Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR

Byron Erases Hendrick’s Decade Long Daytona 500 Winless Streak

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

It had been a long wait for Hendrick Motorsports to return to Daytona 500 victory lane, but at the end of Monday’s rain-delayed running of the Great American Race, it was a 1-2 finish for one of the winningest organizations in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Not since Dale Earnhardt Jr’s 2014 victory had a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet captured a win in the season opening spectacle, but 26-year-old William Byron was the driver to get it done at the World Center of Racing – capturing his first Harley J. Earl trophy and kicking off the team’s 40th anniversary season in earnest.

“I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better, 24 in 24,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “When we thought about coming down here the first time we didn’t think we should be here, felt so out of place.

“We win this on our 40th to the day, it’s just — and tied a record now, so that’s awesome.”

The finish of the race came down to a four-lap shootout between Byron, Ross Chastain, teammate Alex Bowman and a host of others all vying for their chance to write their name in the record book as Daytona 500 champion.

With a push from 2022 Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric, Byron was able to put his Chevrolet firmly out in front of the field as they stormed toward the white flag.

It was at that moment when Chastain was coming with a head of steam in the outside line with Bowman pushing when Byron moved up to block. Chastain juked down to the low side to try and get around Byron, but made contact with Cindric, sending both cars spinning and bringing out the caution.

Since Byron had already crossed the line to take the white and start the final lap as the leader when the caution was called, Byron would be declared the winner, followed by Bowman to give Hendrick a 1-2 finish and its ninth victory in the event.

“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500, I can’t believe it,” Byron said. “I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race. This is so freaking cool.”

Christopher Bell finished the race in third, followed by Corey Lajoie and Bubba Wallace to round out the top-five. The remainder of the top-10 finishers were A.J. Allmendinger, John Hunter Nemechek, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson, and Chase Briscoe.

Prior to the final run to the finish, it was anyone’s guess on who would walk away with the victory as the field was in a three-wide slugfest from the front of the grid, all the way to the back. With such furious racing, it was inevitable that the Big One would eventually strike and on Lap 193 that’s exactly what happened.

Ironically, Byron would be a key player in triggering the melee.

With a furious push from Bowman down the backstretch, Byron’s Chevrolet wiggled from side to side moments before making contact with Brad Keselowski’s right-rear quarter panel, turning him head on into the outside wall and into the snarling pack behind them.

By the time all was said and done, 23 cars would get a piece of the crash that turned the Daytona backstretch into a junkyard, taking many of the strongest cars out of contention and bringing out the red flag that would set up the final charge to the end of the race.

Among those swept up in the crash were Keselowski, Joey Logano, defending series champion Ryan Blaney, and a whole host of others that saw their chance at immortality erased in a heartbeat.

It was another year of being within striking distance of a Daytona 500 win, but falling short for Keselowski.

“I got hit in the back, so I couldn’t really tell you,” Keselowski said of his view of the incident. “It’s a shame. I was kind of making a move for the lead with eight laps to go in the Daytona 500 and I’m here talking to you. 

“It’s just one of those deals. We were mixed up in the middle of the soup most of the race. We executed really well in the final stage and put ourselves in position, but that’s just the way Daytona goes.”

Logano joked that the crash was just a byproduct of superspeedway racing and it was bound to happen sooner or later.

“Speedway racing again. It’s a lot of fun until this happens,” Logano said. “It was pretty interesting with a lot of pushing and shoving there at the end. Our car was able to take it. Our Mustang was so fast. It could lead a line really well. I kind of thought I had the cars I wanted around me. I had at least one I wanted around me, but just couldn’t make it work.”

As for Blaney, it was the second time over the weekend in Daytona that his race ended on the hook of a wrecker after also getting taken out in a hard crash in his Duel race on Thursday night.

“I mean, there’s 10 to go in the 500. I didn’t think the 24’s push, from the replay I saw, it didn’t look bad,” Blaney said. “It looked like he just kind of got squirrely and then when he tried to get back to him he was kind of on the quarter, like a weird side of his bumper, but I can’t believe we didn’t wreck before that. 

“I thought we were all going to [wreck] because we were all shoving hard and stuff like that. It stinks, but I’m not as bad compared to the other night, so that’s good.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.