By David Morgan, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – William Byron came into Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with only one goal in mind – just win.
After the checkered flag waved on the 109-lap slugfest, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet nearly pulled it off, leading the most laps on the day, but ultimately falling short at the end and seeing his run in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs come to an early end.
Coming into the day, Byron sat some 44 points under the cut-off line, with only a win at his home track guaranteeing him a spot in the third round of the Playoffs. Even with such a tall task ahead of him, Byron was confident that he and the team would be up to the challenge on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn oval/road course hybrid.
After top-10 finishes in the first two stages, Byron ascended to the lead at the start of the final stage and made his presence known, with the possibility of the No. 24 team bringing home the win throwing the Playoff standings into chaos.
Byron would lead 23 laps during that first stint, taking back over the lead for another seven laps after green flag pit stops cycled through. That’s when things started to go awry.
As Denny Hamlin led on lap 90, Byron was hot on his heels trying to chase him down and reclaim the top spot, when contact from Tyler Reddick causing Byron to miss the backstretch chicane, forcing him to serve a stop and go penalty.
Though he lost crucial track position while serving the penalty, two late cautions allowed Byron to stay in the hunt for the win down the stretch. Eventually slotting into third behind Reddick and eventual winner Kyle Larson, Byron had the lead in his sights, but just didn’t have enough to be able to surpass the two drivers in front of him.
Giving it his all to get back to the lead, Byron would slide off track in those closing laps, falling from a third-place result to 11th in the final rundown.
“We had a really good car in two of the three races in this Round and today we had an amazing car, probably capable of winning, but just didn’t have things go our way there,” Byron said. “At that point when I got up to third, my tires were shot, and there were only two laps to go. I wasn’t going to win, and made a mistake to not finish third, but at that point I was just mad.
After crossing the line and his Playoff run officially coming to an end after six races, Byron and Reddick had a conversation about the contact between the two late in the race, given the contact played a big role in Byron’s Playoff downfall.
“I know it was a mistake, but it doesn’t make any difference,” said Byron. “The awareness there in that situation where a guy is there in the Playoffs and the first guy on new tires is probably going to win the race. And there was just a lack of awareness there. I feel like if the roles were reversed, I would be aware.”
“I just flat out made a mistake and ran in the back of the 24,” Reddick added. “I am trying to stay as close as I can, and we are all trying to brake to the limit of the car and I got to the bumper trying to put myself back in position again to make a pass to the inside or outside. I got into the back of him ever so slightly and that is all it took to unhook the rear tires. Not on purpose. It’s just that small amount of contact that changed the trajectory that much. That was shocking to me and sure disappointing.
“He is racing for everything and second means nothing. He just broke through on the best tires and in position to make the pass and take the win away. And yeah, I took that from him. So, he handled it very well and I would probably have been a little more upset than he was. He was great at listening and hearing what I said, but I really understand his frustration.”