William Byron Advances to Round of 12

William Byron had an incredible 20 point turnaround at Bristol. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

William Byron had an incredible 20 point turnaround at Bristol. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

While Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick garnered attention for their late race tangle, William Byron channeled his best impression of Frank Reich at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Although the 23-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native wasn’t around when Reich led the Buffalo Bills in “The Comeback” against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993, he likely made the iconic, backup quarterback proud.

Byron entered the Bristol Night Race on Saturday night sitting 18 points outside of a final Playoff spot. Ahead of the 500 lap, 266.5 mile race at Bristol, Tennessee, Byron seemed confident and cool despite the incredible margin.

The typically reliable William Byron might be NASCAR's "Mr. Clutch." (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

The typically reliable William Byron might be NASCAR’s “Mr. Clutch.” (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“I enjoy playing golf with my buddies and my family,” Byron said in a pre-race Zoom availability. “I enjoy doing various things around town. So yeah, I just try to keep it pretty relaxed throughout the week.”

Perhaps Byron justified that swagger based on his previous results at the 0.533-mile concrete oval. Ahead of Round 29 of the NASCAR Cup Series season, Byron placed eighth in June 2020 while taking sixth in the spring dirt race.

However, the fourth year Cup racer struggled with seven finishes of 20th or worse after his incredible start. In this case, Byron and his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet team ignored such gloom and doom.

Starting 14th, Byron rocketed his way to 10th in stage 1 before placing fourth in stage 2. Those eight stage points played a crucial role for Byron’s chances at a Round of 12 spot.

Lap after lap, Byron rocketed his way closer to the front as he clawed further inside the top five. Following late race stops for Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott due to separate cut tires, the North Carolinian found himself in third.

Surely, Byron’s poise matched with his optimism toward the Hendrick organization.

Byron answered the bell at Bristol. (Photo: Logan Riely | Getty Images)

William Byron had an incredible 20 point turnaround at Bristol.(Photo: Logan Riely | Getty Images)

“I feel like we have a really good culture,” Byron observed. “We’re honest with each other and are motivated and have a lot of unbelievable resources from Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Jeff Andrews. I really enjoy being there and I love racing their cars. It’s a lot of fun this year. We’ve had a lot of fun but definitely want to accomplish a lot more.”

A third place result may disappoint some racers. Conversely, Byron celebrated his podium finish at Bristol, a result that netted him one of the final Round of 12 seeds.

As calm and cool as Byron presented himself with the press, the mild mannered racer shared some candid, relatable thoughts.

“Honestly, I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps,” Byron observed. “I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could. I mean, I don’t know. I had the best seat in the house for the leaders getting together. I was just trying to make as much speed as I could.

“I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment that we could pull through being 18 points out and come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”

The focus may be on Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr and Chase Elliott as the four consistent, powerhouse racers for this year’s Playoffs. Even so, Byron does not count himself out of the championship hunt if past performances mean anything.

"We’ve had a lot of fun but definitely want to accomplish a lot more.” - William Byron (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“We’ve had a lot of fun but definitely want to accomplish a lot more.” – William Byron (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“I think we’re going to some really good tracks,” he said. “We won on a 1.5-mile earlier this year. The ROVAL, we’ve been really fast there and have had a number of poles on road courses, so I feel like we just had to get through this round. We had a really unfortunate start to it and we made up for it tonight. Thanks to Axalta, Chevrolet, and Mr. Hendrick, and everybody back at the shop. It’s pretty awesome.”

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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