William Byron ended the South Point 400 for the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 Playoff race on an unlucky spin after an up and down day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., and J.J. Yeley joined Byron in the back of the field for pre-race failed inspections. Byron took off in a different gear at the drop of the green flag, cracking the top-20 by Lap 8 and breaking into the top-10 soon after. In comparison, Truex finished 19th in Stage 1 and was unable to move any further, Almirola was unable to break into the top-20, and Yeley was later deemed a Did Not Finish (DNF) due to a mechanical issue.
Joey Gase’s vicious accident in Turn 2 at the start of Stage 2 brought out the yellow flag. Various strategies were employed around the field, but as the Cup drivers went to the track, Byron was able to pass his teammate Kyle Larson and take the lead for the first time.
“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.”
However, as the second stage progressed, crew chiefs realized they were almost 10 laps short on fuel. To some, it was a dagger, but for the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro, it was just the beginning of the night, as issues on the right front forced an audible to only take two tires. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, among others, were forced to pit for fuel, putting them off the lead lap. Elliott would pass Hamlin the hard way to regain the lead, and Byron would chase down Ross Chastain in the final laps to win 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 107-lap final stage had a long green flag run with no cautions. Some drivers reported debris in Turn 2 during the final round of green flag pit stops, roughly where Gase’s incident occurred earlier in the race. Kyle Busch hit something, Alex Bowman damaged a valve stem, and Byron punctured a tire. His terrible luck continued when he failed to catch a timely yellow. He eventually came in 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.”
He may be able to make it to the Round of 8 on the basis of his optimism. During the race, he passed 126 cars, the most of anyone in the field by 31 cars, so he intends to maintain that competitive level. With two races remaining in this round, he is just four points behind the cutoff line, in ninth place. Everyone knows that races like the Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL can be unpredictable. Byron has a restrictor plate victory and five top-10 finishes on road courses in his Cup career, so his strategy is simple.
“Just be aggressive.”
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