MOMENTUM SHIFT: Showing speed in the first three events of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron’s first two races didn’t end the way he hoped – but Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway changed the momentum. Qualifying 14th, Byron powered his way through the field, leading laps in the opening stage and scoring top-five results in both stage one and stage two. The 24-year-old driver continued to race within the top-five running order in the final stage and maintained that position even during a dicey overtime restart. Byron’s fifth-place result was his first top-five of the season and a track-best for him at Las Vegas at the Cup level.
LEADING THE CHARGE: So far in the 2022 Cup Series season, only three drivers have led laps in all three events held so far: Byron, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Byron has led the field in his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 a collective 25 laps in the three races.
VALLEY OF THE SUN: Heading to a track where he has found success at in every level of NASCAR competition, Byron will return to Phoenix for the ninth time in his Cup career. Across his eight Cup Series starts at the 1-mile oval, Byron has a personal-best finish of eighth (March 2021). In fact, half of his starts at Phoenix have resulted in top-10s – tied for the third-most at a track for Byron. He also is tied for the third-most top-10s in the last four races there behind teammate Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, who both have four. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native also has two NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Phoenix on his résumé, both coming in 2017 when he started on the front row and finished in the top four in both races, including a win in November. With that victory, he became the youngest Xfinity Series winner ever at Phoenix Raceway at 19 years, 11 months and 13 days.
DYNAMIC DUO OUT WEST: In 2016, Byron was behind the wheel for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix with crew chief Rudy Fugle atop the pit box. The duo won the pole position and went on to lead 112 laps. An engine failure while Byron was leading with 10 laps to go ended his night and his chances to advance on to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the team found redemption and won.
RUDY’S PHOENIX PERFORMANCE: Heading to Phoenix Raceway for the third time in his Cup Series crew chief career, Fugle’s first outing in the spring of 2021 resulted in an eighth-place effort with the No. 24 team. He returned to Phoenix for the season finale, and while he and Byron were poised for a top-10 finish, late race damage forced the driver down pit road, ending in a 17th-place effort. Aside from those two Cup Series starts, Fugle has eight Truck Series races under his belt at the 1-mile oval. In those events, he has four pole awards and his drivers have led a total of 471 laps. While Fugle has only one win Phoenix (Erik Jones in 2013), he also has two runner-up results, three top-fives and six top-10s. In fact, Fugle’s drivers have only finished worse than ninth two times, including the race with Byron that they dominated before an engine failure resulted in a 27th-place finish.
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on the challenge that Phoenix brings: “Even with the Next Gen car, I think restarts are going to be just as crazy at Phoenix (Raceway) this weekend. We’ve seen it the last two races, and I think this weekend will be no different. Choosing the right lane is going to be crucial to get yourself in a good position heading into turn one as well as maintaining track position overall throughout the race. Once you get back in traffic, the harder it is to make up ground, especially at a short track like Phoenix. We’ve had pretty good speed last year at Phoenix in the spring. We just need to make sure to keep up with the track and minimize mistakes to keep us up front and in contention at the end.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, on keeping momentum heading to Phoenix: “We had a good run in Las Vegas and got the result that we needed. It was a solid day overall, and I think it shows the strength this No. 24 team has. We had lots of positives in that race and loads of potential left. We just need to clean up the little things and I think we will be in contention to win every time we show up to the track. This is a team that is hungry for more. We’ve been good at Phoenix. We just need to be a little bit better. It’s a track that I really like overall in every series I’ve been, so I enjoy that we get two chances at it in a season. The goal is to be in the Championship 4 when we come back in November.”