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William Byron, Jimmie Johnson continue strong showings - Jerry Bonkowski (NBC Sports)

William Byron, Jimmie Johnson continue strong showings - Jerry Bonkowski (NBC Sports)

July 8, 2019

William Byron, Jimmie Johnson continue strong showings 

by Jerry Bonkowski

It’s not a coincidence that fellow NASCAR Cup drivers have been seeing a lot more of William Byron and Jimmie Johnson in their rearview mirrors of late.

And if things continue the way they have in the last couple of races, it’s only a matter of time before those same drivers soon will see Byron and Johnson in front of them a lot more often.

With Justin Haley awarded the win in Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, it was Byron and Johnson who finished second and third, respectively.

For Byron, it was oh-so-close to what would have been his first career Cup victory.

“It’s kind of an unsettling feeling that close to the win,” Byron said. “If a few things went our way after that last caution, we might have won.”

But Byron tempered that by adding, “You don’t want to win that way as your first win, I guess. Obviously, a win is a win. I would take it that way. It’s maybe not the prettiest way to do it, but I’ll take it.

“But I guess now that I finished second, I’d rather have it another way. It would have been great, but unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for us. Still, to finish second with a backup car and start from the back, 40th, was really good. I’m happy with that. We can put the Daytona drama now behind us.”

Byron finished eighth at Chicagoland Speedway and second at Daytona. In his last eight races, he has five top-10 showings, including Sunday’s runner-up finish. He’s champing at the bit to get that elusive first Cup win.

“It would be really cool, so hopefully we can do that soon, hopefully next weekend for sure,” he said. “We’ve been close.”

Johnson, who remains winless in his last 77 Cup races (dating June 2017 at Dover), also has been improving slowly but steadily.

He has two top-five finishes in his last two races: fourth at Chicago and third at Daytona. Extrapolate that even further and Johnson has four top-10 finishes overall in his last seven starts.

“The last month, we’ve definitely been heading in the right direction, and I think we’re hitting our stride as a group right now,” Johnson said.

While Johnson lamented the fact that NASCAR may have gotten the full race in if it had started at 10 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. ET, he still was happy with the outcome in what is usually a wild-card race.

“Luckily, it’s over, it was just going to keep raining,” Johnson said. “Third-place points are pretty strong, so not a tremendous disappointment. With 33 laps to go (if the weather had cleared and the race would have restarted), there’s no telling how it would shake out.

“There could have been a wreck on the restart, and we could have finished in the 20s. We’ll take it, it is what it is, and move on.

“If it did go back to green, I think there’s only a handful of cars that were still in good shape. Certainly, William and I were going to do everything we could to get a Hendrick car to victory lane. But it is what is its, the race has been called, and we’ll take the third-place points and go home.”