With a dramatic second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs behind him, William Byron can revel in having made the Round of 8 for the first time.
“It feels awesome,” Byron said. “Certainly, a weight off our shoulders. This was the goal coming into this year, and I feel we’ve met that. Obviously, the end goal is making the Championship 4.
“I would feel like we underperformed if we didn’t get to this point. It’s a good start. It feels like we’re playing with something different than we’ve ever played with before. We’ve got some new mojo, new energy, and we can just go out there and race.”
Going out and just racing is exactly what Byron wants to do. Byron had an 11.6 average finish in the last round, but the performances of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team were overshadowed by the theatrics they found themselves involved in.
Under caution at Texas Motor Speedway, Byron spun — he claims unintentionally — Denny Hamlin. Byron was trying to send a message that he didn’t appreciate how the Joe Gibbs Racing driver crowded him off a corner.
Initially penalized, including being docked points, Byron went to Talladega Superspeedway, facing questions about the penalty and the appeal. A few days before the elimination race last weekend at the Charlotte Roval, Byron was given his points back, but his fine increased. When the dust settled, Byron, on the strength of his points, advanced.
Byron will gladly take a calmer next few races — although that wish comes with some amusement since the heat turns all the way up now as the eight remaining drivers know they are within reach of competing for a championship.
“It’s nice to get through the chaos and be able to go to some racetracks where it’s just man-on-man, and you focus on the strengths you have as a team,” Byron says. Matt Thacker / Motorsport Images
“We don’t want that kind of stuff,” Byron said of the drama. “It’s not like we welcome it. We deal with it as it comes and that round, the second round of the playoffs, with the way the tracks unfold there, is very interesting and dramatic. We saw that at the Roval.
“It’s nice to get through the chaos and be able to go to some racetracks where it’s just man-on-man, and you focus on the strengths you have as a team. We’re going to be able to hopefully show those strengths now. But yeah, we’re through all the hoopla and can focus on what matters.”
The obstacles ahead are Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. While Byron has never been this far into the hunt before, the round could very well shape up nicely for him. Aside from his drama with Hamlin, Byron has flown largely under the radar thus far in the postseason.
Through six races, Byron has four top-10 finishes. A 16th-place finish at the Roval is his worst result. Byron is a former winner at Homestead and Martinsville.
Winning is the easiest route to the finale, especially in the hardest round of the playoffs. Back-to-back intermediate races fall in Byron’s wheelhouse, and he’d like to return to the winning ways he showed early in the season.
“We were really kind of riding the struggle bus in the summertime, so I don’t think it’s a surprise,” said Byron of not having added another win. “We didn’t really have a lot of opportunities over the summer to win races, but we had a lot of opportunities in the springtime that were important tracks for us, like Darlington and some of those places. Now we’re getting some of those opportunities again as the playoffs come around; some of those good tracks come around for us.
“We’ve had a couple chances at wins so far in the playoffs. I think Texas was one, and Bristol was one that had potential. Darlington, we won Stage 1 and had a really good car there. So, I think the chances are coming back around. We just went through that lull period in the summer that, for whatever reason, we just really struggled and we’re back rolling now.”