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      William Byron matches career-best Cup Series finish in Texas

      © Axalta Coatings / Phil Cavali Photography

      In his 100th career start across NASCAR’s top three series, William Byron equaled his best career Cup result with a sixth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

      “It was a good day, Byron said. “We had a gun break on the first pit stop and I felt like we were running in the top five at that point. We got back to the top five later in the race and I ran about fifth or sixth from there. It just felt like we were right there in the mix all day. It was a little bit free after that last green flag pit stop and that hurt us a slight bit, but overall it was a good day and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

      Start: 2nd
      Finish: 6th
      Standings: 18th

      Starting on the front row for the second time in the 2019 season, Byron rolled off second for Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Positioning the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 within the front runners in the field for the majority of the 334-lap event, Byron scored his first top-10 finish of the season after crossing the finish line in sixth-place, tying his previous best NASCAR Cup Series finish at Pocono Raceway last year.

      © Axalta Coatings / Phil Cavali Photography

      When the green flag dropped, Byron ran within the top-three running order for the initial portion of Stage 1 before the caution came out on Lap 15. Crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron to come down pit road for a splash of fuel to help with pit strategy later in the race. Restarting 12th on Lap 19, Byron maintained his top-10 running position until green flag pit stops began to cycle through later in the run. Having more fuel than most of the leaders from pitting under the first caution, Byron took over the top spot on Lap 66 and continued to lead the field until he hit pit road under green for his pit stop 14 laps later. Initially coming to pit road for a four-tire stop, fuel and adjustments, Knaus made the quick decision to go with two tires after issues with the pit gun slowed the stop. Returning to the track with four laps remaining in the stage, Byron remained on the lead lap but ultimately finished the stage in the 13th position. Byron returned to pit road under the stage break for four tires and fuel after the Axalta team reworked their original pit strategy to overcome the issues from the previous stop.

      Lining up 17th for the start of Stage 2 with varying pit strategy still a factor, Byron worked his way back within the top-15 running order despite still fighting an Axalta Chevy that was slightly loose. Once again, green flag pit stops began to cycle through the field part way through the stage and Knaus made the call to keep Byron out longer than most of the leaders. Before pit stops could cycle through fully, the caution came out on Lap 149 with Byron running on the lead lap in seventh. With the caution trapping a good portion of cars one lap down, Byron returned to pit road for four tires and fuel before restarting seventh with 12 laps remaining in the stage, ultimately scoring stage points after crossing the finish line in eighth. Continuing to use pit strategy to try get the No. 24 back up to the front of the field, Knaus made the call for Byron to stay on track during the stage break.

      Restarting from the sixth position on Lap 255 for the start of the final stage, Byron maneuvered himself through traffic to run within the top-four running order. However, as the run progressed so did the handling of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, getting more and more loose forcing Byron to slide back to sixth. Once again, another round of green-flag pit stops cycled through with Byron back running within the top-five. With 79 laps remaining the caution came out allowing Byron to come back down pit road, this time for two right-side tires and fuel. Scored eighth for the ensuing restart, Byron methodically worked his way up to the third position as the laps began to wind down. With everyone short on fuel to the finish, Byron took the lead on lap 319 but was forced to pit a lap early himself when he felt like he was running out of fuel. Getting a splash of gas and returning to the track with 14 laps remaining, Byron fought hard alongside teammate Jimmie Johnson for position before ultimately taking the checkered flag in the sixth position – a new Cup Series best at Texas Motor Speedway and his best race overall so far in 2019.

      Johnson snagged a top-five finish for Hendrick Motorsports in the closing laps of Sunday’s race, finishing just in front of Byron in fifth. Chase Elliott crossed the finish line in 13th and Alex Bowman finished the day with an 18th-place finish.

      © Axalta Coatings / Phil Cavali Photography

      ALEX BOWMAN

      Start: 24th
      Finish: 18th
      Standings: 19th

      Alex Bowman and the No. 88 LLumar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 qualified 24th for the 334-lap event at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon. During Bowman’s first laps of qualifying on Friday, the LLumar machine got loose and hit the wall in Turn 2 resulting in the team pulling out the back-up car. The team worked all night on Friday to get the car prepared for Saturday’s practice session.

      Five laps into the event on Sunday, Bowman reported that his Camaro ZL1 was free while running in the 31st position. The first caution was shown on Lap 14 and crew chief Greg Ives elected to hit pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment to help the car’s handling. The green flag returned to the track on Lap 18. On Lap 34, the Arizona native was quiet on the radio and had his eyes focused out front.

      © 2019 Gavin Baker / Hendrick Motorsports

      On Lap 57, Bowman relayed to Ives that his car was edgy-free in the corner and got tight when he got closer to another competitor on track. When green flag pit stops got underway, Ives brought the No. 88 machine to pit road from the eighth position for fuel only on Lap 78. Following this stop, NASCAR handed over a commitment line violation to the No. 88 LLumar team and Bowman had to come to pit road to serve the penalty. After the team served the penalty, Bowman was scored in the 30th position and was one lap down.

      Under the stage-ending caution, Bowman came to pit road for four tires, fuel and multiple adjustments to help the car’s handling. Once Stage 2 got underway, Bowman was running in the 24th position on Lap 100. Shortly after Lap 110, the driver reported that his car was much better than the cars around him as he was working through traffic. On Lap 138, the 25-year-old was running 23rd and 10 laps later the caution was thrown for fluid on the racing surface. Under the yellow, Bowman radioed to Ives that his car was tight when he was behind someone, but really good by himself. On Lap 155, Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel.

      When Stage 2 was complete, Bowman was scored in the 21st position. Ives called to Bowman to take the wave around, but unfortunately not every lead lap car came to pit road which didn’t allow the team to do the wave around. Bowman told the LLumar team that the car took off tight that run and took too long to come in. When the final stage went green, Bowman was scored in the 22nd position. On Lap 210, the LLumar machine was in the 19th position and Bowman remained quiet on the radio.

      On Lap 221, Ives called Bowman to pit road for a green-flag stop for four tires and fuel. Just 10 laps after the stop, Bowman reported that his Chevrolet was too free but told the team he would relay how it builds as he runs. The caution flag was shown on Lap 254 and Bowman relayed to the No. 88 LLumar team that he was extremely proud of the way the guys turned around the back-up Camaro ZL1 machine. Once again, lead lap cars remained on track and the team was unable to take the wave around. On Lap 258, Bowman came to pit road for four tires and fuel.

      By Lap 275, the No. 88 team was scored in the 18th position and Bowman kept his eyes set out front. Green flag pit stops got underway around Lap 299 and the LLumar car was in the 16th position. Just 10 laps later, Bowman radioed to Ives to ask what the plan was, and the crew chief relayed that they would pit soon for fuel only. The LLumar machine remained on track until Lap 320 and then came to the attention of the LLumar crew for fuel only.

      At the conclusion of the 501-mile event, Bowman crossed the line 18th. The No. 88 team is now 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings, 158 markers behind the leader. The series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend for the eighth race of the season.

      Alex Bowman: “These guys worked their tails off this weekend. We had a really good primary car on Friday and then I just got too loose in qualifying and lost it. Our LLumar team went to work on the back-up car and worked all night long to get it ready for Saturday’s practice session. Between Saturday and Sunday, this car took a drastic change for the better and we had a good car to work with. Unfortunately, starting at the tail-end of the field we had to work our way through traffic during the first part of the race. The guys got the car dialed in during some pit stops and we had a good car. I got loose coming to pit road and we got that penalty for a commitment line violation. I hated that for my guys, that was on me. Overall, I think this weekend we saw some major progress. We still aren’t where we want to be, but we are definitely seeing some gains.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports