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      William Byron takes the checkered flag in 24th at ISM Raceway

      © Hendrick Motorsports / John K Harrelson

      Start: 7th
      Finish: 24th
      Driver standings: 18th

      Qualifying a track-best seventh and collecting stage points early on during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at ISM Raceway, Byron wasn’t able to get the finish he hoped for when a loose wheel on his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 late in the race forced him to make a green-flag pit stop, leaving him with a 24th-place finish.

      The 21-year-old driver continued his trend of making improvements each weekend when he secured a seventh-place starting spot during Friday’s qualifying session, bettering his previous effort of 11th last spring. When the green flag flew Sunday afternoon, Byron quickly moved up within the top-five running order, where he remained until Lap 30 when he began fighting a tight Axalta Chevy. Sliding back to ninth, Byron was able to come to pit road for needed adjustments after the first caution of the race came out on Lap 38. Coming to the attention of his No. 24 team, Byron got four tires, fuel and adjustments before returning to the track and lining up 11th for the ensuing restart on Lap 45. However, just 26 laps later, the caution came back out. Crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron not to pit, allowing the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to line up seventh on the restart when some of the leaders elected to come down pit road. With a four-lap shootout to the finish of Stage One, Byron took the green-checkered flag from the eighth position, collecting valuable stage points along the way.

      Byron came to pit road under the stage break for four fresh tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to help aid with his tight issues he was still fighting. Lining up 22nd for the start of Stage Two after pit strategy among the leaders, Byron reported just 10 laps into the run that he was still just too tight to turn the Axalta Chevy like he would want to. With the majority of Stage Two going green, Byron tried to fend off the leaders from going a lap down, but ultimately was overtaken with a handful of laps remaining in the stage. The caution came out on Lap 148 for teammate Alex Bowman who suffered a flat tire, ending the stage under yellow and leaving Byron still one lap down. Byron brought the No. 24 Axalta machine down pit road under the stage break for four tires, fuel and more adjustments.

      Restarting 20th on Lap 157, the first car one lap down, Byron was in a three-wide battle when the caution came out just two laps later, but unfortunately was edged out on being the beneficiary of getting his lap back. When the field went back green on Lap 166, Byron quickly positioned himself the first car one lap down and maintained that position until the yellow was displayed again 28 laps later. Getting his lap back, Byron came to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and asked for slight adjustments to tighten the No. 24 back up after being too loose the last run. Scored 19th for the restart, Byron was able to work his way into the top-15 running order by the time the caution came out on Lap 219. Knaus made the call to put on four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments while reminding his driver to save fuel to make it to the end of the race. Lining up in the 18th position for the restart, Byron was able to gain two spots before the caution came out just one lap later. Now just outside the top-15, Byron once again grabbed positions on the restart, making it up to 13th before another quick yellow-flag. Told he was good on fuel and not to pit to top off, Byron restarted 11th on Lap 239. As the laps began to wind down, Byron was running 13th when he radioed to his team on Lap 277 that he felt a slight vibration. Within two laps though, the vibration worsened and the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 hit pit road under green for four tires and a splash of fuel. Byron returned to the track two laps down in the 24th position where he ran for the remaining 31 laps of Sunday’s race before crossing the finish line.

      Jimmie Johnson was the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports driver from Sunday’s race with an eighth-place finish, followed by Chase Elliott in 14th, while Bowman’s day had ended early after an incident in the race left him 35th. Kyle Busch made a late pass to win the TicketGuardian 500.

      William Byron: “We had a loose wheel during that last run and that ended our chances of a solid day. I appreciate all the effort from the No. 24 Axalta team and everyone at Team Hendrick. We were going to salvage a decent finish after having to fight back from a lap down before that happened. It was just too late in the race for something like that to happen and be able to recover from it at all.”

      Check out the latest episode of Around the Track with Jeff Gordon, where William Byron discusses his biggest influence, his interests outside of racing, and how he balances school and the Cup Series. 

      ALEX BOWMAN

      Start: 6th
      Finish: 35th
      Driver standings: 16th

      Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide Camaro ZL1 rolled off the grid from the sixth position on Sunday in his home state of Arizona. By Lap 6, Bowman had advanced two positions and was running fourth. On Lap 11, the driver radioed to the team that his Chevrolet was really good in one and two, but tight in three and four. The first caution of the day was shown early into the 312-lap event and Bowman reported that his car was a little tight.

      Crew chief Greg Ives called Bowman to pit road under caution for four tires, fuel, a track-bar and air pressure adjustment. With 30 laps to go in the first stage, Bowman was running 11th. Spotter Kevin Hamlin radioed to the driver on Lap 57 that his lap times were really good and the same as the second-place driver on a clean lap. The second caution of the day was shown on Lap 63 and Bowman radioed that his car’s entry was definitely freer and built tight throughout the long run. Ives elected to keep the Nationwide machine out on track under yellow and Bowman restarted sixth.

      The Arizona native crossed the line fourth at the conclusion of Stage One, earning valuable stage points. Under caution, the Nationwide machine came down pit road for four tires, fuel and a few adjustments to help the car’s handling. After some competitors remained on track under yellow, Bowman was set to restart in the 20th position. By Lap 96, the driver had worked his way into the top 15 on track and had his eyes set up front. The Nationwide machine was building tight on Lap 126 and five laps later Bowman asked if there was anything, he could do to make the car less tight.

      On Lap 147, the caution was shown for the No. 88 machine. Bowman had a right front tire go down on track and the car suffered right side damage. Ives called Bowman to pit road on Lap 148 for right-side tires and damage repairs. In an effort to remain on the lead lap, Ives sent Bowman back on track. The team once again hit pit road one lap later for left side tires and continued damage repairs. On Lap 152, Ives called Bowman to pit road for a wedge and track-bar adjustment and more repairs. After pitting too soon, the team was forced to restart at the tail-end of the field.

      The Nationwide Camaro ZL1 came down pit road under caution on Lap 163 for four tires, fuel and an adjustment. As Bowman was running on track on Lap 192, the car made contact with the outside wall and received heavy right-side damage, ultimately ending the team’s day. Bowman was relegated to a 35th-place finish.

      Alex Bowman: “We have just been too tight since we unloaded and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. We were pretty good as long as there was air on the nose but get buried in traffic and we were just way too tight. It’s unfortunate, obviously, finishing that first stage fourth we had a good race car just had to have clean air and without that we were way too tight. These tires are pretty finicky when you are tight like that it creates a lot of heat and it’s easy to pop one.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports