NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1
Date: March 31, 2019
Race #7: Texas Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 1.5-mile oval / 334 laps / 501 miles
Standings (from leader): 18th (-157)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
Starting on the front row for the second time in the 2019 season, Byron rolled off second for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Positioning the No.24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 within the front runners in the field for the majority of the 334-lap event, Byron scored his first top-10 finish of the season after crossing the finish line in sixth-place, tying his previous best NASCAR Cup Series finish at Pocono Raceway last year.
When the green flag dropped, Byron ran within the top-three running order for the initial portion of Stage One before the caution came out on Lap 15. Crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron to come down pit road for a splash of fuel to help with pit strategy later in the race. Restarting 12th on Lap 19, Byron maintained his top-10 running position until green flag pit stops began to cycle through later in the run. Having more fuel than most of the leaders from pitting under the first caution, Byron took over the top spot on Lap 66 and continued to lead the field until he hit pit road under green for his pit stop 14 laps later. Initially coming to pit road for a four tire stop, fuel and adjustments, Knaus made the quick decision to go with two tires after issues with the pit gun slowed the stop. Returning to the track with four laps remaining in the stage, Byron remained on the lead lap but ultimately finished the stage in the 13th position. Byron returned to pit road under the stage break for four tires and fuel after the Axalta team reworked their original pit strategy to overcome the issues from the previous stop.
Lining up 17th for the start of Stage Two with varying pit strategy still a factor, Byron worked his way back within the top-15 running order despite still fighting an Axalta Chevy that was slightly loose. Once again, green flag pit stops began to cycle through the field part way through the stage and Knaus made the call to keep Byron out longer than most of the leaders. Before pit stops could cycle through fully, the caution came out on Lap 149 with Byron running on the lead lap in seventh. With the caution trapping a good portion of cars one lap down, Byron returned to pit road for four tires and fuel before restarting seventh with 12 laps remaining in the stage, ultimately scoring stage points after crossing the finish line in eighth. Continuing to use pit strategy to try get the No. 24 back up to the front of the field, Knaus made the call for Byron to stay on track during the stage break.
Restarting from the sixth position on Lap 255 for the start of the final stage, Byron maneuvered himself through traffic to run within the top-four running order. However, as the run progressed so did the handling of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, getting more and more loose forcing Byron to slide back to sixth. Once again, another round of green-flag pit stops cycled through with Byron back running within the top-five. With 79 laps remaining the caution came out allowing Byron to come back down pit road, this time for two right side tires and fuel. Scored eighth for the ensuing restart, Byron methodically worked his way up to the third position as the laps began to wind down. With everyone short on fuel to the finish, Byron took the lead on lap 319 but was forced to pit a lap early himself when he felt like he was running out of fuel. Getting a splash of gas and returning to the track with 14 laps remaining, Byron fought hard alongside teammate Jimmie Johnson for position before ultimately taking the checkered flag in the sixth position – a new Cup Series best at Texas Motor Speedway and his best race overall in so far in 2019.
Johnson snagged a top-five finish for Hendrick Motorsports in the closing laps of Sunday’s race, finishing just in front of Byron in fifth. Chase Elliott crossed the finish line in 13th and Alex Bowman finished the day with an 18th-place finish.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“It was a good day. We had a gun break on the first pit stop and I felt like we were running in the top five at that point. We got back to the top five later in the race and I ran about fifth or sixth from there. It just felt like we were right there in the mix all day. It was a little bit free after that last green flag pit stop and that hurt us a slight bit but overall it was a good day and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”