William Byron came dangerously close to being eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs early, but he believes the experience will help him in the future.
Prior to last weekend’s Round 1 cutoff race in Bristol, Tenn., Byron and fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman were both in serious danger of being removed from further 2021 title contention.
However, both survived thanks to great on-track efforts. Byron finished third and Bowman fifth, with HMS driver Kyle Larson taking the win.
Bowman is seventh in the playoff standings after reseeding for Round 2, and Byron is eighth heading into Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hendrick went from facing elimination of half its playoff drivers to all four still in the hunt for the series championship.
“I think for us, we’ve already kind of been through that pressure moment. A lot of guys maybe haven’t that we’re racing against, haven’t been through that,” Byron, 23, said. “I feel like for us, we learned a lot about ourselves on Saturday.
“I feel like we learned a lot about how we can come through under pressure and how we can bring a good race car and how we can execute the race really well. So, it’s been a little while since we’ve had as strong a race as that throughout, and no mistakes.
“There’s always adversity in a race, but I feel like we handled the adversity that we did have really well and brought it home in third place.”
Rudy Fugle, Byron’s crew chief, said it was “a relief” that the No. 24 team made it to the Round of 12.
“We don’t take that for granted. In fact, we had to fight for everything to get to the second round – it’s big for us,” he said. “From the driver to the pit crew to the team itself.
“We’re not going to take anything for granted and we’re going to lay it all on the line at the race. I think we can go far.”
The first race of the season took place in Las Vegas just a week after Byron’s victory in Homestead, Fla. He led 25 laps and finished ninth in Vegas, extending his top-10 streak to 11 races. Larson took the win in the race as well.
“I think you kind of know who the big hitters are going to be at this race with (Larson) and hopefully us and some of the Gibbs cars, and just knowing who has run well at the 1.5 mile-tracks,” Byron said.
“But that doesn’t really tell the whole story because it can come down to restarts and then anybody can win, basically. I think you’ve just got to put yourself in a good position and then you’ve got to go do really well in those restarts.”
Byron stated that he and his spotter, Earl Barban Jr., had spent additional time polishing their restart strategy in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that may present themselves in Sunday’s race.
“I think we were good at Michigan,” said Byron, who finished second at that 2-mile track in August. “I think we’ve been good at the last few 550 horsepower tracks.
“I’m pretty excited for Las Vegas based on our past history and the way we’ve been running on those tracks.”
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