NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1
Date: March 17, 2019
Race #5: Auto Club Speedway
Track Specs: 2-mile D-shaped oval / 200 laps / 400 miles
Standings (from leader): 19th (-133)
RECAPPING THE RACE: Continuing the trend of making improvements every weekend, William Byron once again had another NASCAR Cup Series track-best qualifying effort, with his 22nd-place effort at Auto Club Speedway Friday afternoon. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 then went on to battle his way to a 15th-place finish, scoring his first top-15 finish of the 2019 season as well as tying his previous Cup Series track-best at the two-mile oval.
When the green flag dropped Sunday afternoon for the final leg of the West Coast swing, Byron initially raced his way to just outside the top-10 running order within the first 10 laps. However, as the run continued, the Axalta Chevy began to run really tight, forcing Byron to slip back to 21st. Almost halfway through the first stage, green-flag pit stops began but crew chief Chad Knaus elected to keep the No. 24 on track longer allowing Byron to take the lead on Lap 31. The 21-year-old driver maintained the lead until Lap 33 when he came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a set of adjustments to aid in the handling of his Chevy Camaro ZL1. As pit stops cycled through and the stage continued, Byron reported that his car fired off a bit better than the last run but was still too tight. However, with four laps left in Stage One, the caution came out allowing Byron to come to pit road for four tires, fuel and more adjustments to the Axalta Chevrolet. Lining up 19th for a one-lap dash to the stage break, Byron was forced to avoid an incident in front of him, relinquishing him to an 18th-place finish in Stage One. To ensure he didn’t flat spot the tires, Byron came back down pit road for four tires, as well as for the No. 24 team to look for any potential damage.
After getting the all-clear from his crew, Byron returned to the track and lined up in the 20th position for the start of Stage Two. Once again taking advantage of the restarts, Byron made his way into the top-10 running order within three laps. As the green-flag run ensued, Byron began fighting the handling of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as it once again swung to the extreme tight side. Slipping back to 17th, Knaus called Byron down pit road under green as the leaders began to hit pit road as well for four tires, fuel and adjustments. Once pit stops cycled through fully, Byron found himself running 19th and remained there until the stage break, still fighting the handling on the No. 24. The Axalta team went to work under the break with another four-tire stop with major chassis adjustments.
Restarting 17th on Lap 128, Byron’s handling woes hindered him from making any forward progress, forcing him to slide back to 19th. With 39 laps remaining in the 200-lap race, Byron came to pit road under green for a four-tire pit stop. However, before green-flag pit stops could fully cycle through, the caution came out on Lap 165, catching Byron one lap down in the 21st position. Fortunately when the leaders pit under yellow, Byron was able to take the “wave around” putting himself back on the lead lap for the final 31 laps of the race. Despite still fighting a tight Axalta Chevrolet, Byron was able to find some speed in the closing laps and fight his way to a 15th-place finish to close out the West Coast swing.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott led the four-car brigade, finishing 11th, followed by Byron in 15th, Jimmie Johnson in 17th and Alex Bowman in 21st.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“I’m glad we were able to make it back to the top-15 there at the end. Today didn’t go how we wanted, and we definitely felt like we had a better car then we showed. Chad (Knaus) and the guys worked all day to try loosen the car up but it just wouldn’t turn like I needed. We’ve made progress as a team already this year and shortly we’ll have the results that reflect that.”