By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 will be remembered as the one that got away for William Byron.
After owning the competition throughout Stage 3, Byron led 122 of 400 laps. However, the No. 24 Chevrolet began regressing once the race reached its final 15 laps. That’s when the long-time veterans hunted the 24-year-old down with Martin Truex, Jr. being the first one attempting to conquer him.
Once Truex began cutting the gap, both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick also took a crack at Byron’s race lead. The former especially as Hamlin took second from Truex with six to go. Not only Byron had to worry about a hard charging Hamlin, but also lapped cars.
Byron’s lead evaporated once Hamlin got a huge run on the backstretch with four laps remaining and never looked back. Harvick would take second from Byron moments later and rather than being the first repeat winner of 2022, Hamlin became the seventh different winner in as many races.
In the closing laps, Byron said holding off Truex was doable but once Hamlin and Harvick came into the picture, it caught him off guard.
“Thought we probably did the best job we could. It didn’t quite work out. I thought there at the end they told me I was just racing the 19. I’m like ok I got him, but then the 4 and the 11 were on a totally different planet. That’s just part of it,” Byron commented.
“There wasn’t anything I could do about them, so it was probably four or five to go and Brandon (Lines) was coaching me on keeping the tires underneath it and having good exits and entries,” Byron continued. “Especially making those guys go around me on the top was definitely better. The times that guys would get underneath me was really, really hard to get back connected and get a good lap put together.”
Although not the result Byron had hoped, it was a nice outing nonetheless. More so after not having a great Stage 2.
“The middle of the race we were terrible,” said Byron. “We just couldn’t get in the corner at all and if you can’t get into the corner you can’t put consistent laps together. It’s nice to have a run like we had today.”
In the end, Byron was one of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers to finish in the top-10. An occurrence that hasn’t been done at Richmond since September 2015.