RECAPPING THE RACE
Qualifying in the fifth position for the first NASCAR Cup Series race at the Circuit of The Americas, William Byron was in contention early on in Stage One before ultimately being included in an on-track incident in the closing laps of the opening stage. Able to fix the damage sustained, the No. 24 team spent the remainder of the event working to regain the lost track position. Running inside the top-15 with his eyes set on the top 10, Byron was 11th in the final stage when the rain began to worsen before ultimately drawing the red flag, ending the race 14 laps early.
With qualifying returning for the inaugural Cup Series race at COTA, Byron advanced his way through the multi-round session to qualify in the fifth position for Sunday afternoon’s event. With rain looming, Byron took the green from fifth but quickly moved up to second halfway through the first lap. However, with the rain picking up, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native came down pit road before the completion of the first lap for four rain tires. With more competitors electing to put on rain tires as well, Byron moved his way back inside the top 10 before the yellow flag came out on Lap 9. Electing not to pit, Byron restarted sixth but quickly entered the top five. However, with two laps to go in Stage One, the No. 21 got into the right rear of Byron’s Liberty University Chevrolet, resulting in his tire going flat and forcing Byron to pit before the end of the stage once pit road was already closed. Able to stay on the lead lap, the No. 24 team went to work under the stage break to fix the damage sustained.
Having to start at the tail end of the field due to pitting when pit road was closed, the field went back to green but shortly transitioned back to yellow as Byron missed an on-track incident in front of him and was forced to maneuver around another on-track incident just a few laps later, With the red flag displayed for extensive cleanup, the field went back to green with four laps left in Stage Two. Byron began to make his way through the field, reaching 22nd by the time the green-checkered flag was displayed. With heavy rain still looming, crew chief Rudy Fugle made the call for his driver not to pit under the stage break, lining him up 16th for the final stage.
Fighting handling woes early on in the final leg and dropping back to 19th, the handling of the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1lE began to come around as the run went on, allowing Byron reach the top 15 after 10 laps. With varying pit strategy playing out for the duration of the rest of the race, Byron was able to take advantage of the situation and move up to third before having to come down pit road himself. On Lap 47, Fugle called the No. 24 down pit road under green for four tires and fuel before returning to the track in 19th. Utilizing his fresher tires, Byron maneuvered his way through traffic reaching 11th with 15 laps remaining at the 3.41-mile road course. Unfortunately, as the race continued the weather worsened and the caution was ultimately displayed, before the red flag was shown, for a lack of visibility for the drivers. With the track taking on so much water, Sunday’s race at COTA was ultimately shortened due to weather, leaving Byron with an 11th-place finish.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott won the inaugural race at the Circuit of The Americas, collecting the 800th Cup Series win for Chevrolet as well as win 268 for Hendrick Motorsports, tying them for the most wins in the Cup Series.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON
“Yeah, we honestly wanted to win today, and I thought we were in a great position and I just kind of jumped the gun on pitting too early. I got the rain tires on the car and we were a little too dry for it and wore them out. We were running fifth there in Stage 1 and the 21 got into us and tore the right rear up and we just had a bunch of damage after that. To finish 11th is awesome for this Liberty University Chevrolet team. They did a great job repairing it but it never really drove the same because I think it knocked the rear end out of place. To finish 11th after that is good, it’s a bummer, but I thought for sure we would get a top 10 the way it was going and just unfortunately the rain came too hard. But it was a blast, I enjoyed it, and congrats to Chevrolet on their big win, and to Hendrick Motorsports. Getting close to breaking that record, so hopefully we can do it next week.”