The final scoreboard of Thursday’s Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway had William Byron in 10th place, but the finish was not indicative of Byron’s late run towards the front as he was in position of potentially achieving his first NASCAR Cup Series career win amid an up-and-down 2020 season.
Byron’s run at Kansas started with veteran Keith Rodden calling the shots atop the No. 24 AXALTA/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE pit box while Chad Knaus, who is expecting the birth of his second child with his wife Brooke, opted to remain in North Carolina and assist via communication inside the HMS shop throughout the race.
Starting 15th based on a random draw, Byron fell back to within the top 20 and was scored in 20th when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. Following a four-tire pit stop, including fuel and a chassis adjustment to tighten the No. 24 car, Byron struggled throughout the first stage and during a long run under green. When the first stage concluded, Byron was back in 23rd.
The second stage was where the Charlotte native improved as he worked his way back inside the top 20. Following a caution for a single-car spin near the 100-lap mark, Byron gained 14 points on pit road and moved into seventh following a two-tire pit stop. On the ensuing restart, however, Byron fell out of the top 10 and out of the top 15 as he continued to battle loose conditions to his car. When the second stage concluded, Byron was back in 20th.
The final stage was where Byron started to flex his muscles and make something happen in his quest to race his way back into Playoff contention. After dodging a series of multi-car wrecks and carving his way back towards the top 15, starting with 101 laps remaining, Byron and Rodden opted to roll the dice and remain on track on old tires while everyone else pitted prior to a restart with 68 laps remaining. On the ensuing restart under green, Byron battled with Denny Hamlin for one full lap behind he emerged out in front. After leading five laps, Byron was overtaken by Brad Keselowski for the lead. Though he was running on four old tires, Byron was able to keep pace with Keselowski. With 46 laps remaining, the flaming No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet was back at the front as he started to extend his advantage to nearly three seconds. Still needing a final pit stop to make the race to its distance the caution, the caution Byron was hoping for came out for a single-car incident on the backstretch. Under caution, Byron pitted for fuel and for two fresh right-side tires only as he exited with the lead followed by teammate Alex Bowman, who also opted for a two-tire stop.
Four laps later, Byron battled dead even with Bowman before Bowman overtook Byron for the lead. Following another late caution and another late restart, both Byron and Bowman dropped out of the top five and from race-winning contention while a handful of competitors on four fresh tires moved up to the front. When the checkered flag flew, a race won by Hamlin, Byron was able to hold on to finish 10th, two spots behind teammate Bowman. Byron’s other Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson, finished 12th and 32nd.
While it was not a win at a track where Byron won his first NASCAR Truck Series back in 2016, the 10th-place result was Byron’s best following a three-race stretch outside the top 10 and since finishing seventh at Pocono Raceway in June. It also marked his sixth top-10 result of this season. Coming into Kansas, Byron was two points below the top-16 cutline to make the Playoffs. Now, the Charlotte native holds sole possession of the 16th and final spot to the Playoffs by 10 points with seven regular-season races remaining until the 2020 Playoffs commences.
“It was a solid finish for us – we needed that for sure for the Playoffs,” Byron said. “We started the race way off. We were really loose – just really struggling. The guys, Keith and everybody made a lot of great adjustments throughout the race. It really got us in a position where we could attack. As soon as we got probably 10 laps on our tires, the car felt pretty good. We just stayed out there on no tires, really ran there with [Keselowski] and was able to pass him back for the lead. I thought we were looking really good. Unfortunately, the two tires didn’t really work out for us there at the end. I think we just had too many laps on the left side and struggled there.”
Byron, along with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates and his fellow Cup competitors, will return for the next scheduled race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on August 2, which will air at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.