Having to fight from deep within the field for the start of Sunday’s race, William Byron and the No. 24 Liberty University team persevered to find themselves battling within the top five during the closing laps of the race. With a green-white-checkered attempt and fuel mileage a factor, Byron had just enough fuel in the tank to cross the line with a track-best finish of fourth at Pocono Raceway.
After qualifying eighth on Saturday, issues in pre-race technical inspection forced the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to line up in the 31st position before the green flag dropped on the 160-lap race. Trying to make up ground quickly, the sophomore driver was knocking on the door of the top 20 early on when he reported that his handling was too tight in traffic. As the run continued, varying pit strategy among the leaders began to play out, moving Byron up inside the top-15 running order. Crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for the No. 24 to pit from the 12th position under green on Lap 41 for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to aid in a now “plowing tight” Liberty University Chevy. Rejoining the field with eight laps left in Stage 1, Byron was told to manage his tires and remain in front of the leaders as part of the team’s strategy, ultimately finishing Stage 1 in the 22nd position. The veteran crew chief elected to keep Byron on track under the stage break, lining the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet up in eighth place for the start of Stage 2.
Still fighting an extremely tight race car, Byron maintained his running position within the top 10 halfway through the second stage. However, on Lap 85, Byron radioed to his crew that he was running out of fuel and needed to pit. Just as the Charlotte, North Carolina, native was about to come to pit road, the caution came out allowing him to pit under yellow with the rest of the leaders. Taking advantage of the caution, the No. 24 team opted to make major adjustments during their four-tire pit stop to try to aid in a still-tight Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Lining up 24th for the ensuing restart, Byron picked up a couple positions before the caution came out once again, this time on Lap 93 for rain. Discussing strategy options under the yellow, Knaus decided to bring Byron back down pit road to top off on fuel, four fresh tires and more adjustments. Restarting 24th with five laps left in Stage 2, Byron was able to race his way to the 18th position while avoiding a couple incidents before seeing the green-checkered flag wave signaling the end of the stage. Once again electing not to pit under the stage break, Byron picked up a couple positions during the varying strategies, putting the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 12th for start of the final stage.
With his Liberty University Chevrolet handling the best it had all race, Byron made his way within the top 10 before the yellow was displayed on Lap 115. Opting for track position with less than 45 laps left, Knaus audibled for two right-side tires and fuel during the pit stop, positioning Byron sixth for the upcoming restart. As a long green-flag run ensued, Byron was told to save fuel as much as possible to make it to the end of the race. Running eighth in the closing laps, still trying to save fuel like the majority of the leaders, a caution with six laps to go changed the complexion of the race. Still rolling the dice on fuel mileage, Byron lined up eighth for the five-lap dash to the end but quickly nabbed two positions before the yellow was displayed just one lap later, setting up a green-white-checkered situation. Despite being close on fuel, Knaus gave Byron the green light to “go all out” for the final laps. Getting a great restart, Byron was able to move within the top five and crossed the finish line with a track-best fourth-place finish, running out of fuel as he crossed the finish line.
Byron led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the stripe with his fourth-place finish at the “Tricky Triangle.” Jimmie Johnson collected a top-15 finish in 15th, followed by Alex Bowman in 20th. Unfortunately, teammate Chase Elliot was caught up in a mid-race incident relinquishing him to a 38th-place finish at Pocono Raceway.
BYRON: “It was a tough day. We didn’t really have a lot going our way early on. In the first stage and even the second stage, we were just kind of hanging on. We just found a way to make it work. We had good strategy and just found a way to kind of settle in there in a decent spot and save the right amount of fuel. We ran out of fuel coming across the line, so that worked out. We got fortunate on a couple of things. We go on from it and move onto Watkins Glen.”
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide team rolled off 12th for Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway. Just three laps into the 160-lap event, the driver radioed to the team that his Camaro ZL1 was tight while running 14th. By Lap 13, Bowman reported to crew chief Greg Ives that his car was still too tight. Ives elected to have the Nationwide machine hit pit road on the next lap for right-side tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. Following the green flag pit stop, Bowman was scored in the 34th position.
On Lap 28, the Tucson, Arizona, native had worked his way up to the 27th position and was quiet on the radio. Just two laps later, Bowman radioed to the team that his car was still tight. As green-flag pit stops began to cycle through, the Nationwide team was scored in the 14th position. At the conclusion of Stage 1, Bowman crossed the line 15th. Ives called the driver to pit road under the stage-ending yellow for four tires, fuel and an additional chassis adjustment to help the car’s handling. Bowman was set to restart 23rd when the field went back green.
Shortly after the start of Stage 2, the No. 88 machine was 19th on the board and Bowman was reporting that his car was free in but tightened up on exit. With 25 laps to go in Stage 2, the 26-year-old driver was running 14th. On Lap 82 the caution flag was shown, and Bowman reported that the team was definitely making progress center off. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel. During the stop, the Nationwide pit crew added tape to the front of the Chevrolet. With 10 laps to go in the stage, Bowman was scored in the 15th position, but teams knew that weather was a potential threat. When the yellow flag was displayed for rain, Ives chose to keep Bowman out on track and not pit when pit road was open.
After a few sprinkles of rain, the field went back green on Lap 95, where Bowman restarted 14th. With two laps remaining in the stage, the caution flag was shown. The driver had advanced five positions and was scored in ninth. The field would end Stage 2 under caution and Bowman was scored with a ninth-place finish, earning valuable stage points. At the start of the final stage, the Nationwide machine was in the seventh position.
With 47 laps to go in the Gander RV 400, the caution flag was shown, and Bowman reported that his car was getting better but getting tighter as he ran. Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires and fuel. Knowing that fuel strategy would come into play, Bowman made an additional pit stop for a splash of fuel before the field went back green. On Lap 119, the field saw the green flag and Bowman restarted 19th.
Bowman was holding strong in 13th with 30 laps to go. Just 15 laps later, the Nationwide machine was 10th and saving fuel as they ran. When a late-race caution was shown, Ives radioed to Bowman to save fuel. Again, knowing it could come down to fuel mileage, Ives called Bowman to pit road for right-side tires and fuel under the yellow. Shortly after the restart, the caution was shown again, sending the 400-mile event into overtime.
During the first attempt at the overtime finish, Bowman started 17th. With competitors three and four wide in the corners, Bowman got shuffled back and ended up finishing 20th at Pocono Raceway. The No. 88 team now sits 11th in the NASCAR points standings, 228 markers behind the leader.
BOWMAN: “That definitely wasn’t what we needed today. Our Nationwide Chevy was really tight at the start of the race and Greg (Ives) and the guys made good adjustments during pit stops. It turned into a fuel strategy race and we knew we would be short, so we came down pit road to top off. Things just didn’t play out the way we thought it would and we ended up 20th.”