NO. 24 UNIFIRST CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1
Date: September 29, 2019
Race #29: Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
Track Specs: 2.28-mile road course/ 109 laps / 248.52 miles
Standings (from leader): 11th (-45)
RECAPPING THE RACE: After capturing his fifth pole award of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron went into Sunday’s race needing to stay above the playoff cutline to advance on. Leading almost the entirety of the first stage, and collecting stage points in both stages, Byron went on to have a strong day in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, capturing a six-place finish and locking himself into the Round of 12.
Leading the field to green Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course, Byron quickly secured the top spot and set sail around the 17-turn course. Pulling out to a substantial lead, Byron paced the field for the initial 21 laps before the first caution of the day came out. Looking to score stage points with a three-lap dash to the end of Stage One, Byron restarted first, but an immediate caution as the field went into Turn One, shuffled the running order, leaving Byron with a second-place finish to end Stage One. Happy with how his No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was handling, crew chief Chad Knaus called the sophomore driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and no adjustments.
However, with varying pit strategy among the leaders during the last caution, Byron lined up 25th when the field went back to green for the start of Stage Two. Methodically working his way through traffic throughout the ensuing green-flag run, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native made his way up to the 12th position before the yellow came out on Lap 43. Coming to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and a minor air pressure adjustment, Byron rejoined the field in 13th for the final six laps of the stage. Trying to collect more crucial stage points, during the remaining laps Byron battled his way to a 10th-place finish in Stage Two. Playing strategy of their own, Knaus elected for Byron not to pit under the stage break, allowing him to pick up two more positions before the field went back green.
Restarting eighth in the UniFirst Chevy, Byron continued to make his march to the front of the field, moving to just outside the top-five running order, in sixth, with 50 laps remaining of the 109-lap event. Still needing to pit one final time before the race was over, when the caution came out on Lap 63 and then again on Lap 66, Knaus once again elected not to pit, wanting to get closer to their fuel window. Restarting sixth when the field went back green on Lap 67, Byron powered his way up to the third position just before green-flag pit stops began throughout the field. Eventually, Byron took over the top spot again as pit stops cycled through, but was called to pit road two laps later, on Lap 77, for four tires and fuel for the No. 24. As green-flag pit stops continued to cycle through, Byron was scored third in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 when the caution was displayed just 13 laps later. With their strategy set, Byron remained on-track despite the caution coming out just a couple laps later on Lap 94. Restarting fourth with 15 laps remaining, Byron fought hard to hold off the cars behind him with fresher tires but ultimately slid back to seventh as the caution was displayed two more times within a handful of laps before ultimately going under red flag conditions for a lengthy cleanup. Finally going back racing with six laps to go, Byron restarted from the seventh position but was able to pick up one more spot by the time he crossed the finish line, grabbing a top-10 finish, as well as collecting enough points to advance on to the next round of the playoffs.
In a stellar day for the Hendrick Motorsports camp, all four cars came home within the top-10 finish. Chase Elliott collected his third win of the season at Charlotte’s road course and Alex Bowman was close behind, crossing the stripe in second. Byron finished the race in sixth with Jimmie Johnson finishing ninth. With Sunday’s race an elimination race for the playoffs, all three cars originally locked in were able to advance their way into the Round of 12.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
WHAT WAS THE SIGNIFICANCE FOR YOU IN ADVANCING TO THE NEXT ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS IN JUST YOUR SECOND YEAR OF CUP?
“Yeah, it feels awesome. It was a goal accomplished. We had a good car and we could have gone for more, for sure, but I just wanted to finish the race. I knew we were close on points, so just to finish the race was a goal accomplished. A sixth-place finish is good and we’ll go onto Dover. I know it’s a good track for us.”
HOW DOES THE MINDSET CHANGE NOW FROM GETTING ENOUGH POINTS TO MOVE ON TO NEXT WEEK?
“Same thing, we can continue to do this for sure. I have to recover from this race, the heat, and go to Dover and have a really good race there.”