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Texas Turning Point: Lone-Star lookahead

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with Martinsville in the rearview and Texas (Sun., 3:30 p.m. ET, FS1) right around the corner.

THE LINEUP ️

1️⃣ Byron putting together a season for the ages

2️⃣ First spring tumble in Texas since 2019

3️⃣ Exclusive: Jeff Gordon in moments after Martinsville

4️⃣ Ending streaks in the Lone Star State

5️⃣ Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

william byron celebrating at martinsville
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1. Byron putting together a season for the ages

William Byron is off to a blazing start in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, showing shades of a certain four-time champion.  

You’d better get used to seeing that cherubic grin on the front stretch after the checkered flag on Sundays, because it sure looks like it will be happening quite often from here on out.

William Byron’s victory at Martinsville Speedway this past weekend just felt so huge for so many reasons, but sort of lost in all of the duly deserved overall Hendrick Motorsports jubilee seemed to be that Byron is laying the bricks for an all-time great NASCAR season.

That feels kind of obvious to point out, but it’s notable because several drivers have echoed the sentiment that the days of double-digit-win seasons are over with the level of parity we’ve seen thus far in the Next Gen era. Yet, here we are with a driver holding three trophies just eight races into the schedule, on three race tracks that couldn’t be more different.

Not only is Byron — who passed Hall of Famer Terry Labonte on Hendrick’s all-time wins list on Sunday — on pace to hit the double-digit mark, but he could really be putting together something special here.

jeff gordon looks at william byron
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For context, the last driver to hit double-digit wins was teammate Kyle Larson in his 2021 championship season, one of the more dominant campaigns in recent memory. No. 5 didn’t pick up his third win that year until Sonoma — in June.

STACKING PENNIES: Will Byron hit double-digits?

Digging a little deeper and comparing him directly to the Hall of Fame driver who made the No. 24 famous, Byron’s third win almost certainly indicates championship potential, if not likelihood.

Jeff Gordon won his third race of the season as early as Byron did this year — or earlier — just three times in his career, amazingly, in consecutive years from 1995-97. Between those three seasons, he netted a pair of championships, a runner-up finish to Labonte (who had eight fewer wins) and 27 total Cup Series victories. The next year Gordon actually clocked in a career-high 13 wins — and, naturally, the title — but remarkably didn’t pick up his third until race No. 11.

Sunday’s 1-2-3 finish led by Byron, with all of the emotion tied into it and everything that it foretells down the road, felt like the biggest Martinsville moment for Hendrick since the half-mile short track reverberated with bellows of “We’re goin’ to Homestead!

And it’s only fitting it was ushered in by a ruby red, flame-adorned No. 24 Chevrolet doing burnouts with a grandfather clock awaiting in Victory Lane.

RELATED: Watch NASCAR video highlights

byron does a burnout at martinsville
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2. First spring tumble in Texas since 2019

After a spate of short tracks, what does a return to a 1.5-mile track have in store for Sunday? 

Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville each offered their own unique twists and surprises, but when all was said and done all three races were won by two title favorites in Byron and Denny Hamlin.

The way things are going it’s hard to look past No. 24 — the most recent winner at Texas, last fall — especially considering he’s finished in the top 10 in seven of the last eight races on 1.5-mile tracks and has the second-longest active top-10 streak at the Fort Worth track. It’ll take a catastrophe for him not to be in the mix, but each of the last seven Texas races was won by a different driver for the longest streak of different winners at the track since the first 12 races there were won by fresh drivers.

Byron could go out there and dominate, but the window is certainly open for others, particularly where there’s no direct comp for this race since the last time it was run in the spring was in 2019 with a different generation of car and much longer length.

His Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson has the edge when it comes specifically to 1.5-mile tracks as a whole, having won at least one stage in each of the last five races on them — including sweeping the stages en route to Victory Lane in two of the last three. Nobody’s touching the California native on the intermediates right now, with Larson winning 31% of all stages on 1.5-mile tracks in the Next Gen era and Hendrick itself claiming 50% of them.

The two-headed monster Hendrick has right now between Byron and Larson is beyond intimidating and we could be looking at a decade-plus of this. (And that’s not to mention 2020 champion Chase Elliott, who is heating up in a big way and nearly took the Martinsville win himself).

Outside of Hendrick, this feels like the weekend 23XI Racing really collectively puts it all together after showing plenty of promise in the early going so far, with both Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick looking like top-10 locks for Sunday — and Wallace, in particular.

There’s still some smoothing out across the board to be had with the No. 23 team, but there have been a few spots this season (Martinsville chief among them) where it looked championship-capable. Texas might be where Wallace enters that conversation completely.

The two-time Cup winner was dominant in the Lone Star State last fall, leading 111 laps from the pole and averaging a running position of 4.2 before Byron took control on a late restart to win. Wallace has been excellent on 1.5-milers in general lately, though, with his five top fives in the last 11 races on them — including a Kansas victory — tied for third most during that span.

It’s entirely possible that when Wallace exits his No. 23 Toyota on Sunday evening, he does so with his head held high as he’s handed the checkered flag.

bubba wallace exits his car at texas
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3. Exclusive: Jeff Gordon on how his Hendrick family ‘changed (his) life’

The NASCAR Hall of Famer caught up with NASCAR.com after the team’s historic 1-2-3 finish at Martinsville.

 

4. Ending streaks in the Lone Star State

Texas has seen six drivers snap 30-plus-race winless streaks in its history. With five past champions riding lengthy droughts of their own, will one snap the skid on Sunday?

Driver Car Winless Streak Date
Elliott Sadler No. 38 Yates Racing Ford 108 4/4/2004
Austin Dillon No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 88 7/19/2020
Matt Kenseth No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford 76 4/9/2011
Greg Biffle No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford 49 4/14/2012
Jeff Gordon No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 47 4/5/2009
Kyle Busch No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 33 10/25/2020

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Power Rankings: Ryan Blaney’s title defense set to start shining

Paint Scheme Preview: See the schemes for Texas tripleheader 

Analysis: Byron’s rebound, milestone moment swell 40th anniversary emotions

Rick Hendrick reflects on Martinsville triumph: ‘I’m glad they played nice’

Bubba Wallace on Martinsville showing: ‘Got the result we deserved’

Sawyer: Officials ‘trying to get to a better place’ with short-track package

Inside the Race: Byron’s upper hand at Martinsville

Chase Elliott on trying to ‘go for the win’ at Martinsville, falling short

Kyle Petty: Hendrick’s domination is a Martinsville ‘walk-0ff’

@nascarcasm: Fake texts to Martinsville winner William Byron

Which driver is favored to win 2024 title after Martinsville?

start of the race at texas
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