After running the last five events without a single top-10 finish, it looked as though William Byron was beginning to fall into what is a seemingly annual summertime slump for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet.
But, in the midst of a season that can only be described as a “breakout” for the Charlotte, North Carolina native, yet another expectation has been smashed, with a dominant victory in Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen.
“We seem to go through that summer slump in July and August, and for some reason, we just can’t quite put the races together,” Byron told Marty Snider post-race. “I think it’s the racetracks itself.”
Leading a race-high 66 of 90 laps on the afternoon, Byron scored his fifth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the year, and the fifth victory in a row for Hendrick Motorsports at Watkins Glen International.
“Just came this weekend with a good mindset, focusing on trying to get ready for the post-season,” Byron continued. “We’ve had fast cars, we just haven’t executed races, but today was flawless, and just Rudy, everybody, all the spotters. Thanks to everybody. This is a cool win.”
Starting from second, Byron remained a staple within the top five throughout the duration of the event, relinquishing the lead early to Indianapolis winner Michael McDowell. Then, crew chief Rudy Fugle chose to pit Byron one lap after the lead, which ultimately allowed the No. 24 to move into the lead.
McDowell, who looked to be the vehicle to beat on Sunday, then made a costly error by driving through too many pit boxes, an error that would begin the Front Row Motorsports driver’s descent out of contention for the win.
From that point in the race forward, it was difficult for drivers inside the top five to keep pace with Byron, who was caught on the positive end of a mid-cycle caution on lap 57, for the stopped No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott.
When the drivers who had yet to make a stop, led by Kyle Busch, came down pit road, Byron returned to the lead for what would be a straightforward 30-lap run to the finish, which allowed the Valvoline-sponsored entry to run away to a 2.632 margin of victory.
Denny Hamlin finished in the runner-up position, and by doing so, kept the battle for the regular-season championship alive between himself and teammate Martin Truex, Jr, with the gap now at 39 points heading to Daytona.
Christopher Bell, a teammate to Denny Hamlin, continued the Joe Gibbs Racing strength on road courses this season with a third-place result, while AJ Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs, both likely in a must-win situation, finished in fourth and fifth.
Martin Truex, Jr. came home in sixth, despite having very little confidence in his No. 19 Toyota Camry TRD. Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano rounded out the top-10.
Michael McDowell, who led 17 laps early in the Go Bowling at The Glen, had a horrendous afternoon in Watkins Glen, rebounding from two separate pit road penalties under green to be inside the top-10 when his No. 34 Love’s Ford Mustang lost power.
Both Brad Keselowski (15th) and Kevin Harvick (21st) secured their positions in the NASCAR Cup Series post-season after Sunday’s 90-lap contest featured a repeat winner in William Byron.
Leaving Watkins Glen, the NASCAR Cup Series post-season comes down to one final race, at Daytona International Speedway, where anybody who remains in a must-win situation could knock out a trip to victory lane.