By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HAMPTON, Ga. – William Byron was victorious the last time the NASCAR Cup Series visited Atlanta Motor Speedway back in March and as the series returns for Sunday’s Quaker State 400, he’s hoping to parlay that success into breaking his mid-season slump.
Byron came out of the gate on fire when the 2022 season started, banking wins at Atlanta and Martinsville, but since scoring his second win, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has struggled, only finishing in the top-10 once in the 10 races since.
“Certainly looking forward to turning it around,” Byron said. “It’s been a rough stretch. It’s not been from a lack of effort. I feel like for a couple weeks there, you’re still riding the high from winning Martinsville (Speedway) and getting your second win… all those things. So we kind of went to Bristol Dirt, which is its own beast. And then Talladega (Superspeedway) is its own beast and still had a good run there. We just got on a rough patch there.
“We’ve had speed. Like Darlington (Raceway), we obviously had speed. Kansas (Speedway), we were leading the race and had a flat tire, damaged the whole underbody of the car and had no speed after that. That showed us how important that was. There’s been a lot of other races, like Charlotte (Motor Speedway) – qualified fifth, ran in the top-five for the first half of that race. We made a strategy decision to short-pit that stage. Given how many cautions there were at Charlotte, we were running out of tires. We restarted 18th and unfortunately got in that crash that took out 10 plus cars.
“It’s just been tough. There’s been maybe one or two races where we just didn’t have any speed. Gateway, we were really bad. That was a wakeup call, for sure. And then there has been a couple like last week – we had a loose wheel and fortunately it didn’t come off. We were running eighth at the time after starting way deep in the pack, so it’s been circumstantial things.
“The results don’t look good at all, but we know that the majority of the time – I’d say 75% of the time – we’ve had the speed to compete. It’s just been a lot of circumstantial things; some in our control and a lot out of our control honestly. Parts failures… Nashville (Superspeedway), we had a steering rack. I wouldn’t say that we’re not trying; it’s just been tough to put a smooth, solid weekend together, which is what was making us win races. We were a top-five car and executing the way we needed to put ourselves up front.”
Byron added that the slump the team has been in seeming came out of nowhere, surprising both driver and team. He explained that the team has been working hard behind the scenes trying to rectify the situation, but so far it has been to no avail.
However, a return to Atlanta could be the key with a notebook from the March race to look back on and the knowledge that they were victorious at this track a little more than three months ago.
“If you would have summarized our first half of the season to me and told me we had two wins, but our results were nowhere near that,” said Byron. “Like last year, I think we had 10 races in-a-row that we finished in the top-10, so we were a really consistent team. It’s not like we’re doing anything different. We don’t really have any different pieces on our team than last year. I think we’ve got a better pit crew than we had last year. Those guys are really fast.
“We just had a misfortune and issues, so we just have to keep showing up and putting the effort in. After the first handful of races went poorly, we started to put more effort in and started to focus even more on details. Unfortunately, that stuff hasn’t shown up yet, but eventually that work that we’re putting in is going to show up. Hopefully it’s this weekend.”
If Byron is to break the slump this weekend, he will have to do so from 13th place after qualifying was rained out. In addition to trying to battle for the win, Byron noted that he will also be working to strengthen his points position heading toward the Playoffs.
“It won’t be super easy by any means,” Byron said. “The outside lane is pretty dominant. Trying to pick my way through different battles will be critical. I’d like to get some stage points in stage one, so yeah we want to try and get towards the front and gives ourselves a chance at points.
“This weekend is important to try and go for those stage wins. That’s what everyone is after, is those playoff points right now.”