Driver standings: 21st
Trying to fight through adversity the entire weekend at Martinsville Speedway, William Byron started Sunday’s race from the 34th position before he ultimately crossed the finish line 22nd in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Byron started off the weekend with limited track time Saturday due to damage repair from a cut tire in the opening laps of the first practice session. The No. 24 team worked to get Byron on track for final practice and qualifying later Saturday afternoon. However, having issues in pre-race technical inspection Sunday morning, Byron started the 500-lap event from the 34th position. Trying to make up as much ground as possible early on, Byron raced his way up to 27th, but lost a lap to the leaders just before the first caution of the race came out on Lap 66. Relaying to crew chief Chad Knaus that his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was way too loose, Byron came to pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments before lining up 31st for the restart. With the rest of the stage going green, Byron was able to make his way to the 28th position but was still fighting an ill-handling Axalta Chevy. Coming to pit road for four tires, fuel and more adjustments, problems with the jack slowed the No. 24 team’s stop, forcing Byron to line up 28th for the start of Stage 2.
Just six laps into Stage 2, the caution flag was displayed and Byron was able to get his lap back after racing to the beneficiary position at the time that the yellow flag was displayed. Returning to pit road for another four-tire stop, Byron restarted at the rear of the field but fought his way up to the 19th position by Lap 176. With the remainder of Stage 2 run under green, Byron fought a still-loose Axalta Chevrolet while trying to remain on the lead lap. The leaders ultimately put him one lap down again with just over 20 laps left before the stage end and he remained one lap down when the caution came out on Lap 262 to signal the end of Stage 2. With another routine four-tire stop, Knaus called for changes to the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to try and aid in a still-loose race car.
Lining up 21st when the green flag dropped for the start of the final stage, Byron maintained his position, the first car one lap down before getting tagged from behind and spinning coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 312. Coming to the attention of his Axalta Racing team to assess any possible damage, the No. 24 team gave Byron the all-clear along with four tires and fuel. Restarting 24th, two laps down to the leaders, Byron maintained his position, despite still fighting an ill-handling Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, until the caution came out with 54 laps remaining. Knaus made the call to take the ‘wave around’ under the caution allowing Byron to be one of only two cars just one lap down when the field went back green on Lap 455. Hoping for a caution in the closing laps to get back on the lead lap and try make up some more ground, luck didn’t fall his way but Byron was able to still cross the finish line in the 22nd position.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott almost pulled out the victory at Martinsville Speedway but ultimately came up just short, finishing second. Alex Bowman went on to finish 14th, followed by Byron in 22nd and Jimmie Johnson in 24th.
Driver standings: 17th
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide team rolled off 16th on Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Early into the first green flag run of the day, Bowman reported that his Chevrolet was on the free side and didn’t have much drive. On Lap 47 while running 19th, the Nationwide driver said that he wasn’t able to arch the corner and he had to drive straight in.
The first caution of the day was shown on Lap 64 for debris and Bowman radioed to crew chief Greg Ives that his car was really loose. Ives called the Nationwide Camaro ZL1 to pit road under caution for four tires, fuel, added grille tape and a track-bar adjustment. Once the green flag returned to the track, the 25-year-old driver was quiet on the radio and running in the 17th position. Stage 1 was complete at Lap 130 and Bowman crossed the line 19th. Ives told the driver that the Nationwide team would be making a track-bar adjustment and would put wedge in the left rear when they came to pit road.
The Nationwide pit crew had a quick four-tire stop with multiple adjustments under the stage-ending caution but was able to maintain its position, and Bowman restarted 19th. Shortly after Stage 2 got underway, the caution flag was shown for debris in Turn 4. Since the field was only able to make four laps before the yellow was shown, Ives elected to keep Bowman on track and not come down pit road. The team restarted 15th when the field went back green on Lap 153.
Following the adjustments made after Stage 1, Bowman was on the move. By Lap 190, Bowman was scored in the 13th position, but eight laps later told Ives that his car was getting loose again. Once Stage 2 was complete, the Nationwide machine was scored in the 19th position. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel, and the team was set to restart 15th. On Lap 298, Bowman reported that his car took off more loose than it had in previous runs.
On Lap 312, the caution flag was shown, and the driver relayed that his car was a little more free than he would like and that he was trying to manage his entry. The Nationwide team came to pit road for four tires and fuel under caution and restarted 10th on Lap 319. Bowman was quiet on the radio during the next green flag run and was focused out front. The sixth caution was shown on Lap 371 and Ives elected to pit for four tires and fuel. Shortly after taking the green flag on the restart, Bowman reported that the start to that run was the tightest that they had taken off in the center all day.
Under the Lap 445 caution, Ives radioed to the Nationwide driver that the track temperature was going down and that the team had to keep the car turning. Bowman came to pit road for four tires and fuel. The Arizona native was able to keep his eyes out front and capture a 14th-place finish at the end of the 500-lap event. The No. 88 team currently sits 17th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings after the first six events of the season.
Alex Bowman: “When the clouds came out the track changed and obviously our car then got worse. That is a bummer because we were running ninth or 10th right before that. Really good execution today. We weren’t fast, but we had good execution today and it’s one of those days where you can go home and feel pretty good knowing you did everything you could. Pit stops were really, really good and adjustments were good for the most part. So, we didn’t have the race car we needed, but the team executed today really well.”