In one of the wildest events of his youthful racing career, William Byron defied the odds by rallying from his early issues both on pit road and on the track that pinned him a lap behind to methodically motor his way back towards the front and implement a strategic pit call that enabled him to contend and attain the lead before claiming a dramatic victory in the rain-shortened Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 9.
The 25-year-old Byron from Charlotte, North Carolina, led the final 20 of 185-shortened laps in an event where he started 18th and had a strong showing by finishing fifth in the first stage. Amid the stage break, however, Byron’s event quickly down spiraled after he was penalized for a safety violation during his pit stop that sent him to the rear of the field.
Then while trying to carve his way back to the front, Byron ran into more trouble on Lap 79 after a tap from Corey LaJoie sent the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 spinning through the frontstretch. Despite nursing his car back to pit road in spite of flat-spotting his tires, Byron lost a lap to the leaders. By Lap 92, however, Byron received the free pass to return to the lead lap category amid a muti-car wreck that knocked his teammate Kyle Larson out of contention.
Then after pitting with a host of competitors amid a caution period due to a multi-car wreck that struck on Lap 122, an opportunity presented itself for Byron and the No. 24 team when the second stage concluded on Lap 160. With weather threats persisting and looming near the venue, Byron remained out on the track as he restarted the final stage inside the top five. Then with 93 laps remaining, Byron overtook AJ Allmendinger for the lead and retained the top spot until the event’s seventh caution period flew with 83 laps remaining for a two-car spin involving Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace.
As the rain started to fall, Byron, who still retained the lead, led the field to pit road and the event was placed in a red flag period with 75 laps remaining. Not long after and with the rain increasing, NASCAR made the call to deem the event official as Byron was awarded his fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, July 8, Aric Almirola notched his first Cup pole of the 2023 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 177.346 mph in 31.261 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Ryan Blaney, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 177.266 mph in 31.275 seconds.
Prior to the event, Christopher Bell dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing entry.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Almirola and Blaney dueled for the lead through the first two turns. Entering the backstretch before Almirola, who started on the outside lane and with Joey Logano drafting him, Almirola muscled ahead in his No. 10 Smithfield/IHOP Ford Mustang. As the field made its way back to the frontstretch while running stacked in two lanes, Almirola led the first lap and then pulled ahead of the pack followed by Logano and Blaney while Chase Briscoe and Harrison Burton battled for fourth.
Through the second lap, the majority of the field migrated to the outside lane and in a long single-file line as Almirola retained the lead followed by his Ford teammates of Logano, Blaney, Briscoe and Harrison Burton while rookie Ty Gibbs occupied sixth in front of Kevin Harvick. As Harvick started to lose a handful of spots while being stuck on the inside lane by the fourth lap, where he slipped out of the top 10, Almirola was still leading the field.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Almirola was still leading by a tenth of a second over Logano as they were pursued by Blaney, Briscoe and Harrison Burton. Behind, Kyle Larson, Ty Gibbs, Austin Cindric, Tyler Reddick and Denny Hamlin were in the top 10 while Martin Truex Jr., Todd Gilliland, William Byron, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell were running in the top 15.
Six laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Harrison Burton, who was running in the top 10, slipped and spun sideways entering the backstretch from the middle to the bottom surface of the track as he was dodged by oncoming traffic while locking his tires and making light contact against the inside wall. During the first caution period, a host of names that included Harvick, Justin Haley, Ryan Preece, Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Alex Bowman, Ross Chastain, JJ Yeley, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, BJ McLeod, Austin Hill, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon and rookie Noah Gragson pitted while the rest led by Almirola remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 23, Almirola and Blaney dueled for the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch until Almirola managed to prevail from the outside lane again and retain the lead through Turns 3 and 4. During the following lap, he transitioned to the inside lane to gain control of the pack followed by Logano and Blaney as Larson was in fourth along with Truex, Cindric, Byron and Reddick.
At the Lap 30 mark and with the field running at speeds above 180+ mph amid the draft and in two-packed lanes, Almirola was leading ahead of Logano, Blaney, Truex and Larson while Cindric, Byron, Reddick, Briscoe and Ty Gibbs were running in the top 10. In addition, Todd Gilliland was in 11th ahead of teammate Michael McDowell, Christopher Bell, Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger while Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Justin Haley and Chris Buescher were scored in the top 20 with all but one of 37 starters scored on the lead lap.
Fifteen laps later, Almirola, who briefly lost the lead from Logano on Lap 40 before reassuming it back, retained the top spot ahead of a long line of competitors that included Logano, Blaney, Larson and Truex while Byron, Reddick, Bell, Cindric and Briscoe were in the top 10.
Then on Lap 48, Logano made his move beneath Almirola in Turns 1 and 2 and moved back in front of Almirola to inherit the lead through the backstretch. Almirola, however, darted left and fought back on the inside lane entering Turns 3. But Logano received drafting help from teammate Blaney exiting the turns as he surged ahead in his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang with the lead while Almirola was trying to navigate his way back to the outside lane amid the pack.
Nearing the Lap 50 mark, Larson and Truex moved up into third and fourth along with Byron while Almirola was still trying to force his way in front of Reddick in getting back up to the outside lane. With more contact ensuing through the frontstretch as Reddick nearly got turned by Cindric while racing him and Bell within the top 10, the field fanned out to three lanes as Almirola continued to slip back to 10th in front of Reddick.
Back to the front of the pack on Lap 53, Truex tried to overtake Blaney for second, but he could not execute the run to claim the spot as Larson tried to join the battle. By then, Bell carved his way up into the top five while Logano was still out in front with the lead. Another four laps later and with the field still fanning out to three lanes amid the intensity increasing, Blaney moved his No. 12 Wurth Ford Mustang into the lead ahead of teammate Logano while Larson tried to challenge Logano for second on the inside lane.
During the final lap of the first stage mark, Logano launched a final side-by-side challenge on teammate Blaney for the stage victory as the field fanned out. Amid the field fanning out, Larson also launched his charge to the front as he overtook Logano for second entering Turns 3 and 4 while barely staying above the double-yellow line boundary zone. He then tried to edge Blaney for the stage victory entering the frontstretch, but Blaney pulled ahead on the outside lane and managed to edge Larson for the first stage victory on Lap 60 and for his third stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Amid the field fanning out through the frontstretch, Larson settled in second while Truex, Logano, Byron, Bell, Cindric, McDowell, Reddick and Almirola were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire lead lap field led by Blaney pitted for service while BJ McLeod and Ty Dillon remained on the track. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategy, Larson exited first followed by Blaney, Byron, Suarez, Bell, Logano and Buescher. During the pit stops, Truex was hit by McDowell, who was trying to exit his pit stall, as Truex spun backward down pit road. Amid the pit stops, Hamlin was penalized for equipment interference. In addition, teammate Bell was also penalized for removing equipment from his pit box while Byron was penalized for a safety violation. McLeod and Ty Dillon, both of whom remained on the track, would pit after remaining on the track for a lap as Larson cycled to the lead followed by Blaney.
The second stage started on Lap 66 as Larson and Blaney occupied the front row. At the start, Blaney surged ahead on the inside lane with drafting help from teammate Logano through the first two turns and through the backstretch. With Larson fighting back on the outside lane, he would lead the proceeding lap before Blaney surged ahead and cleared the pack stacked up to two lanes during the following lap. Blaney would continue to lead at the Lap 70 mark as he had both of his Team Penske competitors, Logano and Cindric, running in the top three. In addition, Alex Bowman carved his way up to the front as he would overtake Cindric for third along with Haley, Bubba Wallace, Larson and Daniel Suarez.
Then on Lap 79, the third caution of the event flew when Corey LaJoie, who was racing within the top 25, turned and sent Byron for a spin just past the start/finish line towards the frontstretch as Byron managed to keep his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 spinning below the racetrack before he continued despite flat-spotting his tires. Despite continuing, Byron would lose a lap to the leaders.
During the caution period, select names that included Wallace, Ryan Preece, Truex, Elliott and McLeod remained on the track while the rest led by Blaney pitted. During the pit stops, Reddick was penalized due to a crew member jumping over the pit box too soon. Elliott would then pit prior to the restart and amid a miscommunication with his pit crew to pit earlier with the field
With the race restarting under green on Lap 85, Wallace and Truex, both of whom started on the front row, dueled for the lead as Wallace managed to lead the proceeding lap while running on the outside lane. With Truex fighting back on the inside lane, he then managed to surge ahead and move in front of Wallace to assume control of the field on Lap 87 as Bowman, Logano, Preece and Buescher followed in pursuit. Then on Lap 88, Ty Gibbs scraped the backstretch’s outside wall amid contact with Erik Jones, but the event remained under green flag conditions as the field led by Truex remained stacked in two fast-paced, tight-packed lanes.
On Lap 92 and just as Buescher carved his way to the front over Truex, the caution returned when Larson got loose and slipped sideways in front of Erik Jones as he then spun amid oncoming traffic in between Turns 3 and 4 while the field managed to dodge Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Chase Briscoe and Austin Hill both would spin below the track while trying to avoid Larson as Larson would damage the right-front end of his car after the right-front tire blew while he was trying to pit.
During the caution period, select names that included Truex, Wallace, Ty Dillon, Noah Gragson, Elliott, Almirola, Custer and McDowell pitted while the rest led by Buescher remained on the track.
By the proceeding restart on Lap 98, Buescher and Haley, both of whom restarted on the front row, dueled for the lead as Buescher managed to retain the top spot by a hair while running on the outside lane. As the field fanned out to three lanes just past the Lap 100 mark, Buescher cleared the field and assumed command of the field followed by Allmendinger, Logano and Blaney as Haley fell back to fifth. Bowman would then surge up into the top five by Lap 102, but he would be overtaken by Preece and Cindric amid the draft while Buescher retained the lead ahead of Allmendinger, Logano and Blaney.
By Lap 110 and with the field stilled fanned out towards the front, Buescher continued to lead ahead of Allmendinger, Logano, Blaney and Prece while Cindric, Bowman, Hamlin, Reddick and Corey LaJoie were in the top 10. By then, 34 of 37 starters were not only running on the lead lap but they were separated by four seconds as the top-eight competitors were separated by eight-tenths of a second.
Ten laps later and with the intensity of the competition igniting towards the front and around the venue, Buescher continued to lead by a tenth of a second over Allmendinger followed by Team Penske’s trio of Logano, Blaney and Cindric while Bowman, Hamlin, Keselowski, Bell and LaJoie followed pursuit in the top 10. By then, Larson retired in the garage.
Another two laps later and just as Team Penske’s trio of Logano, Blaney and Cindric overtook Allmendinger towards the front, the event’s fifth caution flew when LaJoie and Erik Jones made contact in between Turns 1 and 2 as LaJoie got loose and slipped up the track before he bounced off of Reddick, which sent Reddick’s No. 45 The Beast Unleashed Toyota TRD Camry scraping into the wall before he darted sideways. In the process, LaJoie would get hit by Ty Gibbs, who received a hard shot from Chastain as Chastain damaged the right front of his No. 1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, while Truex had to slam on the brakes to avoid sustaining any damage to his car.
During the caution period, some led by Buescher and including Logano, Blaney, Cindric, Bowman, Keselowski, Haley, Elliott, Preece, Almirola, McDowell, McLeod, Briscoe, JJ Yeley, and Kevin Harvick remained on the track while the rest led by Allmendinger pitted.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 128, Buescher and Logano dueled for the lead through the first two turns as they had Ford teammates Blaney and Cindric drafting them. Buescher, however, would muscle ahead with drafting help from Cindric as the field fanned out to two stacked lanes. With the field reaching its halfway mark on Lap 130, Buescher retained the lead ahead of Cindric, Blaney and Logano while Keselowski carved his way into the top five. Cindric, however, would receive drafting help from teammate Blaney to shoot into the lead through Turns 3 and 4 during the following lap. Keselowski would then merge into the top three and challenge Cindric for the lead during the proceeding laps as Buescher was left to battle Blaney and Logano for third.
By Lap 140, Cindric was leading following a long duel against Keselowski as Keselowski settled in second while Blaney and Buescher battled for third. Behind, Truex battled Bowman for fifth while Haley, Allmendinger, Logano and Wallace battled and jostled against one another inside the top 10. Keselowski would then reassume the lead two laps later as he re-ignited his battle on Cindric for the lead. With Keselowski out in front, Blaney would then draw himself back towards the front and challenge Keselowski for the lead.
At the Lap 150 mark, Keselowski was leading the field while trying to fend off teammate Buescher, Blaney and Cindric amid the draft and in close-quarters racing.
Five laps later, the caution flew when Bowman, who was running towards the front, slipped up the track through Turns 3 and 4 and clipped Hamlin as he sent Hamlin’s No. 11 Coca-Cola Toyota TRD Camry sideways entering the frontstretch before both spun through the frontstretch while the rest of the field led by Keselowski dodged the incident. The caution period for the incident involving Hamlin and Bowman was enough for the second stage scheduled to conclude on Lap 160 to conclude under caution as Keselowski captured his second stage victory of the 2023 season. Blaney settled in second while Buescher, Cindric, Allmendinger, Wallace, Haley, McDowell, Bell and Preece were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break and with weather threats looming, some led by new leader Allmendinger and including McDowell, Erik Jones, Byron, Suarez, Gilliland, JJ Yeley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Custer, Kyle Busch, McLeod, Ty Dillon and Reddick remained on the track while the rest led by Keselowski pitted amid mixed strategy.
With 96 laps remaining, the final stage started as Allmendinger and McDowell occupied the front row. At the start, McDowell tried to surge ahead on the inside lane through the first two turns. With both Allmendinger and McDowell remaining dead even for the lead, however, Allmendinger surged ahead on the outside lane as he led the proceeding lap. Allmendinger would then pull ahead of McDowell before Byron carved his way into the lead with 93 laps remaining. With Byron out in front and as the field fanned out to three tight-packed lanes, Allmendinger settled in second followed by Suarez, Gilliland and Yeley while McDowell, who was running low of fuel, battled Stenhouse and Kyle Busch for sixth.
With 88 laps remaining, Harvick spun his No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang just past the frontstretch amid contact from Hamlin, but he kept his car spinning below the track as the event remained under green. Back at the front, Byron retained the lead ahead of Allmendinger while Kyle Busch used the outside lane to try to bolt his way into the top five. By then, Keselowski was back into the top five and running in fifth while Suarez started to challenge Allmendinger for second.
Then with 83 laps remaining, the caution flew when Preece received a bump from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entering Turn 3 that sent him sideways and spinning into the path of Wallace as both spun towards the bottom of Turn 3 after running in the top 10. At the moment of caution, Byron was scored the leader ahead of Suarez, Allmendinger, McDowell and Kyle Busch.
As the field continued to run under a cautious pace behind the pace with pit road closed and with less than 80 laps remaining, reports of rain and sprinkles were being reported in Turn 1 and through the backstretch as Byron retained the lead. Then with 75 laps remaining, the field led by Byron was directed to pit road and the event was placed under a red flag period due to the increase of rain around the venue.
Soon after and with the rain intensifying around the venue, NASCAR declared the event official 75 laps shy of its scheduled distance and William Byron was awarded his fourth victory of the 2023 Cup season.
With the victory, Byron became the first four-time winner of the 2023 Cup Series season as he also claimed his second victory at Atlanta and his eighth career victory in his 199th start in NASCAR’s premier series. He also recorded the sixth victory of the season for Hendrick Motorsports and the 12th for the Chevrolet nameplate.
Ironically, Byron’s victory occurred as Goodyear Racing tires celebrated its 2,000th Cup Series race victory at Atlanta. With Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 car achieving the victory thanks to Byron during Goodyear’s milestone mark, it marked another historic moment for the No. 24 car as NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon piloted the No. 24 car to victory at Bristol in 1995 during Goodyear’s 1,000th Cup race victory.
“Just teamwork,” Byron said on USA Network. “I don’t completely understand this one. It’s a really good feeling. I’ve never had a rain victory like this, but just thanks to AXALTA, Chevrolet. It’s cool, man. We went through so much throughout the night. Spinning through the infield, destroyed the bottom of the car, dragging it around the apron trying to stay on the lead lap. At that point, you just don’t have the grip, so I was real edgy back in traffic, but [crew chief] Rudy [Fugle] made a good call to pit there [on Lap 125 under caution] and then stay out [prior to Lap 165 restart]. Once we got towards the front, it was OK. We could make the right decisions, block OK and get the lead from AJ [Allmendinger] and was just able to manage the runs. Just a crazy night.”
“[This win]’s really important,” Byron added. “We’re just keeping our heads in it. Over the last few weeks, we finished in the top 15 when we don’t have good cars. The days we have really good cars, we finish in the top five. It’s just a matter of staying with it. Today was definitely a lucky break. I can’t overstate that. We were in the lead, but there’s certainly a lot of laps to go. Just thankful for a good team to make good decisions and to stay in the race when it’s easy to kind of give up and pack it in.”
With Byron being awarded the victory, Suarez concluded the rain-shortened event in the runner-up spot followed by Allmendinger while McDowell, who gambled late to remain on the track and towards the front while on low fuel, netted fourth place in the final running order and moved inside the top-16 cutline for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs. Kyle Busch came home fifth while Keselowski, JJ Yeley, Haley, Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished in the top 10.
There were 18 lead changes for 12 different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 43 laps. In total, 27 of 37 starters finished on the lead lap.
With eight regular-season events remaining of this year’s Cup Series schedule, William Byron leads the regular-season standings by 21 points over Martin Truex Jr., 36 over Kyle Busch, 37 over Christopher Bell and 53 over Ross Chastain.
William Byron, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently guaranteed spots for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning at least once throughout the regular-season stretch. Kevin Harvick, Chris Buescher, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell currently occupy the remaining vacant spots in the Playoffs based on points, with McDowell occupying the 16th and final vacant spot by three points over Bubba Wallace, 13 over AJ Allmendinger, 26 over rookie Ty Gibbs, 38 over Austin Cindric, 41 over Justin Haley, 44 over Alex Bowman and 60 over Chase Elliott.
1. William Byron, 20 laps led
2. Daniel Suarez
3. AJ Allmendinger, six laps led
4. Michael McDowell
5. Kyle Busch
6. Brad Keselowski, 19 laps led, Stage 2 winner
7. JJ Yeley
8. Justin Haley
9. Ryan Blaney, 20 laps led, Stage 1 winner
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. Erik Jones
12. Austin Cindric, 10 laps led
13. Chase Elliott
14. Denny Hamlin
15. Chris Buescher, 39 laps led
16. Todd Gilliland
17. Joey Logano, 11 laps led
18. Aric Almirola, 46 laps led
19. Ty Dillon
20. BJ McLeod, one lap led
21. Austin Dillon
22. Chase Briscoe
23. Christopher Bell
24. Ryan Preece
25. Bubba Wallace, five laps led
26. Alex Bowman
27. Tyler Reddick
28. Harrison Burton, one lap down
29. Martin Truex Jr., one lap down, five laps led
30. Kevin Harvick, four laps down
31. Corey LaJoie, six laps down
32. Cole Custer, seven laps down
33. Noah Gragson, 11 laps down
34. Ty Gibbs, 35 laps down
35. Ross Chastain – OUT, Dvp
36. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident, four laps led
37. Austin Hill – OUT, Dvp
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ lone visit of this season to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, July 16, at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.