Returning to Bristol Motor Speedway for the third time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, William Byron started off his weekend qualifying a track-best second – the third time he has started on the front row in 2019. Fighting through a tough 500-lap race, Byron persevered to finish a track-best 16th in Sunday’s race at the 0.533-mile concrete oval.
Being a part of all three Hendrick Motorsports front-row sweeps in 2019, Byron rolled off second for Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway alongside teammate Chase Elliott. Building speed on the initial laps at the start, Byron’s No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 got loose and slid up into the car next to him as the caution came out on Lap 3. Forced to give up track position, Byron came to pit road under the caution to the attention of the Axalta Racing team to repair minor right-side fender damage. Restarting at the tail of the field for the restart on Lap 8, the 21-year-old driver went to work trying to make up as much ground as possible, working his way into the top-15 running order after 60 laps. However, as Stage 1 began to come to a close, the handling of Byron’s No. 24 swung loose on entry forcing him to slide back to 20th, ultimately going a lap down before the caution came out on Lap 119. Electing not to pit with only a handful of laps remaining in the stage, Byron lined up for a two-lap dash to the stage break, taking the green-checkered flag in the 18th position, the first car one lap down. Being the beneficiary of getting his lap back, Byron pit for four tires, fuel and adjustments for a still-loose Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, before lining up at the tail-end of the field for Stage 2.
Once again attempting to make up ground on the restart, Byron tried to make his way through traffic throughout Stage 2 but ultimately was caught by the leaders and put a lap down 70 laps into the green-flag run. With the caution coming out on Lap 214, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron not to pit and take the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. Restarting 17th with 30 laps remaining in Stage 2, Byron was able to stay ahead of the leaders on old tires to maintain his 17th position and remain on the lead lap when the leaders crossed the finish line on Lap 251 to signal the end of Stage 2. Hitting pit road under the final stage break, the No. 24 team gave Byron four fresh tires, fuel and more adjustments for an Axalta Chevy that had now swung to the tight side.
Lining up in the 13th position for the start of the final stage on Lap 262, Byron fought to remain within the top-15 running order as another long-green flag run ensued despite a still tight Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Putting up a hard fight to remain on the lead lap, he eventually was overcome and put one lap down with 143 laps remaining but maintained his position within the top-15 running order. A few laps later, the caution flag waved on Lap 376 with Byron running in the beneficiary spot once again allowing him to get his lap back. Coming to pit road for another four-tire stop with adjustments, Byron restarted at the tail-end of the field on Lap 383. While working his way through traffic, Byron was collected in an incident that happened ahead of him bringing out the caution, this time on Lap 416. Byron brought the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the attention of his crew multiple times under the caution for damage repair to both the left and right side. On the restart, Byron reported a left-front tire rub as well as issues with the splitter dragging on the track, but a caution just 11 laps later allowed Byron to come back down pit road multiple times for more damage repair. Through all the repairs, Byron remained on the lead lap and was scored 17th as the final laps began to wind down. Still fighting issues with his machine due to the damage, a caution with 21 laps to go allowed Byron to come to pit road one final time for four sticker tires. Unfortunately, Byron was caught speeding leaving pit road, forcing him to restart at the tail end of the field for the final restart of the day. In the final 14 laps Byron was able to gain one more position, securing a track-best and hard-fought 16th-place finish Sunday afternoon.
Jimmie Johnson led the Hendrick Motorsports brigade, finishing 10th, followed by Elliott close behind in 11th, Byron in 16th and Alex Bowman in the 23rd position after a loose wheel early in the event.
On Sunday, Alex Bowman and the Nationwide team rolled off 14th for the 500-lap event at Bristol Motor Speedway. Within five laps of taking the green flag, Bowman was scored in the 10th position. Just three laps after the field went green, the caution was shown for an incident on track. Bowman was not involved and maintained his position on track and restarted ninth. On Lap 15, the Arizona native relayed that his Nationwide Camaro ZL1 was tight as he was moving up the track. The caution flag was shown on Lap 39 and Bowman was scored in the 12th position. Crew chief Greg Ives elected to bring the Nationwide machine to the attention of the crew under yellow for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Bowman was set to restart from the 10th position when the field went back green.
The 25-year-old radioed to the team on Lap 72, while running 11th, that his car took off really tight on the bottom. On Lap 100, Bowman was scored in the 14th position and just nine laps later made an unscheduled pit stop for a loose right front tire. The driver radioed to Ives that the tire had worked itself loose and the team changed four tires, added fuel, and made a wedge and track-bar adjustment. The caution flag came out shortly after the team went back on track and Ives made the call for the team to remain on track. The green flag was shown with two laps to go in the stage and Bowman ultimately crossed the line 29th in Stage 1.
Under the stage-ending caution, Ives called the Nationwide car to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment to help free up the car. Once Stage 2 got underway, the team was scored in the 30th position. On Lap 159, Bowman came over the radio to report that his car was tight on the bottom. The caution flag was shown with 37 laps to go in the stage and Ives made the call to take the wave around. Before the green-checkered flag waved, he picked up two more positions to finish the stage in 27th. Following the stage, Bowman visited pit road and the Nationwide team changed four tires, added fuel and made a track-bar and wedge adjustment. The Nationwide team also took this stop to clearance any right-rear damage from a previous incident on track.
Shortly after the field went back green, the caution was shown for debris on Lap 267 while Bowman was running 25th. Ives elected to have the driver take the wave around. By Lap 353, the driver had worked his way into the 23rd running position and reported that he got a tight spot in the middle of the turn. The caution was shown on Lap 374 for debris in Turn 2 and Bowman reported that he was free in and tight center. Ives brought the team to pit road for a quick four-tire and fuel stop under yellow and went back out on track.
Through a series of additional cautions and wave around opportunities, Bowman and the Nationwide team were able to rally to a 23rd-place finish in Bristol. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond Raceway to race under the lights on Saturday night.
Alex Bowman: “I had a loose wheel under green and that put us three laps down. We were never able to play the waves the way we needed, and we ended up staying three laps down. Our Nationwide car had top-10 lap times, but we just couldn’t get those laps back. This team worked hard this weekend with changes to the car and I am ready to get to Richmond next weekend.”