Date: Aug. 5, 2018
Race 22 of 36: Watkins Glen International
Track Specs: 2.45-mile road course / 90 laps / 220.5 miles
Standings (from leader): 20th (-507)
RECAPPING THE RACE:
For the second week in a row and the third time this season, William Byron scored a top-10 finish in the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Byron, the leader of the NASCAR Cup Series rookie-of-the-year standings, had another solid race on Sunday, which marked his first trip to Watkins Glen International in a Cup car. The No. 24 Hertz team executed well from start to finish of the 90-lap event to help him earn an eighth-place result.
The 2.45-mile road course is typically a challenge for rookies, but Byron handled the weekend like a veteran, turning in the sixth-fastest time in final practice on Saturday and qualifying 16th for Sunday’s race. The driver of the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet broke into the top 10 within the first five laps, running ninth by the first caution on Lap 3. He radioed to the crew that the No. 24 Chevy had started off “pretty good” and had good stability under braking, an important handling characteristic for road-course racing. Staying out on the track, he lined up ninth for the restart and held the position until several of his competitors came to pit road shortly before the end of Stage 1. With that pit strategy, Byron was able to gain ground in the last few laps of the segment and he finished the first stage in third, earning eight valuable bonus points.
Just before the first segment ended on Lap 20, Byron had told the crew that the No. 24 Hertz Chevy was too loose on the right-hand turns. Crew chief Darian Grubb called the 20-year-old driver to pit road during the stage break for four fresh tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. After the pit stop, Byron lined up behind the competitors who had pitted a few laps earlier, putting him 15th to start Stage 2. During the second segment, the Hertz driver went to work, minimizing his mistakes as he continued to make laps. By the time the green-checkered flag waved to signal the end of the second stage, Byron had moved up three spots to 12th. He told Grubb and the No. 24 Hertz crew that he still needed more side-bite turning to the right, although he felt like the car was comfortable on the left-handers.
Grubb opted to have Byron stay out during the final stage break to stretch the fuel mileage and put the No. 24 team in position to make it to the finish on one more pit stop. Byron took the green flag for the final segment in 10th and had a great restart, picking up two more spots on the first lap. He lost one position a few laps later, and another just before the final caution occurred on Lap 53. Byron entered pit road in 10th and a solid four-tire stop by the Hertz pit crew put him eighth for the restart with 32 laps to go. He fell back to 10th just after the restart, but went to work over the final 30 laps, moving into eighth on Lap 65. He fell to ninth on Lap 73, but continued to fight and regained his position with just four laps to go. Byron’s calm consistency paid off as he earned his third top-10 finish of 2018, bringing the No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet home in eighth and gaining a position in the overall driver standings, moving up to 20th.
Adding to the positive momentum in a big way, Byron’s teammate Chase Elliott scored his first career Cup victory on Sunday afternoon, earning Hendrick Motorsports its historic 250th win. Alex Bowman joined his teammates in the top 15 with a 14th-place finish, while Jimmie Johnson was involved in a late-race incident, relegating him to 30th.
QUOTING WILLIAM BYRON:
“It’s awesome – congrats to Chase (Elliott) and those guys for getting the win. I feel like we are just getting faster and it’s just being easier. I don’t know if we hit everything just right today, but it was easier to run where we were. It’s fun; we’re getting there. I’m excited.”