MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY (TWO-MILE OVAL)
LOCATION: BROOKLYN, MICHIGAN
EVENT: NASCAR CUP SERIES (RACE 23 OF 36)
TUNE IN: 3 P.M. ET, SUNDAY, AUG. 11 (NBCSN/MRN/SIRIUSXM)
FRONT ROW FREQUENCY: Continuing to improve in all aspects during his sophomore season, this past weekend William Byron started on the outside pole at Watkins Glen International. It marked the eighth time he has qualified on the front row this season, which leads all NASCAR Cup Series drivers in 2019. It was the fifth time Hendrick Motorsports has swept the front row starting positions and the No. 24 team has been a contributing factor in all five. It was also the third time that Byron and teammate Chase Elliott, who won the pole at Watkins Glen, have shared the front row this season (Bristol Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway and Watkins Glen International).
HEATING UP IN THE SUMMER: Riding a hot streak during the summer months of the 2019 season, Byron currently has the fourth-highest average finishing position in the series, 10.83, over the last six races. In those six races, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has collected two top-five finishes and three top-10s. The driver of the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has solidly maintained his 12th position in the driver point standings throughout those six races and now holds a 60-point gap above the cutoff line with only four races remaining before the playoffs begin. In fact, in the last 10 races, Byron has gained 75 points on the cutoff line, improving his cushion in every race but two during that span.
WHAT SOPHMORE SLUMP?: Just 22 races into the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, Byron has exceeded his total of laps led, poles and top-10 finishes from his rookie of the year campaign in 2018. So far during his sophomore season, Byron has led 180 laps, collected three poles and earned seven top-10s, including finishing inside the top 10 in three of the last six races. In his rookie year, Byron led 61 laps, did not capture a pole and finished in the top-10 four times across 36 starts.
TIED FOR SECOND: Byron is one of four Cup Series drivers who have finished second in a race in 2019 but have yet to capture the checkered flag. He ranks third among the Cup field for most laps led (180) without a win.
LIBERTY U RETURNS: For the seventh time in 2019, the Liberty University colors will be on board Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 when the team unloads for this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway. Returning as a primary partner of the No. 24 team in 2019 for 12 races, Liberty University has a long history with the driver starting back in 2014 in the late model ranks and is in the midst of its fifth season of partnering with the 21-year-old driver. Liberty University has been Training Champions for Christ since it was founded in 1971. Located in the mountains of Central Virginia, Liberty is a liberal arts institution with 17 colleges and schools that offer more than 600 degree programs from the certificate to the doctoral level, on campus and online. Working on an undergraduate degree in business communication, Byron is now in his junior year at Liberty University through its online program.
MICHIGAN MINUTES: Returning to Michigan International Speedway for the second time in 2019 and for the second time with crew chief Chad Knaus atop the pit box, Byron is optimistic about his chances for improvement this weekend. In June, the sophomore driver qualified 21st but was running inside the top five when his Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 swung loose under a competitor, causing him to spin. Byron tried to regain as much track position as he could in the closing laps but restarting in the bottom lane halted his momentum, leaving him with an 18th-place finish. Before this year’s race, he had five NASCAR starts at Michigan International Speedway across all three series at the two-mile, D-shaped oval with a best starting position of 14th and a track-best finish of 13th, both coming in the rain-shortened Cup event last June. In his lone Xfinity Series start at Michigan, he qualified fourth and ended the race in the runner-up position, and in his one Gander Outdoor Truck Series start at the track, he started third and finished fourth.
WHAT HAPPENED AT WATKINS GLEN: After qualifying second and running within the top five throughout the entirety of Stage 1 last weekend at Watkins Glen International, Byron sustained substantial front-end damage due to contact with a competitor during the stage break.The incident forced the No. 24 team to make significant repairs that continued throughout Stage 2. Happy with the repairs made to the No. 24 Hendrick Autoguard Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 before the start of the final stage, Byron lined up 36th, still on the lead lap, and was able to fight his way up to the sixth position as pit strategy began to take effect. Pitting for fuel only with fewer than 30 laps remaining, the No. 24 car was running within the top 15, however as the laps wound down, fresher tires behind him prevailed, sending him to a 21st-place finish.
William Byron on heading back to Michigan:
“I don’t really know what to expect fully when we go back to Michigan a second time this year, but I’m optimistic about it. Earlier this year was more of a learning process with the new package and what to expect at such a high-speed track. This time I think we have a better idea of where we need to be when we show up and what we can expect throughout the race. In general, we’ve learned a lot as a team as the season has gone on, though, which puts us in an even better position when we start going back to some of these places for the second time. I’m excited to get to Michigan and see how the weekend goes for us because of it.”