IT’S BRISTOL BABY: With Saturday night’s race marking the final race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, William Byron is currently sitting below the cutline, in 15th place. Needing to be in the top 12 in points to advance on, this is not a must-win situation for Byron who is just 18 points below the line. With a solid night at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native can still earn enough points to move on, while a win would automatically lock him into the Round of 12.
BEST YEAR YET: With only eight races left in the 2021 Cup Series season, Byron is continuing to have a career-best season at the highest level of competition in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. So far, Byron has collected one win (Homestead-Miami Speedway), two pole awards (Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – most by a driver this season), nine top-five finishes and 16 top-10s (tied for the third-most by a driver this season) all while leading 276 laps and collecting three stage wins. In his Cup career, these are the most top-five finishes, top-10s, laps led, and stage wins the 23-year-old driver has collected in a single season.
BATTLE AT BRISTOL: This weekend, Byron will make his seventh Cup Series start at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has a best qualifying effort of second at “The Last Great Colosseum,” lining up alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott in April 2019. In his six starts at Bristol, Bryon has a track-best finish of eighth which came last year in the spring race. In the last night race in September 2020, Byron found himself running inside the top 10 before being collected in an on-track incident, ending his night early.
THE FUGLE FILES: While the Cup Series traveled to Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this year for the dirt event, Saturday night’s race will mark Rudy Fugle’s first on pavement as a Cup Series crew chief at “The Last Great Colosseum.” In seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, Fugle has one win at the half-mile track coming in the spring of 2013 with Kyle Busch. In total, his drivers have collected three top-five finishes, along with six top-10s. In fact, Fugle only has one finish worse than ninth across his seven starts at Bristol.
ALL ABOUT AXALTA: For the final race of the Round of 16, Byron will climb behind the wheel of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Now in its 29th year of partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta will return as primary partner on Byron’s No. 24 for 14 races in 2021.
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on heading to Bristol under the playoff cutline: “Obviously, we’re not in an ideal situation heading to Bristol but we’re by no means out of it. Just because we’re below the cutline doesn’t mean we need to try anything crazy, either. That’s when people put themselves in bad situations, I feel like. We just need to go to Bristol and execute on all levels as a team. We know we have the speed in our cars to run well at Bristol; we just need to focus on running our race. We’ll be aware of what’s going on around us, but we can only control our race and that’s what we’re going to focus on. We need to maximize our points and be around at the end of the night to capitalize.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on the strategy going to Bristol: “Every week we try to go win and this race is no different. We put in the same amount of effort every week. There are always going to be some tracks that you have a better chance at winning at than others, but we feel like Bristol is one of those that is high up on our list. We think we can go in there, reach the top five hopefully by the end of stage one and continue to race in the top five all night long before seeing what happens at the end of it. There’s probably a couple scenarios where if we get a lot of stage points and a few people have issues - which statistically happens at the Bristol night race - that we could point our way in with a top-five night. But there’s no easier way to lock in than to win and there’s no better place to do it than the Bristol night race. We want to end the night driving up into victory lane and celebrating.”
Fugle on how easily things can change throughout a race: “No one knows better than us that anything can happen in a race, especially something out of your control. We had that happen at Darlington when a lug nut got wedged down in the wheel and broke a valve stem, ending our night early. These races - you can lose them faster than you can win them. All we can do is get those stage points early on and put more pressure on those guys in front of us. They may think they’re in a safe situation and can run 10th all night, but if we can put pressure on them to step it up, that’s when mistakes happen and we can be there to capitalize.”