Date: July 29, 2018
Race 21 of 36: Pocono Raceway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile speedway / 160 laps / 400 miles
Standings (from leader): 21st (-501)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
William Byron secured his best career NASCAR Cup Series finish at Pocono Raceway on Sunday. Byron drove the No. 24 Axalta/Imron Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to a sixth-place finish in the 400-mile race, gaining valuable points to increase his lead in the rookie of the year standings.
On Saturday, the No. 24 Axalta/Imron Chevrolet team qualified eighth fastest, but following NASCAR technical inspection, the time was disallowed and the No. 24 Chevy, along with multiple competitors, had to start in the rear of the field. After rolling off from the 38th position on Sunday, Byron, with the help from spotter Tab Boyd, worked hard to pass cars and move up through the field during Stage 1 of the race, which was comprised of 50 laps.
Byron reached 25th position by Lap 7, when he radioed to the crew that the car was tight all through the corners – especially in Turn 3. On Lap 15, the 20-year-old driver let the crew know that the brakes were getting hot in the car. This was a challenge for the team throughout the race – Byron had to focus on cooling his brakes during caution periods in order to have optimal braking in the corners to gain speed. Crew Chief Darian Grubb called for a two-tire pit stop on Lap 22, almost midway through the stage. The tire pressure adjustment made the No. 24 Chevy “really loose” for Byron, but he was able to continue to move forward and finish Stage 1 in 15th place.
During the first 10 laps of Stage 2, Byron raced from 16th position to 14th. He radioed to the crew on Lap 70 that the car was on the “tight side.” Grubb called for another two-tire pit stop halfway through the stage and another stop late in the stage during a caution. The pit strategy paid off and Byron moved up to finish Stage 2 in 10th position, earning a stage point.
The Axalta/Imron team did not pit during the stage break and Byron led the field to the green flag to start the final stage. He maintained the lead for 10 laps before his tires began to wear off and competitors with fresher tires gained on him. Byron ran in second position for the next 10 laps but then fell to 10th by Lap 120. The No. 24 team pitted during a caution period at Lap 120 and Grubb told the driver and team that they would be able to finish the race on fuel and tires from that point on. Byron reported the “car felt good on balance” and was gearing up for the finish.
The No. 24 Chevrolet team restarted in 10th place on Lap 125. Byron moved up to eighth by Lap 133 and then to sixth one lap later. He fell one spot to seventh on Lap 136 and maintained that position when a caution flag – and ultimately a red flag – waved with six laps remaining. The driver of the No. 24 Axalta/Imron Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 restarted seventh with three laps remaining, and he held that spot through another caution that sent the race to overtime. Byron raced hard and made strong moves on the track to take the checkered flag in sixth, a career-best finish in his 21st Cup start.
Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates also had strong finishes. Alex Bowman finished third and Chase Elliott earned a seventh-place result. Jimmie Johnson, in his 600th Cup career start, finished 17th.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“There are a lot of big positives. I feel there are a couple of things we could have worked on and we’ll keep working on those. Our cars are just getting faster. Now, we have the speed to run in the top 10, which makes it a lot easier to do things, allows us to be more aggressive and allows me to drive the car the way I know how to drive it. I feel like our speed is just starting to get us in a position to be more aggressive, which is really good.”