William Byron now faces a difficult uphill climb if he wants to compete for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship in a season that has been his finest statistically.
Hendrick Motorsports’ driver is 18 points behind the cutline heading to Bristol Motor Speedway after finishing 19th at Richmond Raceway. To progress out of the Round of 16, he’ll need to leapfrog three drivers or win his second race of the season, which he’ll need to do if he’s 15th in the standings.
Byron was aiming to build on the success of the No. 24 team’s seventh-place performance in this event last spring. During the 400-lap event, though, he struggled to maintain a competitive pace.
“Really bad,” Byron said of Saturday night’s (Sept. 11) Federated vaitAuto Parts 400.”Felt like we had something decent [from the spring], made some some tweaks and stuff to try to get a little better and we were terrible. I think the best we got to was 11th one time.”
Expectations prior to the game did not match reality once the green flag was raised, as the freefall was slow and steady through the field, leaving him behind his playoff counterparts.
“I thought we could run top 10, maybe 12th on our worst day,” he added. “And we were awful. We were just really bad, I was really bad and it was all terrible.”
At the end of stage two, Byron went a lap down and missed out on the free pass, with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott going by with some circuits left in the race.
“That was that was a big turning point, for sure,” he said. “If we got the track position, we would have kind of been able to maintain it but we weren’t able to hold off the No. 9 at all. He was way quicker and I just couldn’t do much.”
From that point forward, handling gremlins reared their ugly heads and Byron’s chances to move up started slipping away. Long green-flag runs in the final stage kept the Hendrick Motorsports youngster from racing back onto the lead lap.
“Everything,” he said when asked what he was fighting inside the car. “Just lack of grip. It seemed like some runs, I could run with the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) and then some runs, I was like a lapped car and way off the pace. I don’t know. I was tight center to start the race, thought we got some more drive in the car, I thought that was kind of making us faster. And then that kind of ran out too, and we were just in the way.”
Byron is taking an aggressive mindset to Bristol, where he has one top-10 result in his career (2020). Forget about strategy or pointing him in the right direction within the top 12.
There’s just one surefire way to make sure you advance at Thunder Valley: reach victory lane.
“Try to race our ass off and see if we can maybe win the race,”Byron exclaimed. “That’s pretty much probably what we got to do. It’s an OK track for me. I feel like we’ll have a much better car there, so we just got to get there and race as hard as we can.”
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