Date: Nov. 11, 2018
Race 35 of 36: ISM Raceway
Track Specs: One-mile oval / 312 laps / 312 miles
Standings (from leader): 23rd (-4426)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
In the penultimate race of the 2018 season, William Byron didn’t let adversity get the best of him as he led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag at ISM Raceway, finishing ninth in the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and capturing his fourth top-10 finish of the season. In the process, the 20-year-old earned the NASCAR Cup Series rookie of the year title.
Beginning Sunday’s race in 19th, Byron picked up four positions early in Stage 1, moving up to 16th by Lap 17. By Lap 47, he had fallen back to 19th, radioing to the No. 24 crew that his Hertz Chevrolet needed to be freed up. When the first segment ended on Lap 75, Byron had gained two positions to finish the opening segment in 17th.
In Stage 2, Byron initially lost a few spots, but had moved back into 17th when a caution occurred on Lap 96. After pitting for four tires, fuel and adjustments, Byron restarted 16th and moved up to 14th on Lap 108. He reported that the Hertz Chevy took off much better on that run, so when a caution flag flew with 17 laps remaining in the segment, the No. 24 team elected to keep Byron on the track, moving the driver up to second for the ensuing restart with 10 laps to go in the stage. On older tires, he began to fall back after the restart, but held on for a top-10 Stage 2 finish, taking the green-checkered flag in ninth to earn two extra points.
Byron lined up 15th for the restart to begin the final segment after pitting for four tires, and he began to work his way toward the top 10, which he found on Lap 201. He remained on the track while competitors headed to pit road for green-flag stops and was rewarded when a caution flag flew. After heading to pit road during the caution, he lined up fourth for the ensuing restart. He continued to battle inside the top five until a caution flag flew with 48 laps to go. Following a pit stop, Byron lined up 11th for the restart, but the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 incurred some damage during a multiple-car incident shortly after the green flag waved.
He had to bring his No. 24 Hertz Chevy to pit road for damage repair to the left side of the car, but the No. 24 crew got Byron back out and he remained on the lead lap. He lined up 13th for the restart with 37 laps to go. Byron battled through two more restarts as he continued to push forward during the remainder of the race, crossing the finish line ninth for his fourth top-10 finish of the season. He clinched Cup Series rookie of the year honors in the process, his fourth rookie of the year title in as many years (2017 – NASCAR Xfinity Series, 2016 – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, 2015 – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East). He joins Jeff Gordon (1993), Kyle Busch (2005) and Chase Elliott (2016) as the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver to earn a rookie title. Byron is only the second driver – joining Erik Jones – to win all three NASCAR national series rookie of the year titles in consecutive years.
Behind Byron, Jimmie Johnson was next to the finish line in 15th. Elliott got caught up in a multi-car incident and ultimately finished 23rd, and Alex Bowman was also involved in a late-race incident and was scored 30th.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“It was a good run for us. It would have been better, but we got that damage when the wreck happened. Overall, the car was the best we have had in a long time and it was fun to have that. We kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing, and it seemed to pay off and we had a solid weekend other than qualifying. We got some damage there in the race, but we were able to come back and finish ninth, so that's decent, and we’re going to Homestead next week.
“Looking at my rookie season, I'd say what I’m most proud of is just kind of how we've grown or how I've grown. There’ve been a lot of things to learn, and I can be proud of how I've improved on those things and how people have helped me do that. I’m looking forward to next year and what we have there. I think I can look at some of the decent runs that we've had – the road courses went pretty well for us and then some of the short track races went well – so I can look at that stuff and be proud of that.”