2023 March26 William Byron Main Image.jpg

Byron survives ‘bowling balls’ for COTA top five

AUSTIN, Texas — William Byron wiped his brow after wrapping up a hard-fought Sunday afternoon at Circuit of The Americas. On a day when the strongest performances belonged to two drivers, the strength of his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was an ever-close second to the winning No. 45 Toyota of race winner Tyler Reddick.

Byron chopped it up with Reddick in a spirited duel down the stretch in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, but his hopes of notching a third NASCAR Cup Series win in this young season faded after the serious scramble of three overtime restarts. The 25-year-old driver still brought his No. 24 Chevy home in fifth place, somewhat scraped but with its strong start intact after his first top-five result on a road course.

“Yeah, it was bowling balls. I mean, physics, right,” Byron said. “You just push the guy in front of you, and you’re just all tangled up and you’re just relying on the guy in front of you to stop. So it was cleaner at the beginning of the race, like, we had some really fun restarts, me and Reddick and a couple other guys, but toward the end, it’s just physics. You’re just trying to drive in there as far as you can and hope that you stop.”

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Byron started from the pole position after topping Reddick in the final round of Saturday’s qualifying session, and the two took turns setting the pace throughout the 75-lap affair. Each led six times — Reddick for 41 laps and Byron for 28 — and their attempts at fuel conservation down the stretch became moot when Brad Keselowski’s stalled car on Lap 56 touched off a series of late yellow flags.

Byron found encouragement from coach Max Papis over the No. 24 radio: “William, go out there and show it to yourself the badass that you are.” But he didn’t have quite the speed to track down Reddick, especially when the late-race restarts turned rough.

“I thought he was definitely better than us, but we were a solid second, kind of on our own,” Byron said. “So yeah, it was a good day just leading everybody else, and then here comes the 45, a couple tenths faster, so that was hard, but it’s part of it.”

Despite the slight dip from a seemingly assured runner-up finish, Bryon remains the Cup Series’ only two-time winner through six races this year. He also sits near the top of the chart in laps led — second to only teammate Kyle Larson, who has led 270 to his 268.

Byron’s rank in the series points, however, is a subpar 28th, owing to a technical violation for unapproved parts modifications that cost him and the No. 24 team 100 points in their respective standings. Hendrick Motorsports is appealing the penalties but not the crew chief suspensions. That meant a new interim role for technical director Brian Campe, who has guided the No. 24 team in place of regular crew chief Rudy Fugle.

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Campe was quick to credit Byron for his perseverance but also the depth of Hendrick’s bench.

“It’s been really easy, and that’s because of guys like (No. 24 engineers) Brandon McSwain and Ryan Kelly and all the people at Hendrick Motorsports that do this every day,” Campe told NASCAR.com. “You know, there’s 400-plus people there that — I call it a shield lock — have their shields locked together. We’ll go to war here, and no matter what happens, we’re gonna come up with good results, no matter who’s sitting in there. So we could have picked anybody in the shop. It was an honor to get picked, so I’ll take that, and we’ll go from there.”