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William Byron Enters Playoffs With Confidence and Momentum

William Byron ended the regular season with a top 10 at Daytona and a share of the Playoffs points lead with Martin Truex Jr. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was not a rock and roll, Coca-Cola type performance for William Byron in last Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.

Still, the 25-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native rallied from his 27th starting position. More specifically, it was a respectable result to close out the regular season with the 10-race Playoffs kicking off this Sunday night at Darlington Raceway.

Before Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports brigade set off for the 163-lap race at “The World Center of Racing,” it was a matter of survival and patience. Placing 21st in Stage 1, the young racer artfully dodged the Lap 95, Turn 4 crash that involved 12 drivers.

Looking more like Cole Trickle in his comeback race at Daytona, Byron emerged from the carnage to place fifth in Stage 2, earning six stage points.

From there on out, Byron was methodical despite a bit of a struggle pushing further up the leaderboard. Unlike his championship contending rivals and those vying for the 16th and final Playoffs spot, the North Carolinian avoided trouble.

Through it all, Byron, who was in the lead pack with Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, both seeking a Playoffs position, netted an eighth place finish. In his case, the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro team drew even with regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. in terms of the points reset.

“It feels good,” Byron said. “It looks like we’re tied with Martin (Truex Jr.) for Playoff points. That’s a lot better position than we’ve been in the past, so we’ll try to take advantage of that.”

Although Elliott and Bowman missed this year’s postseason field, Byron compiled his best effort yet in the NASCAR Cup Series. The five-time race winner dominated at Las Vegas and Watkins Glen and showcased resiliency at Phoenix, Darlington and Atlanta.

Byron raced patiently and methodically to score an eighth place result at Daytona. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

Likewise, he has demonstrated the prowess and excitement that made him a championship contender in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2016 and the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. On days when his car has the speed to win, more times than not, he comes through.

Then, on the days where he may not have the fastest car or race winning pace, he still finds the maximum from his car to get a top five or top 10. In concert with tallying Playoff points from his eight stage wins, it is clear to perceive Byron as this year’s championship favorite.

Naturally, racking up more Playoff points in the opening rounds of the postseason is on Byron’s mind.

“Last year, I think we were in the teens for Playoff points, so I feel good about (that),” he said. “The good thing is we can still get some more in the first round, so hopefully we can maybe get a stage win or a victory in the first couple races and see how it plays out.”

That wait and see approach paid off at Daytona with a top 10 result that retained some of the momentum from the afterglow of his Watkins Glen win.

Teamwork can make the dream work in 2023. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it feels good,” he said. “Just thank you to everyone at Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports, our whole No. 24 team. We had a solid night. In the pack, we were just struggling to advance forward, just kind of one move behind all of the time.

“But it’s good to get a top-10 and going into Darlington with some momentum. That’s a really good racetrack for us, I feel like.”

In the series’ most recent visit to Darlington, Byron emerged as a late race contender, leading seven laps en route to a Goodyear 400 win. While this weekend’s Cook Out 500 at Darlington is not a throwback weekend, perhaps the co-points leader will throw it back to his victory on Mother’s Day 2023.

“We have a couple little things to work on at Darlington, just to get a little bit better, but I feel like the first round sets up well,” Byron said. “We just need to have a solid first couple of races and put ourselves in a good spot.”

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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