William Byron has saved himself from the chaos and stress of the two biggest wildcard races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, after scoring the victory in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Picking up a series-leading sixth win on the year, Byron was able to acquire track position in the closing stages of the event, in large part a result of a call by Rudy Fugle to stay on track when a caution was displayed inside the final 25 laps of the race.
The race would be decided by a late-race restart, which saw Byron take advantage of a side-by-side battle between Bubba Wallace and Chase Briscoe to blast up the inside of both cars entering the corner, giving the No. 24 the lead with six laps remaining.
From that point forward it was smooth sailing, as the 25-year-old driver laid down six qualifying laps to extend his gap over fellow NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contender Ross Chastain, who finished 1.863 seconds behind Byron at the end of 267 laps.
Sunday’s triumph marked a pair of major milestones for Byron and team, as the driver scored his 10th victory in the NASCAR Cup Series. All of this at the same time as Hendrick Motorsports scored its 300th NASCAR Cup Series win.
“Man, that’s badass,” said Byron after the race. “I finally got a good restart at the end. Just, ohh, it was hot today, I think it’s finally hitting me. But No. 300 for Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle [Larson] really deserved this one, got to say. Those guys were really fast all day, and hate it for them at the end.”
Kyle Larson, who Byron mentioned in his post-race comments, was in position to score a dominant victory, before an accident on the second-to-last restart of the afternoon, which saw the No. 5 Chevrolet slam the wall after battling with Bubba Wallace for the lead.
Larson, who led 99 of 267 laps, would finish 31st on the afternoon after his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet was unable to continue in the race, leaving him in a suboptimal position heading into Talladega.
“Man, it was awesome to get our car to the front,” Byron added. “I loved clean air. We just fought through traffic all day and our Liberty University Chevrolet was just tight back in traffic, but we had good pace.
“This was one of those hot days, it felt like I was playing football and went through two days, just wanted to quit. It was a grind-it-out day and our team was there at the end. I’m really proud of this one as hot as it was and as tough as it was. We’ll take it and go on to the next round.”
Bubba Wallace, who led a race-high 111 of 267 laps, came home in third place after a strong showing at Texas on Sunday. Driving the No. 23 Toyota Camry, Wallace lost out on the lead to Byron with only six laps to go, after a restart battle with Chase Briscoe.
Christopher Bell rebounded from a couple of slow pit stops throughout the afternoon to finish in fourth place for Joe Gibbs Racing, while his teammate Denny Hamlin was the furthest forward on fresh tires in fifth.
For Hamlin, the top-five result in itself is a miracle, after the right-side door of the No. 11 Toyota Camry sustained major damage after Ty Gibbs, another Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, drove directly into him on pit road.
One week after being eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Kevin Harvick came home in sixth place, while Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top-10.
Chris Buescher, still post-season eligible, finished 14th in Sunday’s race, after being on the wrong side of the tire strategy late in the race, never fully making up the track position lost from pitting with 25 laps to go.
Martin Truex, Jr. was the lowest finishing of the post-season drivers that weren’t involved in a major accident, coming home in 17th, after struggling with the handling of the No. 19 Toyota throughout the afternoon.
Although, Truex didn’t have an incident-free weekend by any means. After the end of the first stage, a weird incident occurred where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver got slammed into from behind by Brad Keselowski under caution, sending the No. 19 spinning.
Tyler Reddick, after winning the race’s first stage, finished in 25th, after his involvement in a late-race accident with several other drivers, including Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric, AJ Allmendinger, and Erik Jones.
Finally, a rough couple of weekends for Kyle Busch continued at Texas Motor Speedway, after the No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet crashed while attempting to ride out a potential loose wheel to the end of the stage. The No. 8 team finished 34th, completing only 73 laps.
Next, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the second race in the ‘Round of 8’, where the field is likely to run into issues while attempting to avoid the much-dreaded ‘Big One’.