William Byron Scores Fourth Win of 2023 After Mother Nature Intervenes at Atlanta
The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has a series-high four wins in 2023 after his latest triumph in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400.
It feels wrong, but Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta came to an end 75 laps shy of it's scheduled distance due to severe storms that rolled into the area late in the evening. The race had fierce action, and it was looking to be heading towards being an all-time classic race.
While the timing of the finish felt wrong, the driver who won felt right. William Byron recorded his fourth victory of the 2023 season, which is a season-high.
While his four wins are more than anyone else this season, Byron had to overcome a lot to get there on Sunday.
While running in the mid-20s on track at Lap 80, Byron received contact from Corey LaJoie, which sent him spinning on the frontstretch.
As Byron was spinning, a tire burst on the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
"When I spun, I was like, 'Welp, here we go, we're flying through the infield,' and then I was kind of looking towards the right side of the car thinking can I let this roll? Not lock the tires up on the asphalt to keep them up," Byron explained. "Then I saw the wall was coming quick, so I kind of let go of the brake for a minute and then locked it down. I knew at that point I was probably going to have flats."
As Byron pulled his car back to pit road for service after the spin, he lost a lap to the leaders due to damage from the flat tire.
"I was trying to catch up, and as you do that, everything gets torn up," Byron said. "It destroyed some of the floor, and crush panel and everything. It was not good because this car really relies on all of that. It was not good at that moment."
It looked like his day was done. It wasn't.
In a four-car pileup on Lap 92, which involved Byron's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Chase Briscoe, and Austin Hill, Byron received the free pass and regained his lap he had lost.
From there, Byron's crew chief Rudy Fugle went to task figuring out a strategy that would put them into a position to win.
Fugle had an eye on the radar, and he began taking advantage of situations as they unfolded to get the track position that would allow the driver of the No. 24 car take advantage of Mother Nature's cruelty.
"Where we were running, it made some decisions easier. Some things fell into our lap," Fugle stated. "We were running right around 20th. Our car wasn't handling great. We saw half of the field in front of us come down, so we copied them. We had just pitted, so we just took right [side tires] and jumped those [cars]. Then we were in the next run to the end of the Stage and we stayed in our position okay. It made it easy to stay out. We could go to -- we projected we could go to [lap] 210."
The strategy played out perfectly.
As Byron led the race with the weather closing in, he had to hold off a furious charge by Daniel Suarez, who was looking to score the third-consecutive win for Trackhouse Racing. Ultimately, Suarez came up just short, but he gave it all he had. Everyone in the front pack, who were running on fumes, did.
While Suarez was disappointed coming up one spot shy of a win, he took solace in the fact that this was a much-needed good run for him and his team.
"I wish I had one more shot on that restart to be ahead [of Byron], and then it could rain all it wanted," Suarez quipped. "It is what it is. But I feel like the No. 99 really needed a day like this. We've been really fast pretty much everywhere we go. But we've made mistakes. I've made mistakes. We haven't be able to get the position that we deserve. That my team deserves. That my mechanics deserve. My pit crew deserves. We really needed to get a little bit of air."
AJ Allmendinger scored his best finish of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season with a solid third-place finish in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, and Michael McDowell came home in fourth in the No. 34 FR8Auctions Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang.
McDowell, like Byron, pulled off an incredible comeback.
The driver of the No. 34 machine was caught up in a pit road incident with Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 63 of Sunday's race, which resulted in quite a bit of damage to the right front fender on McDowell's car. The damage certainly slowed the No. 34 car, but the driver and team rose to the occasion and scored a top-five on Sunday.
Kyle Busch finished the day in fifth in the No. 8 Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Richard Childress Racing.
Brad Keselowski, JJ Yeley, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top-10 finishers in the Quaker State 400.
For Yeley, who pilots the No. 15 entry for Rick Ware Racing, this is his first top-10 finish since the 2013 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Despite the shortened distance of Sunday's race, 18 lead changes occurred in the event.
Aric Almirola led the opening 39 laps from the pole, but once he was passed by Joey Logano on Lap 40, the race truly felt like it was up for grabs for the rest of the evening.
Ryan Blaney won Stage 1 in a photo finish with Kyle Larson, while Brad Keselowski scored the Stage 2 win after a caution for an incident involving Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin brought an end to the Stage.
In all, there were eight cautions in the wild, and chaotic race. but it was the eighth and final caution, which came for weather in the area, that was the most important as it signaled the end of the night.
Photo Credit: Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing