Date: Sept. 2, 2018
Race 25 of 36: Darlington Raceway
Track Specs: 1.366-mile oval / 367 laps / 501.3 miles
Standings (from leader): 22nd (-594)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
William Byron and the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team had a solid race going in Sunday night’s throwback-themed event at Darlington Raceway before experiencing engine trouble. After qualifying in the top 10, the NASCAR Cup Series rookie was running 11th with under 50 laps to go in the 500-mile race when he lost oil pressure in the rainbow-themed No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet that payed homage to the scheme Jeff Gordon raced during most of the 1990s.
After rolling off the grid 10th, Byron got to work early and moved into seventh within the first three laps of Sunday’s race. The driver of the rainbow No. 24 Axalta Throwback Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 continued to make gains, and by Lap 11, he had worked his way inside the top five, running fifth. Byron had settled into sixth by Lap 21 and dropped to seventh just before a cycle of green-flag stops, reporting that his No. 24 Chevy needed to be tighter, particularly on exit. He lost a few more positions after a cycle of green-flag pit stops midway through Stage 1, rejoining the field in ninth after his green-flag stop on Lap 48 and falling to 13th by Lap 78. He continued to battle through the remainder of Stage 1, but ultimately finished the first segment in 14th.
Thanks to quick work by the No. 24 Axalta team on pit road, Byron jumped up to 13th to begin Stage 2 and quickly moved up to 11th. Over the next 20 laps, Byron fell to 13th, but following a pit stop during the Lap-128 caution, he moved back up to 11th. The adjustments the team had been making to tighten up the Axalta Chevy started to take effect and after dropping briefly to 13th, Byron began to make forward progress, moving as high as sixth on Lap 176 as his competitors made their green-flag pit stops. He eventually was shuffled back outside the top 10, finishing Stage 2 in 13th. The driver of the No. 24 reported that his Camaro was getting looser and looser, so he would need another adjustment during the stage break.
Byron lined up 12th for the final segment and steadily gained ground, climbing back inside the top 10 and up to seventh by Lap 260. He maintained his top-10 position past Lap 300 until he made a scheduled green-flag pit stop on Lap 306. An untimely caution occurred on Lap 311, catching Byron two laps down due to the cycle of green-flag stops. Crew chief Darian Grubb opted to have Byron take the wave-around during the caution, so Byron was able to regain one of those laps. Even with needing to make up an additional lap, Byron was still running inside the top 12 with fewer than 50 laps remaining. On Lap 323, he moved back inside the top 10. He fell to 11th before a caution flag waved on Lap 330. Just prior to the caution, the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevy had reported a problem with his engine, and after nursing the car to pit road under the caution, the engine issue forced Byron to retire early from the race. He was ultimately scored 35th.
Chase Elliott led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag with his eighth top-five finish of the season, finishing fifth. Alex Bowman was the next teammate to cross the stripe, taking home a 23rd-place result, while Jimmie Johnson’s night was cut short when he also experienced an engine issue, relegating him to a 39th-place finish.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“We started to lose oil pressure the last run or so. [The engine] just blew up, but we had a pretty solid day going. We were trying a couple of different strategies out there. The track was really slick. I felt like our car was capable of finishing probably 10th or 11th, which was kind of where we were running. Overall some good positives at a tough racetrack, but I definitely wanted to finish this one. The car looked awesome and we will keep working hard.”