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NASCAR Cup Series

William Byron Wins Goodyear 400, Tallies 100th Cup Victory for No. 24

William Byron earned a hard fought Goodyear 400 win at Darlington Raceway. (Photo: Trish McCormack | The Podium Finish)

William Byron earned a hard fought Goodyear 400 win at Darlington Raceway. (Photo: Trish McCormack | The Podium Finish)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Sometimes, it is about being at the right place at the right time versus flat out speed and domination as William Byron can attest to following Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway.

Sure, the 25-year-old Charlotte, North Carolinian started fourth and tallied strong results in Stages 1 and 2 of second and fourth, earning 16 stage points in the process. However, it was about positioning himself and the No. 24 Axalta NASCAR 75th Anniversary Chevrolet Camaro to contend for the win when it really mattered.

Namely, Byron kept himself out of harm’s way while his Hendrick Motorsports team, led by crew chief Rudy Fugle, continually kept fine tuning the car throughout the somewhat extended 295-lap race.

Likewise, the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year avoided the problems that befell his peers, especially in Stage 3. While the majority of the race was relatively smooth for Darlington standards, carnage ensued on Lap 195 when Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland, Noah Gragson, Erik Jones, Ty Gibbs and Daniel Suárez were collected in a backstretch crash.

About 94 laps later, more madness occurred in Turn 1 when Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick wrecked.

This set up a late race restart duel between Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain on Lap 288 which turned ugly immediately heading into Turns 1 and 2. With both drivers unrelenting with precious real estate on the track, the Chevrolet combatants tangled, effectively ending their opportunities to win at “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”

While Larson and Chastain crashed out of the race, Byron ducked beneath the mess much like Jeff Gordon in the 1995 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Much like the man who won 93 races in the famed No. 24 entry, Byron drove his way to Victory Lane at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track.

If Byron wanted to make an early season statement, a win at Darlington was a surefire way to do so with his first three win season in his Cup Series career.

Beyond a personal feat, Byron drove to the 100th victory for the No. 24 entry, a milestone that was not lost upon him after the race.

Byron bided his time before making the winning move in a timely moment in Turns 1 and 2. (Photo: Trish McCormack | The Podium Finish)

Byron bided his time before making the winning move in a timely moment in Turns 1 and 2. (Photo: Trish McCormack | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, we were well aware on the team,” Byron said. “It’s kind of that hump we wanted to get over pretty quick. I think I was a little bit anxious about it. Getting those two wins early in the year and then trying to get a third is tough. In this sport everyone is so competitive, as we saw today. You had four or five cars within a chance for the lead.

“Yeah, just good to get over that hump and get to get that monumental win for the No. 24. It’s been a really special number to me already.”

Unlike the wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix, Byron was like a skilled poker player who knew when to show his cards at the table in the right moment.

“We try to make the best decisions, and today I felt like we grinded our way through this race,” he said. “It was a tough race for us, but we kept our heads in it, and that’s what made us make good calls at the end to get us in a position.

“I don’t think we really thought we could win in the first restart when there was that big wreck. Then, we started to get a glimmer of hope and then we started to go to work on what are the things we need to do to win it.”

Despite last year’s heartbreaking finish against Joey Logano at Darlington, Byron did not consider Sunday’s race as some sort of vengeance or a redemption moment. Instead, it was about staying in contention and building toward a winning afternoon.

“I came here being excited to race at Darlington,” he said. “I felt like it would be a tough weekend because of some of our falloff the previous weeks, so I was hopeful that we worked on it, and we did, and we had a good long run car. I was just kind of thinking about those things, just really the things that matter to us and our team.”

Notably, Kevin Harvick, in his penultimate start at Darlington, had an eventful path to a runner-up result. After getting involved in the Lap 282 Turn 1 skirmish, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion managed to bring his damaged No. 4 SunnyD Ford Mustang home with a strong second place finish.

“We had a good car all day,” Harvick said. “We just could never get up toward the front. Our Sunny Delight Ford Mustang struggled in traffic today, but we were really good at the second half of the run and just struggled at the beginning of the run.

“We had good track position and then had a bad pit stop under green, but had everything work out at the end. I didn’t have anything for WIlliam. The front is tore up pretty good, but they did a great job and just kind of kept ourselves in the game and you never know what’s gonna happen.”

Similarly, Chase Elliott overcame a late race incident to tally a podium finish. In trademark Elliott fashion, the Dawsonville, Georgian praised his No. 9 team for keeping him in the fight all afternoon long.

“It was a solid finish, for sure,” Elliott said. “I felt like our No. 9 LLumar Chevy was plenty good enough to go up there and battle with those guys to win. I just struggled so bad in traffic; way worse than other guys do driving this caliber of a car.

“I just feel like from that standpoint, I’ve got a lot of work to do on my end. Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and our team has done a really good job preparing good racecars. Our pit stops really kept us in the game all day. Obviously, we got really fortunate and lucky with those cautions coming out.”

Perhaps this is Byron’s seminal moment as a genuine, consistent Cup superstar. Gone are the days of the stock car sensation being the reliable one to two win a season driver.

Sunday’s Goodyear 400 may mark the beginning of Byron being one of the new, elite stars of Cup, especially with a strong team supporting him on a weekly basis.

While it is not the 1998 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte, Byron brought the Chromalusion wrapped colors to Victory Lane at Darlington. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

While it is not the 1998 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte, Byron brought the Chromalusion wrapped colors to Victory Lane at Darlington. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, for sure, definitely that,” Byron said. “It’s just really hard to separate at the top. I feel like there’s a few guys that could win every week. Being in that little bit is tough, but sometimes they go your way, and you just try to stay up there and in contention.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers

Truex Jr.-Byron-Wallace-Chastain-Busch/Keselowski-Stenhouse Jr.-Harvick-Reddick-Bell

Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers

Chastain-Busch-Larson-Byron-Keselowski/Bell-Harvick-Blaney-Stenhouse Jr.-Truex Jr.

Goodyear 400 Top 10 Finishers at Darlington


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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