Byron executes on pit strategy to claim dominant Cup victory at Watkins Glen

After finishing no higher than 14th during his previous five scheduled starts, William Byron responded with an emphatic and potential championship-performance statement after scoring a dominant victory in the Go Bowling at The Glen on Sunday, August 20.

The 25-year-old Byron from Charlotte, North Carolina, led three times for a race-high 66 of 90-scheduled laps in an event where he started on the front row alongside pole-sitter Denny Hamlin and spent the first stage period running in the top five. Then during the first wave of green flag pit stops that ensued entering the second stage period, a strategic call by crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team to have Byron pit a lap after the front-runners enabled Byron to cycle ahead of them.

He proceeded to lead starting on Lap 24 and claimed the second stage victory. Then following another well-executed call to pit with 35 laps remaining just as teammate Chase Elliott drew a caution for running out of fuel on the course, Byron cycled back to the lead with 33 laps remaining and retained the top spot during a 30-lap shootout to the finish, setting sail to his unprecedented fifth checkered flag of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, August 19, Denny Hamlin notched his fourth Cup pole of the 2023 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 125.298 mph in 70.392 seconds. Joining him on the front row was William Byron, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 124.961 mph in 70.582 seconds.

Prior to the event, Aric Almirola, Cole Custer, Justin Haley, Brad Keselowski and Corey LaJoie dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective entries.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Hamlin rocketed ahead with an early advantage while the field fanned out entering the first turn. As the field continued to duke for early positions through the Esses and the first four turns, Hamlin retained the lead ahead of a hard-charging McDowell. Through the Inner Loop Bus Stop Corner before entering the Carousel, the Outer Loop and the final set of turns, Hamlin managed to fend off McDowell and a pack of competitors jostling for spots to lead the first lap.

Through the second lap, McDowell attempted to make a move beneath Hamlin for the lead entering Turn 1. In spite of Hamlin briefly going off the track through Turn 1, Hamlin managed to retain the lead through the Esses ahead of McDowell while William Byron trailed behind in third in front of rookie Ty Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger. Hamlin would also manage to navigate his way smoothly through the Carousel and the Esses with the top spot, but McDowell continued to close as he awaited his opportunity to take the lead.

Two laps later, McDowell, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, made his move beneath Hamlin’s No. 11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota TRD Camry and drew himself into a brief duel with Hamlin before he muscled his No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang ahead with the top spot entering Turn 2. Byron then followed suit and assumed the runner-up spot through Turns 2 to 4 in his No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while Hamlin settled in third in front of teammate Ty Gibbs. With Hamlin settling in between Byron and Gibbs, McDowell proceeded to lead, starting on the fourth lap.

During the fourth lap, early trouble struck for Daniel Suarez, who was running 10th before he got loose while hitting the curbs exiting the Bus Stop Corner and spun as he barely hit the inside wall, but he was able to proceed without drawing a caution. Meanwhile, McDowell retained the lead through the fifth lap mark over a hard-charging Byron.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, McDowell was leading by four-tenths of a second over Byron followed by Hamlin, Ty Gibbs and Allmendinger while Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch were in the top 10. Behind, Joey Logano was in 11th ahead of Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Austin Cindric and Chris Buescher while Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Ryan Blaney was mired in 21st ahead of Mike Rockenfeller, Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and Daniel Suarez while Todd Gilliland, Ty Dillon, Andy Lally, Erik Jones and Kevin Harvick were back in the top 30. Amid the running order, Brad Keselowski was in 33rd in between Justin Haley and Aric Almirola while Harrison Burton was mired in 36th, a lap down in last place, after an earlier chain reaction resulted with Lally bumping and spinning Burton’s No. 21 DEX Imaging Ford Mustang in the Carousel Corner without drawing a caution.

Five laps later, McDowell continued to lead by half a second over Byron while third-place Hamlin trailed by more than a second. In the process, Ty Gibbs and Allmendinger remained in the top five ahead of Larson while Bell, Wallace and Kyle Busch overtook Reddick to move up to seventh through ninth, respectively. In addition, Elliott retained 13th ahead of Buescher and teammate Bowman, Truex was mired back in 23rd and Harvick was in 28th in front of Keselowski.

Another two laps later, green flag pit stops ensued as Truex pitted his No. 19 Siemens Toyota TRD Camry along with Blaney and Elliott. Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, Cindric and Bowman would also pit during the ensuing laps as McDowell continued to lead.

At the conclusion of the first stage period on Lap 20, McDowell, who first assumed the lead on the fourth lap, captured his second Cup stage victory of the 2023 season. Byron settled in second followed by Hamlin, Ty Gibbs and Allmendinger while Larson, Bell, Wallace, Kyle Busch and Reddick were scored in the top 10. By then, more names that included Austin Dillon, Reddick, Preece and Corey LaJoie pitted under green.

With the event proceeding under green just past the Lap 20 mark to start the second stage, McDowell led Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, Larson, Bell, Wallace, Kyle Busch and a host of competitors during the following lap to pit road for service under green while Byron assumed the lead followed by Allmendinger. Amid the pit stops, McDowell, who managed to exit pit road ahead of Hamlin, was assessed a penalty for driving through too many pit boxes prior to entering his pit box for service. Byron would then pit under green on Lap 22 as Allmendinger assumed the lead. Once Allmendinger pitted by Lap 23 after leading two laps, Byron, who earlier managed to blend back on the track from pit road ahead of Hamlin, assumed the lead followed by Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, Allmendinger, Larson and Keselowski, who has yet to pit. As Byron proceeded to lead just past the Lap 25 mark, McDowell was mired back in 17th behind Truex. In addition, Bell, Elliott, Wallace and Kyle Busch were scored in the top 10.

At the Lap 30 mark, Byron maintained the lead by seven-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by Ty Gibbs, Allmendinger and Larson while Bell, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Reddick were running in the top 10. By then, Keselowski pitted his No. 6 BuildSubmarines.com Ford Mustang under green while Austin Dillon, Logano, Briscoe, McDowell and Truex were scored in the top 15. With Keselowski losing spots as he blended back onto the racetrack amid his pit stop, Harvick was in 28th behind teammate Almirola, Suarez was in 26th and Bowman was mired in 17th in between Blaney and Buescher.

By Lap 35, Byron extended his advantage to eight-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Ty Gibbs, Larson and Allmendinger remained in the top five. In addition, Bell, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Reddick retained their respective spots in the top 10 while McDowell was mired in 12th in between Austin Dillon and Logano.

At the conclusion of the second stage on Lap 40, Byron captured his eighth Cup stage victory of the 2023 season. Hamlin settled in second while Ty Gibbs, Larson, Allmendinger, Bell, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Austin Dillon were scored in the top 10.

With the event commencing under a continuous green flag period with 50 laps remaining, Byron was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Hamlin. Byron would proceed to extend his advantage to more than a second over Hamlin as the event reached its halfway mark with 45 laps remaining. Behind, Ty Gibbs, Larson and Allmendinger remained in the top five while Bell, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Wallace and Ausitn Dillon continued to run in the top 10 with McDowell moving up to 11th ahead of Reddick, Logano, Truex and Blaney.

With 40 laps remaining, Byron continued to extend his advantage as he was leading by more than three seconds over Hamlin while Larson overtook Ty Gibbs to move into third place. With Allmendinger retaining fifth ahead of Bell and Kyle Busch, McDowell returned to the top 10 as he moved up to ninth in between Elliott and Wallace while Truex was scored in 12th in between Austin Dillon and Blaney.

Three laps later, another cycle of green flag pit stops commenced as Ty Gibbs pitted his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry while running in the top five. McDowell would also pit along with Blaney, Suarez, Larson, Logano, Reddick, Preece, Stenhouse, Almirola, Cindric and Buescher as Byron continued to lead by more than five seconds over Hamlin.

Then two laps later, the caution flew when Elliott ran out of fuel through the Esses as his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 coasted entering the Inner Loop before coming to a full stop off the course near the Bus Stop Corner. By then, Byron, Hamlin, Allmendinger and Bell had pitted prior to the caution being displayed. In addition, Larson, who had just pitted prior to the caution, was penalized for speeding while exiting pit road and was sent to the rear of the field for the ensuing restart.

During the caution period, some led by Kyle Busch, including those who had not yet made a pit stop, pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track. By then, Elliott, who was assisted by a wrecker to return to pit road, lost a lap to the leaders as he was mired in 34th.

When the race restarted under green with 30 laps remaining, where Byron and Hamlin occupied the front row, Byron and Hamlin dueled for the lead through the frontstretch and entering Turn 1 as the field fanned out. Entering the Esses, Byron managed to clear Hamlin to retain the lead ahead of Bell and Allmendinger while Truex was up to fifth in front of teammate Ty Gibbs. In addition, Blaney was up to seventh ahead of Buescher while McDowell was in ninth ahead of Logano. As the field navigated its way through the Bus Stop Corner, the Carousel and the final sets of turns while jostling for late positions, Byron managed to place a reasonable gap between himself and Hamlin as he retained the lead for the following lap.

Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Byron was leading by six-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by Bell while Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs, both of whom are needing a victory to make the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs, were running fourth and fifth. Behind, Truex, the regular-season leader, was sixth while Buescher, McDowell, Reddick and Blaney were running in the top 10 ahead of Logano, Todd Gilliland, Stenhouse, Wallace and Keselowski. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch was back in 17th, Harvick was back in 23rd in front of Larson and Bowman was mired in 26th behind Suarez.

Five laps later, Byron extended his advantage to one-and-a-half seconds over Hamlin while Bell, Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs remained in the top five on the track. Behind, Truex, Buescher, McDowell, Reddick and Blaney also remained in the top 10. By then, Wallace retained 14th ahead of Keselowski and Cindric, Kyle Busch was still mired in 17th, Larson was back in 21st behind Austin Dillon, Harvick was down in 24th ahead of Suarez and Bowman was in 26th. In addition, Elliott was mired in 33rd and not scored on the lead lap along with Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe and Ty Dillon.

With 15 laps remaining, Byron stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Hamlin while Bell, Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs remained in the top five. By then, the event remained under green flag conditions despite Almirola spinning entering the frontstretch. Not long after, McDowell, who was running eighth, pitted under green after the power in his No. 34 Ford shut off, which resulted with him coasting through the circuit before limping his car to his pit stall as his pit crew went underneath the hood of McDowell’s car to diagnose the issue. The issue would eventually be terminal for McDowell as he capped off his roller coaster event in 36th place, dead last.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Byron extended his advantage to two seconds over Hamlin while Bell, Allmendinger and Ty Gibs continued to run in the top 10. With McDowell out of contention, Truex was in sixth followed by Buescher, Reddick, Blaney and Logano while Gilliland, Stenhouse, Wallace, Keselowski and Kyle Busch were in the top 15.

With five laps remaining, Byron stabilized his advantage to nearly three seconds over Hamlin as Bell, Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs remained in the top five.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Byron remained as the leader by more than three seconds over Hamlin. With Hamlin unable to gain ground, Byron was able to cycle his No. 24 Chevrolet smoothly around Watkins Glen’s series of turns for a final time before re-emerging through the frontstretch in clean air and to capture his fifth checkered flag of the 2023 Cup season.

With the victory and the regained momentum, Byron notched his ninth career win in NASCAR’s premier series, his career-high fifth of the season and his first on a road course venue. The victory at Watkins Glen was the 102nd overall for Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 entry, with HMS notching its 298th Cup career win overall, as Byron claimed his first victory since winning the rain-shortened event at Atlanta Motor Speedway in early July.

“[The win] feels really good,” Byron said on USA Network. “Just a huge credit to the race team behind me. I wanna thank [road ringer] Max Papis. This first road course win. We’ve worked years and years for this. Thanks to all the guys on the team. It’s a great win. I don’t know what it means in all that. I don’t read into that, but I think it shows that when we’re at our best, we can perform like this. We seem to go through that summer slump in July and August. For some reason, we just can’t quite put the races together. I think it’s the racetracks itself. [I] Just came this weekend with a good mindset. [I] Focused it on trying to get ready for the postseason. We’ve had fast cars. We just haven’t executed races, but today, it was flawless. Road courses have been tough, so it’s fun to get a win. Really good strategy by [the crew].”

Hamlin, the pole-sitter who led the first three laps, settled in the runner-up spot for the third time this season after trailing Byron to the finish line by more than two seconds while teammate Bell finished third.

“I’m happy with my day,” Hamlin said. “It takes me a while to get going and with [Michael] McDowell there at the beginning, he’s ready and he’s on kill, and I’m kind of working my way into it. I just hate that I lost the lead because I just looked at [Byron]’s back bumper the rest of the day. It was a fun race.”

Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs finished fourth and fifth, respectively, as both enter next weekend’s regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway 72 and 32 points, respectively, below the top-16 cutline in their final hopes of making the Playoffs. Truex, the regular-season leader in the standings, came home in sixth place and leaves Watkins Glen with a 39-point lead in the standings while Buescher, Reddick, Blaney and Logano finished in the top 10.

Notably, Wallace finished 12th and he leaves Watkins Glen grasping onto the 16th and final vacant spot to the Playoffs by 32 points. Kyle Busch finished 14th followed by Keselowski, Cindric ended up 16th, Mike Rockenfeller ended up 19th in his second Cup start behind Ross Chastain, Harvick settled in 21st in front of Suarez and Bowman and Elliott capped off his run in 32nd, a lap down. In addition, Larson and Austin Dillon ended up 26th and 31st, respectively, after Larson collided into Dillon entering the final turn and sent both spinning.

There were six lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured a single caution period for four laps. In addition, 31 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.

With one regular-season event remaining of this year’s Cup Series schedule, Martin Truex Jr. continues to lead the regular-season standings by 39 points over teammate Denny Hamlin and 76 over William Byron.

William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell 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. With Byron winning at The Glen, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have clinched spots for the Playoffs based on points while Bubba Wallace occupies the 16th and final vacant spot to the Playoffs by 32 points over rookie Ty Gibbs. Daniel Suarez trails the top-16 cutline by 43 points, AJ Allmendinger trails by 72, Alex Bowman trails by 96, Chase Elliott trails by 101, Austin Cindric trails by 114, Justin Haley trails by 162, Ryan Preece trails by 167 and Aric Almirola trails by 177.

Results.

1. William Byron, 66 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Denny Hamlin, three laps led

3. Christopher Bell

4. AJ Allmendinger, two laps led

5. Ty Gibbs

6. Martin Truex Jr.

7. Chris Buescher

8. Tyler Reddick

9. Ryan Blaney

10. Joey Logano

11. Todd Gilliland

12. Bubba Wallace

13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

14. Kyle Busch, two laps led

15. Brad Keselowski

16. Austin Cindric

17. Ryan Preece

18. Ross Chastain

19. Mike Rockenfeller

20. Corey LaJoie

21. Kevin Harvick

22. Daniel Suarez

23. Alex Bowman

24. Justin Haley

25. Andy Lally

26. Kyle Larson

27. Josh Bilicki

28. Cole Custer

29. Erik Jones

30. Aric Almirola

31. Austin Dillon

32. Chase Elliott, one lap down

33. Harrison Burton, one lap down

34. Ty Dillon, one lap down

35. Chase Briscoe, seven laps down

36. Michael McDowell – OUT, Electrical, 17 laps led, Stage 1 winner

Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400, which will determine the 16-driver field of this year’s Cup Series Playoffs. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, August 26, at 7 p.m. ET on NBC.

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.  As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases for some links and banners that are being displayed on SpeedwayMedia.com.

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