After rain postponed Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway to Sunday afternoon, William Byron started tail-end of the field after having to go to a backup car earlier in the week. With weather threatening after the end of Stage 2, the race was declared official after 127 laps with Byron scoring a Cup Series career-best second-place finish in the No. 24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Following final practice on Thursday afternoon, the Axalta Racing team was forced to unload a backup car due to an on-track incident as practice came to a close. With weather on Friday cancelling qualifying, the field was set per the NASCAR rule book, crediting Byron with a 12th-place starting position. Rain once again played a factor, postponing the race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
When the race did go green, Byron dropped to the rear of the field beforehand due to starting the race in a backup car. Making his first laps in this car, Byron spent the opening laps of the race getting a feel for the handling of his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Through the first half of Stage 1, Byron ran mid-pack trying to team up with other Chevy drivers before coming to pit road as a group under green on Lap 37 for fuel only. Returning to the track within the top-20 running order, Byron maintained his position until the end of Stage 1, crossing the line in 19th place. Under the stage break, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for the No. 24 to come back down pit road for four tires, fuel and a minor adjustment for a loose Axalta Flames of Independence Chevy. However, as Byron went to pull into his pit box, the No. 38 pulled into the wrong stall forcing Byron to bypass his pit and back up into his stall once the No. 38 left so his team could complete their stop.
Despite the issues on pit road, Byron lined up 20th for the start of Stage 2 on Lap 56. When the caution came out just two laps later, Byron had already made his way within the top 10. Under the yellow, Knaus made the call for the No. 24 to pit for a splash of fuel to aid Byron in being able to make it to the next Stage break. Restarting eighth, Byron worked with teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to make it up to the third position. Byron raced within the top-five running order through two more cautions during the stage before crossing the line to score a third-place result in Stage 2. Coming to pit road for four tires, and fuel under the stage break, Byron was overall happy with the handling of his No. 24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet ZL1, asking for no adjustments.
With weather looming and two stages complete, intensity within the pack picked up for the restart on Lap 106. Byron restarted eighth but ran within the top 10 as the laps began to wind down. With 40 laps remaining, Byron was forced to weave his way through traffic as “The Big One” occurred on Lap 120. Snaking his way through unharmed, Byron was scored in the second position during the caution. Discussing various strategy options under the yellow, Knaus ultimately made the call for Byron to come down pit road to the attention of the Axalta Racing team to top off on fuel. With various pit strategy playing out during the pace laps, Byron was lined up second when lighting forced the red flag to be displayed with 33 laps remaining. Despite NASCAR’s effort to get the race restarted, continuous lightning and rain shortened the event after just 127 laps with Byron scoring a career-best second-place finish, as well as his first Cup Series top-five finish.
Byron’s No. 24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 led the Hendrick Motorsports four-car contingent with his second-place finish. Jimmie Johnson scored a top-five finish as well in third. Bowman and Elliott were both involved in the last on-track incident before the red flag, ending Bowman’s day in the 21st position and Elliott’s in the 35th position.
William Byron: “It took us a little while to get to the front from the back of the field. And to finish second after that was good. You’re up and down a lot at Daytona. I’m glad that we got the day out of this weekend that we did. It definitely would have been cool to win, for sure. I would have liked to go back racing and win it the way I wanted to, but our team did a great job this week managing all the chaos and finishing second with a back-up car is pretty good. Overall it was a good race for us.”
Alex Bowman took the green flag from the ninth position after qualifying was rained out on Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. Once the green flag waved for the 400-mile race, Bowman was reporting that he was battling some handling conditions with his Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro. On Lap 3, Bowman was working inside the draft on the bottom lane in the 18th position. On Lap 38, crew chief Greg Ives called the Valvoline machine to pit for fuel only. With two laps to go in the stage, Bowman was scored in the 27th position.
At the conclusion of Stage 1, the Valvoline Chevrolet was running in the 29th position. Bowman radioed to Ives that his car was loose in and he needed tires for some grip. The Arizona native came down pit road to the attention of the Valvoline pit crew for four tires and fuel. The team was set to restart 18th on the outside when the field went back green. Bowman quickly moved inside the top 10 and was scored in the seventh position when the caution was shown on Lap 58 for a spin on the front-stretch. Ives elected to use this opportunity to bring Bowman to pit road for fuel only. Once the field went back to green flag conditions, Bowman was in the bottom lane and the fourth car in line.
The caution flag was shown on Lap 74 for a spin in Turn 3 and Bowman was scored in the fourth position. Bowman radioed to Ives under the yellow that his car was getting tight off of Turn 4. To maintain their position on track, Ives elected to keep the driver out on track. After taking the green flag on Lap 79, Bowman quickly jumped to the second position on track. Just a few laps later, the caution flag was shown again, and Bowman remained on track in the second position. The 26-year-old restarted outside the front row on the restart and quickly settled into the second position with five laps to go in Stage 2. When the field took the green-white-checker for the end of the stage, the Valvoline machine crossed the line second earning nine valuable stage points.
Following the stage, Bowman reported that his Valvoline machine could be a little freer. Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires and fuel. After a quick stop by the No. 88 pit crew, Bowman was set to start the final stage in the ninth position. On Lap 114, the Valvoline machine was scored in the 10th position. Just four laps later, the caution was shown for an incident on track and Bowman was involved. The team knew that the car had four flat tires and had damage on all four corners of the Valvoline machine. Bowman limped the car to pit road and the team assessed the damage. After visiting pit road three times under the yellow, the team was set to restart from the tail end of the field on the restart.
Ultimately, the field was never able to restart due to inclement weather and the Valvoline team was credited with a 21st-place finish.
Alex Bowman: “This is superspeedway racing. It is unfortunate to bring home a wrecked car, especially because this Valvoline team brought a great Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to Daytona. We had some handling issues at the start of the race, but Greg and the guys got it dialed in on some pit stops and it was getting better. I just didn’t have anywhere to go in that wreck. Sometimes superspeedway races are just unpredictable. We will move on to Kentucky next week and we can have a good weekend there.”