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William Byron Wins EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA

William Byron

William Byron celebrates his triumph of the fourth annual EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA. (Photo: Cody Porter | The Podium Finish)

DEL VALLE, Texas — William Byron showcased his road course prowess in calm, confident fashion. More importantly, Byron furthered his case as a championship favorite during Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA.

From the moment Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was unloaded from its hauler, it was fast in short and long runs. The 26-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina, native was the fastest in Saturday’s practice session, backing up his pace by winning the pole.

On Sunday afternoon, Byron led the opening 12 laps before pitting prior to the end of Stage 1. Opting for track position to start Stage 2, the Hendrick Motorsports racer finished seventh in Stage 1, earning four stage points.

Once Stage 2 was underway, it was more of the same after Christopher Bell, who won Stage 1, led the Lap 19 restart alongside Michael McDowell.

However, Bell and those who did not opt to pit in Stage 1 or between the stage break pitted. Byron returned to the lead, enjoying his second stint as the leader for nine laps.

Similar to his Stage 1 strategy, Byron pitted on Lap 29 for tires and fuel, sacrificing the Stage 2 victory to set up for optimum track position to start Stage 3. With the lead lap contenders mixing it up on different pit strategies, Denny Hamlin, who started eighth, won Stage 2, besting Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Todd Gilliland and Ryan Preece to the stripe.

As Hamlin and those who stayed out at the end of Stage 2 pitted for tires and fuel, Byron led the Lap 34 restart, the first green flag lap of Stage 3. While it appeared as Byron would have smooth sailing, Ross Chastain, the 2022 COTA race winner, took the lead from the 2024 DAYTONA 500 champion just past Turn 1.

At this juncture, Chastain and his No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 looked like the one to beat against Byron and the 39-driver field. For the next 10 laps, Chastain was making a strong case for his first victory of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Then again, the methodical, patient Byron drew a bead on the once impressive lead by Chastain. By Lap 44, Byron took the lead from Chastain off the exit of Turn 1 in a nearly identical move to the latter’s clever maneuver on Lap 34.

Save for the final pit stops of the afternoon, Byron was the class of the field. The caution flag that the competition needed was nowhere to be found in the sixth round of the Cup season.

With Byron in command of the race, Alex Bowman found himself in second position. Inside the final eight laps, Bowman relinquished the second spot to Ty Gibbs before surrendering the third position to Bell.

The battle for second heated up between Ty Gibbs and Bell with the latter outmaneuvering his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Although it looked like Byron would drive off to his second Cup win of the season with ease, Bell made it an interesting finish, particularly as he chipped away at Byron’s margin.

William Byron

William Byron leads Ross Chastain and Ty Gibbs in the waning moments of Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finish)

On this particular race day, Byron built a comfortable enough advantage on Bell, besting the 29-year-old Norman, Oklahoma, native by 0.692 seconds. Byron, the winner of the fastest Cup race at COTA with an average race speed of 85.224 mph, observed how he and his No. 24 team found a cadence that carried throughout the race weekend.

“I don’t know if I’m the most confident one when I show up, but I feel like I just focus on the details that it takes,” Byron said. “Once I kind of find that rhythm and cadence of doing the shifting and the braking, you just start to fall into that place that you’ve been familiar with, it just kind of gets you through.

“Each one’s a little bit different. I feel like the quicker we can find that rhythm and kind of find that feel that I need in practice, the quicker we go.”

Along with the work and effort put toward their winning mount, Byron was appreciative of the additional practice session on Saturday morning.

“It’s different every week. I think we just put a good week of prep in,” he observed. “It was nice to have another 20 minutes. That first session, I was just getting up to speed at the end of it. It was nice to have another one to kind of get going.”

One of the catalysts with Byron’s growth and evolution as a racer is crew chief Rudy Fugle. Much like last year, it seems the Championship 4 finalists are finding their groove once more, constantly stepping up their game on all fronts, especially with the road courses.

“Yeah, really the first year with the old car, Hendrick Motorsports was far and above the way to go and the winners of all the road course races when I came in,” Fugle said. “We switched 2022 with a new car, and that wasn’t the case. We were terrible. Qualified in the 20s and ran there for the most part.

“We’ve been working steadily since then and kind of hit it on and off last year. We hit on some things. Obviously, Indy road course, we started last and hit on some things, and Watkins Glen winning that race. The Roval was second. Just been steadily working on it, learning a little bit week in and week out that we race road courses.”

Jeff Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, tipped his cap to Byron, Fugle and the No. 24 team on their smooth execution all weekend long, reminiscent of his years as a road course warrior from 1997 to 2006.

William Byron

After winning Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA, William Byron and Jeff Gordon reflect on the win in Victory Lane. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“What a weekend they put together,” Gordon said. “The race car that Rudy and the guys brought, the way that William drove it. I mean, just watching him qualify, how smooth he was. Same thing throughout the race. Just seemed to put the car in all the right places.

“I never saw him make a mistake, which is what it was going to take to win today in the closing laps because Bell had the faster car with the fresher tires. Any big lockup into a corner, I think it would have been a different outcome.”

It seems there is no slowing down the young sim to reality sensation as Gordon was complimentary of the No. 24 team’s complete focus from start to finish at COTA.

“A lot of credit to William in doing that great job,” he said. “Takes the whole team, the pit crew, everybody. They’re truly on quite a run here to start this season off. Can’t wait to see where they take it next.”

All for naught as far as the victory was concerned, Bell wondered about the mere possibility of challenging Byron for the win if a slip up occurred in the final laps.

“When I got close to him it was going to be tough to pass him. I needed a couple of mistakes,” Bell said postrace. “William has been really, really good on the road courses and he was flawless when it mattered today.

Third place finisher Gibbs settled for a strong result rather than forcing the issue with Bell for the runner up result.

“He’s my teammate,” Gibbs said. “He has new tires on and caught me from like a whole straightaway back. I feel like if I raced him that hard, it would have been kind of mean. I tried to let him by when he got to me, and it was just what it was.”

Beyond the usual rewards of a win and Giancarlo Stanton of Breaking Bad fame celebrating with the No. 24 team in Victory Lane, Byron was thrilled to have two familiar faces around all weekend long.

William Byron

For the second straight season, William Byron conquered a road course with his win in Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at COTA. (Photo: Cody Porter | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Byron said. “They got to come out here yesterday, flew in yesterday, got to see the race. It’s cool to have them here. Just got a chance to go to dinner last night. Dennis Lambert, who was my first crew chief, he was on the radio today. He was one of our spotters. It was really cool to have him.

“Yeah, kind of felt like a little bit of a homecoming. I think that’s his first Cup win he’s been at. He always joked that he was bad luck. Then Rudy brought him on. Worked out.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Christopher Bell
  2. Daniel Suárez
  3. Michael McDowell
  4. Austin Cindric
  5. Austin Dillon
  6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  7. William Byron
  8. Ty Gibbs
  9. Tyler Reddick
  10. Ross Chastain
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. Todd Gilliland
  5. Ryan Preece
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. John Hunter Nemechek
  8. William Byron
  9. Daniel Hemric
  10. Josh Berry (R)
EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 1 24 William Byron Chevrolet Running
2 4 20 Christopher Bell DEWALT Toyota Running
3 2 54 Ty Gibbs Monster Energy Toyota Running
4 17 48 Alex Bowman Ally Chevrolet Running
5 3 45 Tyler Reddick The Beast Unleashed Toyota Running
6 14 13 AJ Allmendinger (i) LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet Running
7 6 1 Ross Chastain Worldwide Express Chevrolet Running
8 20 17 Chris Buescher Fastenal Ford Running
9 16 8 Kyle Busch Mark III Employee Benefits Chevrolet Running
10 7 19 Martin Truex Jr. Bass Pro Shops Toyota Running
11 35 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford Running
12 28 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Jack Links Ford Running
13 32 14 Chase Briscoe Mahindra Tractors Ford Running
14 8 11 Denny Hamlin Interstate Batteries Toyota Running
15 10 23 Bubba Wallace Mobil1 Toyota Running
16 9 9 Chase Elliott NAPA Nightvision Chevrolet Running
17 15 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Running
18 11 2 Austin Cindric Discount Tire Ford Running
19 34 71 Zane Smith (R) Focused Health Chevrolet Running
20 12 16 Shane van Gisbergen (i) WeatherTech Chevrolet Running
21 22 42 John Hunter Nemechek Romco Equipment Co. Toyota Running
22 18 77 Carson Hocevar (R) Delaware Life Chevrolet Running
23 24 41 Ryan Preece Ford Running
24 5 7 Corey LaJoie Gainbridge Chevrolet Running
25 21 3 Austin Dillon Get Bioethanol Chevrolet Running
26 26 38 Todd Gilliland Ruedebusch Ford Running
27 23 15 Kaz Grala (R) N29 Capital Partners Ford Running
28 30 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Palmolive Chevrolet Running
29 25 50 Kamui Kobayashi Mobil 1 50th Anniversary Toyota Running
30 29 21 Harrison Burton Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Running
31 19 99 Daniel Suárez Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Running
32 38 43 Erik Jones Family Dollar Toyota Running
33 36 6 Brad Keselowski Castrol 125 Years Forward Ford Running
34 39 10 Noah Gragson Rush Truck Centers Ford Running
35 31 4 Josh Berry (R) Ford Running
36 37 66 Timmy Hill (i) Amptricity Ford Running
37 33 31 Daniel Hemric Cirkul Chevrolet Running
38 27 34 Michael McDowell Love’s Travel Stops Ford Steering
39 13 51 Justin Haley Fraternal Order of Eagles Ford DQ – Running

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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