William Byron Maintains Composure to Escape Kansas with Podium Finish

After spending a significant chunk of the race two laps down, the Hendrick Motorsports driver maintained his composure to rebound for his fifth top-five of 2023.


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The official results for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway show that William Byron started from pole and finished in third-place.

Seems innocent enough, right?


The weekend ended up being a net-postive, though, with the 25-year-old driver scored his fifth top-five result of the year, but the journey to get to that position, was nothing short of a gauntlet.

In single-car qualifying on Saturday, Byron posted the fastest time in the second and final round, netting him the 10th NASCAR Cup Series pole position of his career.

That single lap, scored at 179.206mph, made the Hendrick Motorsports driver the third-youngest competitor to score 10 poles in the NASCAR Cup Series, behind only Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.

Things didn't remain positive for very long when the race started on Sunday, though, with Byron struggling immensely with his car early in the event.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-native said after the race, that his Chevrolet Camaro was "really bad" to start the event, but that the long green-flag runs prevented the team from making frequent adjustments.

In an attempt to combat an ill-handing car, Byron was among the first to make a green-flag pit stop, coming down pit road from a position barely inside the top-10.

When coming down pit road, Byron made a costly error by exceeding the posted speed limit, resulting in a pass-through penalty for the six-time NASCAR Cup Series winner.

Already sitting one lap down, Byron was forced to make a third green-flag stop in the first stage after making contact with the outside wall - all while still battling an ill-handling car.

When the first stage came to an end after 80 laps, Byron found himself in 32nd, two laps down - a position in which many talented drivers have struggled (and failed) to rebound from.

Sitting in a precarious position, it was time for Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle to play the strategy game, in an attempt to get one, or both, of their laps back and return to contention in the AdventHealth 400.

When Austin Cindric pounded the wall at lap 109, Byron took the wave-around, to put himself only one lap down. However, the much-needed caution didn't end up coming, forcing the No. 24 to pit - under green - just 18 laps later.

Attempting this move a second time, the tides started to turn around for Byron and Hendrick Motorsports, as within 25 laps of making his green-flag pit stop, the No. 24 returned to the lead lap - thanks to a wave-around, and then a free pass.

"I don't know," Byron said when asked how he got back to the lead-lap and a good finish. "Just hard work, Rudy [Fugle] and the guys making good adjustments. We definitely hurt the performance of the car - to have the tail messed up, the way I hit the wall twice, thought our day could be done, depending on how we hit the wall."

Getting back onto the lead-lap with over 100 laps remaining, Byron described his mindset from that point forward as "game on", as the 25-year-old phenom was able to return to the top-10 in just over 20 laps.

Despite the travesty of an afternoon, Byron was able to make his way back to the lead of the race, in large part as a result of a strategy play by Rudy Fugle that gave him track position and a set of sticker tires laying.

Though, Byron and Fugle never got the chance to show off the brilliant strategy call, as the field ran the final 47 laps of Sunday's event without a single caution.

The long-run to end the race, coupled with a car that Byron said definitely had its capabilities reduced by the early-race wall contact, allowed both Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin to get by and battle for the victory, leaving the No. 24 team to "settle" for third.

After the race, Byron sang the praises of his Hendrick Motorsports crew, for getting his car handling well at the end of the race, while also keeping his head in the game when things were looking dire.

"We were just fortunate enough that it all came back our way at the end," Byron continued. "We got it handling pretty good, we got it good enough where we could run up towards the front, got some clean air, and was able to maintain up there."

When looking at the development of a race car driver, one needs to look further than the development of raw speed, but also the temperament of the driver, when the walls are caving in around them.

Over the last two years, results would indicate that Byron has developed greatly as a driver, having four of his six NASCAR Cup Series victories in the last 44 events.

However, it's also become clear that Byron has become more of a level-headed driver, who is able to keep his composure when things aren't going well, just like was the case on Sunday.

Rudy Fugle, who is currently in the midst of his third season as Byron's crew chief, is a big part of that, having watched the Xfinity Series champion as he developed through the NASCAR Truck Series.

"We just try to communicate as much as we can," Byron said about the atmosphere on the team radio amidst the poor start. "Stuff was going wrong, some out of our control - a lot of it was in our control, the speeding and things like that, but he just kept my head in it. I was going to just continue to drive the car the best that I could and try to get to the next run to get an adjustment, that's really all you can do."

It's difficult afternoons like what Byron had on Sunday at Kansas that allows drivers - especially inexperienced ones - to build character and resilience, that helps them make incredible rebounds.

And often times, it's those drivers - who learn to maintain a level head in disastrous situations - that find themselves hoisting championship trophies, a fate in which Byron seems destined for, one day.

-- Image Courtesy of Jim Fluharty for Chevrolet Racing

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