It had been rough sledding for William Byron, driver of the iconic No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports, in the opening two races of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. Heading into Sunday, Byron had shown speed at Daytona and Auto Club, but the 24-year old had two DNFs to show for his efforts.
However, on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Byron finally got what he needed in the Pennzoil 400 — a good clean run and a solid top-five finish.
Byron started Sunday’s race from the 14th position, but he didn’t stay there long as he worked methodically worked his way toward the front in the opening Stage of the race.
Byron would actually take the lead on lap 70, after restarting sixth on lap 68, and would look to have a shot at scoring the Stage 1 win, but his HMS teammate, and eventual winner of the race, Alex Bowman would get by on lap 78 and Bowman would score the Stage 1 win.
Still, Byron held onto solid position and scored nine Stage Points in Stage 1 as he finished runner-up.
In Stage 2, Byron would again keep his car toward the front and he would score another seven Stage Points as he finished fourth in Stage 2.
Aside from Ross Chastain, who racked up 18 Stage Points by finishing third in Stage 1 and winning Stage 2, Byron racked up the most Stage Points on the day with 16.
Byron had speed. Byron had built up a solid points day with solid finishes in Stages 1 and 2. Now, it was time for Byron to close the deal with a good finish to the race.
And as the race drew to a close, Byron found himself in fifth in the closing laps of the race. It was at this point that all hell broke loose.
Erik Jones crashed with three laps remaining, which sent the race into Overtime.
Under this caution, Byron and his HMS teammates Kyle Larson and Bowman opted to roll the dice and change just two tires. This moved Byron to third, and gave him a shot, albeit an outside shot, of sneaking out a victory.
On the restart, it became apparent that the race for the win was between Larson and Bowman, who were locked side-by-side for the lead. But while his teammates duked it out for the win, Byron was still hooked into a neck-and-neck battle with Kyle Busch for third and it appeared Byron possibly had the edge going into turn 1 on the final lap.
That’s when Busch slid up the track and forced Byron to move out of the groove, which stalled Byron’s progress off of turn 2.
Busch went by as did Chastain, but Byron still was able to hold on to finish fifth, the position he was running in when the caution came out initially to send the race into overtime. Considering the horrid start the driver of the No. 24 had in the opening two races, his result on Sunday was a much needed reprieve.
“Yeah, you know we had a good run. Congrats to Alex. You know we needed a good run,” Byron explained. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks. We’ve had speed everywhere, but just not the finishes.”
As a racer, Byron always wants to end the race with the win, but all things considered, he can’t complain about a top-five run in Sin City.
“Great to get a top five, obviously we want a win and I felt like there were times in this race that we had potential, but we just have to clean up some of the little things,” Byron said. “We’ve got to clean up some of those things on pit road and get a little better and I think we will have a shot to win.”
With his first finish better than 34th of the season, Byron vaulted 12 positions in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings from 33rd to 21st.
Now, Byron will look to keep the needle moving in a positive direction as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway for the Ruoff Mortgage 500, a race where Byron scored an eighth-place finish a season ago.