Byron and Bowman emerge with top-six results in Playoff opener

While Kevin Harvick emerged with the upper hand over his fellow Playoff contenders by winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff opener in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman produced strong results for themselves after finishing in fifth and sixth place under the lights and in their pursuit for this year’s Cup title.

For Byron, he started the race in third place and with momentum fresh off of his first Cup career victory at Daytona International Speedway, a victory that locked himself and his No. 24 Chevrolet team into the Playoffs. When the race started, Byron raced inside the top five and was scored in fourth place when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. In the ensuing restart past the Lap 30 mark, he slipped back to sixth place, but was able to work his way back to fourth place following the first round of green flag pit stops around Lap 70. When the race restarted on Lap 86, Byron was back in eighth place. For the remainder of the first stage, he remained in eighth place and he collected a handful of stage points.

Restarting in the top 10 to start the second stage, he dropped back and was battling inside the top 15. Struggling to keep pace with the leaders under dark conditions than earlier, Byron was forced to settle in 12th place when the second stage concluded. During the final stage that started with approximately 130 laps remaining, he methodically worked his way back into the top 10 and was poised for a top-10 result in the final laps. Following an incident involving teammate Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., however, Byron gained a few more spots on the track and was scored in fifth place when he crossed the line and took the checkered flag.

The fifth-place result marked Byron’s third consecutive top-five result in recent weeks as the Charlotte native is in ninth place in the standings and nine points above the top-12 cutline.

“It was a struggle [early],” Byron said on NBCSN. “We just kind of kept slowly losing track position whether it was the restart or pit stop. After we got some of it back, I felt like we gotten our car just good enough that prior run to kind of run higher than most guys and that worked out pretty good for us on the final two runs. We just kind of have to find that lane and get our car in the track a little bit more. The combination of those two and some track position kind of got us up towards the top 10 and we were able to get a top five, so that’s nice. It’s good. We rallied [tonight]. It wasn’t pretty all 500 miles, but this really isn’t a track that we have a ton of notes on. We wrecked out early in the spring, so we had to get some of those spots back. Hopefully, we can go on to Richmond and have a pretty good run there.”

For Bowman, he started his run in the Playoffs in fourth place, but he was up into second place in the opening laps behind teammate Chase Elliott. Though he lost a spot as the early run under green progressed, Bowman was able to stabilize himself in third place when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. Restarting in second place in the ensuing restart, the Arizona native started to lose spots on the track and as the run progressed. Falling out of the top five, he was able to stabilize himself in the top 10 following a pit stop under green with the lead lap competitors and retain sixth place when the first stage concluded.

Throughout the second stage, Bowman contended well inside the top 10 and was able to work his way up to fourth place when the second stage concluded, thus collecting more stage points. Starting in the top five for the final stage, Bowman was poised to continue his charge back to the front. During the early portions of the final stage, however, he dropped all the way back inside the top 20 due to a pit road miscue, where the jack dropped during service to his No. 88 Chevrolet. Through most of the final stage, he worked his way back into the top 15 and then, the top 10. He was poised for a top-10 run in the final laps when contact between teammate Elliott and Truex while battling for the lead allowed Bowman to gain a few more spots on the track. When the checkered flag flew, Bowman crossed the line in sixth place.

With his ninth top-10 result of this season, Bowman is in fifth place in the Playoff standings and is 19 points above the top-12 cutline.

“I think we were definitely a little better on the long runs,” Bowman said on NBCSN. “[I] Came in fourth and went out like 18th. The jack had one job and it didn’t do its job, but my pit crew nails it every week. They’re one of the fastest crews on pit road. That stuff will happen. That’s part of this sport, but really pumped for everybody at [Hendrick Motorsports]. Obviously, [Byron] had a good run, [Chase Elliott] had a good run going and [teammate Jimmie Johnson] was really fast, too. Four really fast race cars. My cars looks so cool tonight. It’s so cool to be able to drive a Jimmie Johnson paint scheme. Man, that was pretty crazy. Big thanks to ChevyGoods and Truck Hero. [I] Had a good race car. Just hard to recover from that [pit road miscue], but we’ll move on to Richmond next week.”

With Byron and Bowman leading the way out of the four-car lineup from Hendrick Motorsports at Darlington Raceway, Elliott, a title contender, dropped all the way back to 20th place following his late incident while Jimmie Johnson, a non-title contender, settled in 18th place in his 24th and final run at Darlington.

Teammates Byron and Bowman, along with their fellow Playoff contenders, will return for the next NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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