Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Learning Curve for Top Rookie Byron, Wallace Involved in Late Race Incident

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Hendrick Motorsports didn’t have its finest performance in recent memory after the four-car stable was unable to lead a lap during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Dating back to last season, it marked the second time in three races they’ve failed to put their cars in front of the field.

Despite an off performance, it didn’t stop William Byron from having fun on the worn out surface, beating Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. as the highest finishing full-time rookie in 18th.

The reigning Xfinity Series champion said he struggled finding speed after being used to fast equipment in his two previous full-tme seasons in NASCAR’s three national series.

“It was fun. We started the race so loose and I just had to work on dropping the trackbar quicker,” Byron said. “I just didn’t do it quick enough. I’m not used to having that, so, we gained on it a lot.”

Byron added he tried to find grip on his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet all race, making adjustments to balance the car to his liking.

“I felt like by probably the seventh or eighth pit stop we were at our best potential. And then from there we just kind of leveled off,” Byron said. “Just trying to find rear grip, but overall it was fun out there. I felt like the top of (Turns) 1 and 2 was my strongest point, but I would wear out the right-front tire quicker, just had to manage that.”

After a rough Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Daytona, Byron’s biggest takeawy was staying up to speed when tires wear out during long runs.

“Really just trying to keep the tires underneath you and trying to keep up with the adjustments so you just stay ahead of the game with the way your car is handling. Learned a lot. A couple of things that I will keep in mind, especially for worn out race tracks. I had a good time out there.”

The 20-year-old collegiate driver improved from 26th to 24th in points, trailing Wallace by 10 spots after two races.

There was no fanfare for Wallace at Atlanta, struggling all weekend at the 1.5-mile circuit, including rear ending Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. on Lap 297.

Unable to clear the engine smoke caused by Trevor Bayne in Turn 1, Wallace tried to slow down but to no avail and sustained left front damage on his No. 43 NASCAR Racing Experience Chevrolet.

Wallace’s team went under the six-minute damage clock, successfully repaired the car and coasted to a 32nd place finish, six laps behind race winner Kevin Harvick. However, his finish dropped him from third to 14th in the standings.

Two part-time rookies made their first Cup starts of 2018 on Sunday, including Harrison Rhodes for Rick Ware Racing.

Without making any practice and qualifying laps Friday, Rhodes’ Cup debut went smooth, bringing his No. 51 Davis Roofing Chevrolet home in 33rd out of the 36 car field, 15 laps behind Harvick.

In his third ever Cup start, Ross Chastain was the second-highest finishing rookie in 30th, driving for Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 LowT Center Chevrolet.

Due to Chastain’s commitment with JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, he’s ineligible for both Cup and Sunoco Rookie of the Years points. Chastain currently sits eighth in the standings, six markers ahead of Matt Tifft in his quest of making his first playoff appearance.

Both Byron and Wallace will soldier onto their first of two stops in Sin City for next Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.