Date: Sept. 10, 2018
Race 26 of 36: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile oval / 160 laps / 400 miles
Standings (from leader): 22nd (-608)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
Mother Nature certainly influenced William Byron’s first Brickyard 400, as rain washed out every practice and qualifying session for the NASCAR Cup Series this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When the race finally got going on Monday, Byron and the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team had an up-and-down day, showing speed at times and even leading three laps with a strategy call before settling with a 19th-place finish.
The rookie of the year leader rolled off the grid 22nd as the field was set by points, although he lined up 20th for the green flag when two of his competitors were sent to the rear of the field prior to the start of the race. Immediately, Byron began to gain ground in the Liberty University Chevy, driving into the top 15 by the first competition caution on Lap 10. The No. 24 team elected to take two tires, allowing Byron to restart in sixth. He fell to 11th before the second competition caution following Lap 30, and crew chief Darian Grubb opted for four tires during the caution. Byron lined up 15th for the restart but made up a bit of ground during the run, taking the green-checkered flag to finish Stage 1 in 13th.
Handling-wise, Byron reported that the Liberty U team had improved the No. 24 Chevrolet’s loose-in condition, but he was still fighting a tight condition from the center to the exit of the corners. Grubb opted to have Byron stay out during the first stage break to gain track position, and Byron lined up fifth for the restart on Lap 55. He quickly moved up to third and stayed on the track during two additional cautions. Before the second restart, Byron moved up to second, but he was shuffled back after the green flag dropped on Lap 70. He maintained a top-10 position until another caution, when he headed to pit road for the first time in Stage 2 from seventh place.
During the stop, the No. 24 team was penalized for an uncontrolled tire, knocking Byron outside of the top 25. He quickly climbed back inside the top 20, and as competitors headed to pit road toward the end of Stage 2, he climbed all the way up to eighth before the green-checkered flag waved on Lap 100. The result earned him three extra points.
Once again, Grubb had Byron remain on the track between stages, and Byron took command of the race lead during the caution. He led three laps (Laps 102-104), starting at the point for the final segment, but lost the lead when the green flag waved. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy held on to a top-10 position for five laps, until he was shuffled back behind a long line of cars with fresher tires. He settled into 23rd on Lap 115. With 39 laps to go in the 160-lap race, Byron headed to pit road for a green-flag stop, returning to the track outside of the top 25 a lap behind the leader. Grubb’s strategy was to have that trip to pit road serve as Byron’s final stop if the race went green, while the rest of the field would need to make two stops. As the other competitors came to pit road, Byron cycled back onto the lead lap and advanced to 18th before a caution on Lap 183, which cancelled out the one-stop strategy call.
Byron came to pit road during the caution for four fresh tires and fuel, and lined up 17th with 12 laps to go. He was back inside the top 15 when another caution flag flew on Lap 153 and lined up 14th for the ensuing restart with three to go. He lost a few spots over the final laps and ultimately ended the race 19th, but was the top-finishing rookie, further extending his lead in the rookie battle.
Both Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman secured their spots in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in Monday’s race, joining Chase Elliott, who had already clinched his playoff spot with a win at Watkins Glen in August. Elliott led the Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the Brickyard 400 checkered flag in 15th. Johnson followed him to the finish line in 16th, and Bowman finished 33rd after he was involved in a multiple-car incident in Stage 2.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“We weren’t stellar. We kind of just played some different strategy and couldn’t keep our track position up front, but overall, it was a good effort. I thought we made some decent adjustments and there were some good things today, but we’ve still just got to keep working.”