By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
William Byron had his sight of a career day in his young Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, running as high as third in Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. However, a commitment line violation diminished his opportunity of running with the leaders at the end, ultimately settling for a 12th place finish.
“I sped on pit road and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway,” said Byron. “Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this. I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.”
Byron started the race in ninth and gradually gained spots as the opening stage progressed. By Lap 50, he and Kevin Harvick were the fastest cars at the 0.75-mile circuit.
Later in the stage, Byron passed both Harvick and teammate Chase Elliott to reach the top-5 for the first time in the race. As Joey Logano claimed Stage 1, Byron crossed the line in fourth and told crew chief Darian Grubb that nothing should be change to his fast car.
The No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet pit crew delivered a solid stop and got Byron out in third to kick start Stage 2. Byron would stay inside the top-10, but developed a tight car. It didn’t stop the rookie from ending the stage in fifth, scoring a total of 13 stage points.
Byron’s strong performance came to an abrupt halt once he brought his car to pit road under caution.
The cause of the penalty? A speeding penalty, knocking him out of the top-10 and restarted in 18th for the final stage.
“Yeah, I felt I was plenty good on my lights, but I just didn’t slow down quick enough for the straightaway,” Byron on the speeding penalty. “You’ve got like two corners on pit road that you can run faster RPM and I just screwed up.”
For much of the final stage, Byron ran inside the top-15 and clocked similar lap times as the race leader. Much like the previous stage, Byron continued battling a tight car and unable to reach the top-10 until the final 50 laps.
By the time the fourth caution came out on Lap 369, Byron moved up to seventh and after another solid stop by the No. 24 team, he restarted in sixth. Once the race restarted, Byron quickly lost track position as he tried to get down to the bottom.
Frantic late-race restarts became a burden to Byron, losing more track position, and when the dust settled, he finished in 12th.
Byron described his performance at Richmond and his comfort level after nine races, citing restarts being a burden to his well-suited long run car.
“Oh yeah, definitely starting to get really comfortable with what is going on. I’m starting to really figure out what I need to be faster and I think this weekend was a good example of that. Just love coming to short tracks they are a lot of fun. I don’t love the late-race restarts because I felt like we had a good long run car and I really liked to use some of the tools I was doing on the long runs to beat some guys, but overall a pretty good day.”
While coming up short of scoring his second career top-10, the young rookie cracks the Top 16 for the first in his career.
Byron moved up three spots in the regular season standings and currently sits 16th, eight points behind his teammate Jimmie Johnson, and 223 behind points leader and race winner Kyle Busch.