PLAYOFF CONTENDER: With the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs set to kick off this Sunday, this will be William Byron’s fourth appearance in the 10-race battle for the championship. The driver of the No. 24 heads into this year’s playoffs seeded in the fifth position – his highest ranking yet in the reseeded points standings. In the upcoming 10 races, the Cup Series has run on six of those tracks already this season and Byron has one win (Martinsville Speedway) and an average finish of 11.33 – the best average finish of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates in those six races.
UP FRONT: Byron has led the second-most laps so far this season with 612 behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who has led 719. Those 612 laps led by Byron are not only his most in a single Cup Series season but came across 13 races – the seventh-most races led by a driver this year.
DARLINGTON DEETS: With eight previous Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Byron is looking to capitalize on his previously strong showings. Despite running well in most of his starts at the 1.366-mile track, Byron’s results don’t accurately represent the strength he had shown. While he has a track-best finish of fourth (May 2021), Byron has two top-five finishes and two top-10s. However, earlier this year, the 24-year-old driver was poised to take home the win at “The Lady in Black” until being moved out of the way for the victory with two laps to go, resulting in a 13th-place finish. In fact, in that race, he had a 6.11 average running position – his fifth-best race of the 2022 season (based on that statistic). Byron also has one NASCAR Xfinity Series start at the venue, where he qualified sixth and raced to a fifth-place result as well.
THE FUGLE FILES: When the Cup Series returns to Darlington on Sunday, it will mark the fourth trip to the South Carolina track for crew chief Rudy Fugle at the top level of NASCAR. Earlier this year, Fugle and the No. 24 team started ninth and were leading before being moved out of the way for the win with two laps to go, resulting in a 13th-place finish. Last season, Fugle called the shots for Byron at Darlington twice, starting fifth and racing to a fourth-place result in the spring and in the fall, where the team was running within the top 10 before a flat tire ended the team’s race early. Prior to last season, Fugle had only three previous starts at Darlington Raceway – two in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and one in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
VALVOLINE RETURNS: Valvoline will be the primary sponsor of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at Darlington this weekend. This will be the third race that the Valvoline colors will be onboard Byron’s No. 24, with a fourth race coming at his hometown track for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Valvoline Inc. (NYSE: VVV) is a leading worldwide marketer and supplier of premium branded lubricants and automotive services, with sales in more than 140 countries. Established in 1866, the company’s heritage spans more than 150 years, during which time it has developed powerful brand recognition across multiple product and service channels. Valvoline ranks as the No. 3 passenger car motor oil brand in the DIY market by volume. To learn more, visit www.valvoline.com.
HONORING 'JUNGLE': For Sunday’s race at Darlington, the No. 24 will have a special passenger riding above the right-side window – Jim "Jungle" Gilbert – as a part of the Workforce Appreciation campaign that the industry is recognizing this weekend. Known as “Jungle” by his colleagues, Gilbert was a member of the NASCAR industry from 1989 to 2022 before having to retire due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Spending his career as a transporter driver, Gilbert worked at Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 5 team with driver Kasey Kahne before moving to the No. 24 team with Byron. He was also involved with wheel force testing while with the company.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE OF MIND: While the fueler on the No. 24 team hails from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Landon Walker also has significant ties to the southernmost Carolina state, having played football at Clemson University. The former college offensive tackle earned a scholarship to Clemson in 2007 after being named an All-American offensive lineman in his hometown at East Wilkes High School. While playing at Clemson, Walker recorded 3,131 snaps with 49 starts at tackle through four seasons at the university. In 2011, Walker was named team captain, the same season Clemson went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The college football standout was then recruited by Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and earned a position as the starting fueler for the former No. 5 (now No. 24) team in 2015.
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on his thoughts for the first race of the playoffs: "I’m optimistic heading back to Darlington (Raceway) for the second time this year. We had the speed we needed in the spring to be in the lead when it mattered. The fall race is always a challenge though when it comes to heat and the transition throughout the race. I’m confident in Rudy (Fugle) and my team, though, that we’ll be prepared for every scenario. Getting off on the right foot for the first race of the playoffs is crucial so you’re not feeling like you are trying to play catch-up throughout the round. If we put together solid races and control the factors we can control, I think we can end the race with a win or at least a good result, which will set us up well for the next two races."
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on what he expects from Sunday’s race: "We ran well in the spring race at Darlington (Raceway) but this weekend’s race will be about as different as can be. It’s a longer race for starters, so there will be a bigger emphasis on strategy, especially with how high tire fall off is there. Sunday’s race is going to be much hotter than it was earlier this year. I do think we have some good notes to work off of since this race starts in the daytime. The biggest thing will be making changes to keep up with the track as it transitions from day to night. I think whoever keeps up with those changes the best will be the ones who find themselves running up front towards the end. Hopefully that’s the No. 24 team and we can kick off the first race of the playoffs with a good run."