this Liberty University Chevrolet team. They did a great job repairing it, but it never really drove the same because I think it knocked the rear end out of place.”
While there was misfortune for others who crashed out early in the race, Byron focuses on the team play and breaking NASCAR records now that all four Hendrick drivers are locked into the Playoffs.
“(The race) was a blast, I enjoyed it, and congrats to Chevrolet on their big win (800th manufacturer win), and to Hendrick Motorsports. Getting close to breaking that record (all-time wins with Richard Petty Motorsports), so hopefully we can do it next week.”
Cover photo by Nigel Kinrade Photography.