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William Byron Hopes to Defend Pennzoil 400 Win

Defending winner William Byron rolls off from the fourth position for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

LAS VEGAS — It was a tale of two races for William Byron last year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Before Americans enjoyed the last weekend prior to Daylight Savings Time in 2023, Byron started second, dominating the Pennzoil 400. Leading 176 of 271 laps, it was a perfect afternoon for the Charlotte, North Carolina native.

Sweeping the stages in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet ZL1, Byron captured the first of six wins in a sparkling season. When the NASCAR Cup Series returned last fall for the South Point 400, Byron qualified third, leading a lap before finishing seventh.

Throughout Byron’s career at Las Vegas, he has been a steady, consistent performer. Particularly since 2021, the 26-year-old has two top fives and four top 10s in the past six races.

Overall, in 12 prior starts, Byron has an average finish of 15.5, a statistic hampered by his struggles from his rookie season in 2018 to his junior season in 2020.

Now, with a fast No. 24 Z HP Chevrolet ZL1 that starts fourth for Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Byron expressed some optimism as the defending Pennzoil 400 race winner.

“We hope to be a little bit better this weekend,” Byron said in a team press release. “We always hope that though. We won the first race at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway) last year and then in the second race we had good short run speed but not long run speed.

“That’s something we’ve been working on this offseason and I think this is a race that the team has had circled to get back to. We want to keep the momentum going that we already have and these next few races coming up are crucial.”

William Byron tallied an average finish of 4.0 in the two Las Vegas races, including a win in last year’s Pennzoil 400. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Thus far, Byron and his No. 24 team, as sometimes said nowadays, have “understood the assignment” for Las Vegas. Posting the eighth fastest time in Saturday’s sole practice, he was second quickest in a 10-lap consecutive run, trailing Kyle Larson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

There are plentiful reasons to consider Byron as a prime contender for Sunday afternoon given his pace. Even with the Camaro being the oldest Next Gen body style after the new Toyota Camry XSE and Ford Mustang Dark Horse, perhaps the devil that is known may be the best among the OEM’s offerings.

Beyond superficial details, Rudy Fugle, Byron’s crew chief, is considering how Sunday’s race is a good dress rehearsal for the Playoffs.

“If you think about it, usually we have a few weeks at the start of the season where the races don’t really apply to the Playoffs,” Fugle said in a team press release. “This year, though, we’ve raced Atlanta and then we go Las Vegas, Phoenix (Raceway) and Bristol (Motor Speedway).

“That’s four playoff races in a row with all of them being super, super important. We have to be on our game to get as much information as we can to be ready for when the Playoffs come.”

There shall be no blue screens of headaches for William Byron at Las Vegas. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

Besides being like The Temptations with a certain hit song from 1966, Fugle knows it is more than about getting ready. Based on Saturday’s cool and windy conditions, the New York native has been on top of the challenging elements facing his driver and team ahead of the 267-lap race.

“Right now, it looks like it’s going to be pretty cold Sunday in Vegas, so it’ll be pretty gripped up with a lot of throttle,” Fugle shared. “I think at the beginning of a run you’re going to be able to run wide open. It’s going to lose a ton of grip, though, and you’ll see cars get really, really loose over a run. That’s where you will see those comers and goers.

“The last race there I think is the perfect example of that. It’s also supposed to be really windy this weekend, so we’ll watch that. It could affect how you break the corners apart since the wind will be blowing one direction on one side and the opposite on the other. That will hurt your handling. It should be exciting to watch though.”

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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