Date: Sept. 30, 2018
Race 29 of 36: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 2.28-mile “roval” / 109 laps / 248.52 miles
Standings (from leader): 22nd (-2569)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
As many predicted, the “roval” – Charlotte Motor Speedway’s new track configuration that combined portions of the traditional 1.5-mile oval with parts of the infield road course to create a 17-turn, 2.28-mile track – created plenty of chaos on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, William Byron and the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team were victims of that chaos, resulting in an early end to their day, although the race produced plenty of excitement and saw the No. 24 team running in the top 10 for much of the 109-lap event.
Rolling off the grid 21st, Byron climbed into the top 20 in just one lap on Sunday afternoon and worked his way up to 17th before the first caution on Lap 14. As a few competitors headed to pit road, Byron remained on the track and restarted 12th. He fell to 15th a few laps later and crew chief Darian Grubb elected to have Byron short-pit the stage in a strategy call to gain track position for the next segment. Byron brought the No. 24 UniFirst Chevy to pit road three laps before the end of the first segment and rejoined the field with four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, ultimately taking the green-checkered flag to finish Stage 1 in 33rd.
As planned, Byron stayed on the track between stages, lining up 17th for the start of Stage 2. He climbed into the top 10 by Lap 37, and found the top five just five laps later. While he was running fourth on Lap 45, the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 experienced a flat tire after running over debris on the track, and it forced Byron to pit road. He was hit with a commitment line violation on the way to pit road, pushing the team even farther back in the field. Byron finished Stage 2 in 36th.
The Stage 2 ending didn’t deter the No. 24 UniFirst team and, ultimately, Byron found himself in a similar position to a planned short-pit strategy, so he stayed out once again in between segments and lined up 17th for the final stage with only four laps on his tires. During an early caution in the final segment, Byron came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help free up the UniFirst Chevy. He rejoined the field in 27th for the restart on Lap 61. Byron moved up to 24th by Lap 63 and was up to 21st by the end of the next circuit. When a caution flag waved not long after, the No. 24 team went with a fuel-only stop, allowing Byron to win the race off of pit road. Several competitors did not pit, however, placing Byron seventh for the ensuing restart.
With 25 laps to go, Byron had settled into ninth place. He climbed to eighth before a caution flag waved on Lap 101 and he stayed on the track for the restart. On the restart, however, Byron was involved in a multiple-car incident. The damage ultimately ended his day and he was scored 34th. Byron still claimed rookie of the race honors, as Bubba Wallace was collected in the same incident.
Alex Bowman led the Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag in fourth and he was followed by Chase Elliott in sixth and Jimmie Johnson in eighth. Both Bowman and Elliott moved on to the next round of the playoffs while Johnson was eliminated on tiebreakers.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“We were having such a good run today – staying in the top-10 most of the day. It was definitely disappointing to have that happen so late in the race. We've run so good on the road courses. This was a good challenge, and I felt like we were making the most of it. The ‘roval’ is a good, new challenge – maybe we do better figuring out the restarts and clean up the track a little better because nobody could get any grip on that restart. But, it was a good challenge.”