Qualifying 12th for Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway, William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 looked poised to contend for his first win before a late-race penalty relinquished him deep within the field, forcing him to fight his way back to an 18th-place finish.
Knowing that track position and pit strategy would play a big role racing under the lights at the 1.5-mile oval, Byron fought hard to try to crack the top-10 running order as quickly as possible when the green flag dropped. However, fighting a tight Axalta Chevy, Byron was able to come to pit road under the first caution of the race on Lap 48 for two right-side tires and to top-off on fuel before lining up ninth for the ensuing restart. Two quick cautions though, coming within a couple laps of each other, made forward progress difficult for the sophomore driver, but Byron was able to cross the line in the 12th position at the end of Stage 1. Still fighting a tight Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Byron came to pit road under the stage break for four fresh tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help loosen the No. 24 machine up.
With varying pit strategy playing out, Byron was scored 25th for the start of Stage 2 on Lap 87. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native began methodically working his way through traffic, making his way back to the top 10 with only 20 laps remaining in the second stage. Continuing to make up ground as green-flag pit stops cycled through, Byron ultimately gave up the second position on Lap 150 to pit under green for four fresh tires and fuel. As the final laps of Stage 2 wound down with green-flag pit stops cycling through, Byron crossed the stripe in 15th place.
Crew chief Chad Knaus elected to keep the No. 24 on track under the stage break, and with pit strategy once again playing a factor, Byron lined up fourth for the start of the final stage of the race. Jumping into the second position when the field went back green on Lap 167, Byron was all over the leader’s back bumper, searching for a line to get around him and take over the top spot. However, a caution just 13 laps later slowed his momentum. Lining up on the inside lane, now in second, when the field went back green on Lap 185, a slow restart by the leader and contact from behind forced Byron in front of the lead car and ultimately called for a restart violation. Having to serve a pass-through penalty under green for the incident, Byron rejoined the field as the last car on the lead lap in 23rd. Remaining calm, Byron worked to make up as much ground as possible as the laps clicked away and green-flag pit stops began to cycle through once again. Hitting pit road himself for four tires and fuel under green on Lap 218, Byron rejoined the field to continue his march to salvage as much track position as possible. Contact from the No. 19 though slowed Byron’s momentum dropping him back to the 30th position with 40 laps remaining. As competitors continued to make their pit stops, Byron worked his way through traffic, finding himself 18th just 20 laps later. However, with three laps remaining, the caution came out setting up NASCAR overtime. Unfortunately trapped one lap down, Byron wasn’t able to advance his position in the green-white-checkered shootout, crossing the finish line with a hard-fought 18th-place finish at Kentucky Speedway.
Chase Elliott led the Hendrick Motorsports drivers to the finish line Saturday night, collecting a 15th-place finish, followed closely behind by Alex Bowman in 17th and Byron in 18th. Jimmie Johnson came home with a 30th-place finish after trouble earlier in the race.
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Chevrolet rolled off 22nd for Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway. Just three laps into the 267-lap event, Bowman was scored in the 18th position and shortly after reported that his car was tight and that the team would need to free him up as the race progressed. As the field was getting ready to begin making scheduled green flag pit stops, the caution was shown on Lap 48. The Tucson, Arizona, native radioed to crew chief Greg Ives that his car needed help turning off the exit of Turn 4. Ives elected to bring Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment to help the car’s handling. On Lap 52, Bowman was set to restart 17th.
The second caution flag of the evening was shown on Lap 54 and Ives radioed to the driver of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital machine to save fuel. On the restart, Bowman was scored in the 20th position. Shortly after taking the green flag, the caution was shown once again. Under the caution, Bowman drove the Nationwide machine to pit road for four tires and fuel and was set to restart 29th. At the conclusion of Stage 1, Bowman was scored in the 26th position. Following the stage, Ives made the call to keep Bowman out on track and the No. 88 machine was set to restart sixth.
While running in the seventh position on Lap 113, Bowman came over the radio to report that his car was a little free and as he ran, he needed more off of Turn 4. Just a few laps later, the driver was running in the fifth position and reported that his car was not too bad. On Lap 136, Bowman came down pit road for a scheduled green flag stop for left-side tires and fuel. Once green flag stops cycled through, the 26-year-old driver was scored in the 19th position on Lap 143. Just seven laps later, Bowman radioed to the Nationwide team that he had a right-side tire going down. The Nationwide crew was ready on pit wall with right-side tires once the No. 88 Camaro ZL1 drove into the pit stall. It was confirmed that the car had a right-front tire going flat.
On Lap 155, Bowman radioed that his car was extremely tight on right-side tires. At the conclusion of Stage 2, the No. 88 team was scored in 27th. Ives relayed to Bowman that if any of the lead-lap cars stay out, that the team would visit pit road, but if not to stay out. Since cars on the lead lap elected to remain on track, Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. Bowman restarted 26th when the field went back green. When the caution was shown on Lap 178, the Nationwide machine was scored in the 24th position, one lap down. Ives called for the same strategy as the previous caution and once again, the leaders remained on track and Bowman came to pit road. The Nationwide Children’s Hospital crew gave Bowman four fresh tires and filled him up with fuel.
By Lap 216, Bowman was scored in 21st and was in the Lucky Dog position. During another period of green-flag pit stops, Ives radioed to the driver on Lap 234 that they were about 14 laps away from their pit window. The Nationwide Chevrolet visited pit road on Lap 247 for right-side tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Once green flag pit stops cycled through Bowman was scored in the 21st position, one lap down. The caution was shown on Lap 261 and the No. 88 driver radioed to Ives that his car was on the tight side. Ives elected to keep Bowman out on track and the field was set for a green-white-checkered finish.
Bowman restarted 19th for the first attempt at the green-white-checkered finish and was able to advance two additional positions at the conclusion of the 400.5-mile event to come home 17th.
Alex Bowman: “That was not what we expected tonight. We didn’t have a great starting position and I just wasn’t able to go anywhere on restarts. We had the tire issue just as soon as we were getting the car in a good spot. Greg and these guys made great adjustments on pit road all night. I wish we could have gotten a better finish for the amazing patient champions that we had here in Kentucky from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. It is always a special weekend when the hospital is on our No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.”