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      Playoff field set as William Byron captures top-five result in regular-season finale

      Hendrick Motorsports drivers William Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott reached the NASCAR Playoffs. (© 2019 Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

      WILLIAM BYRON

      Start: 29th
      Finish: 4th
      Standings: 13th

      Already solidifying his position in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, William Byron and the No. 24 team focused primarily on race trim for this weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Qualifying 29th Sunday morning, Byron was still confident in the speed his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had and was able to march his way through the field to earn a fourth-place finish in the Brickyard 400 – his third top-five finish of the season.

      Rolling off from the 29th position when the green flag dropped for the Brickyard 400, Byron began to methodically work through traffic during the opening laps, breaking into the top 20 within the first 10 laps. However, while trying to use the draft off the car in front of him, Byron got into the wall just a lap before the first caution of the day occurred. Able to come to pit road under yellow on Lap 12, a stack up of cars in front of Byron resulted in left-rear fender damage to the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Restarting 38th due to a lengthy pit stop for repairs, the 21-year-old once again began to work his way through the field making it to 19th before the yellow would be displayed again on Lap 43. Crew chief Chad Knaus used the opportunity to bring Byron down pit road for four tires and fuel, lining him up 18th for the four-lap dash to the Stage 1 break. On the restart, Byron jumped within the top 15 before ultimately finding himself scored in the 12th position when the caution came out once again, forcing the stage to end under yellow conditions. After a brief red flag period for continued track cleanup, Knaus informed Byron that the No. 24 team would not pit under the stage break.

      © 2019 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      Starting Stage 2 from the eighth position after varying pit strategy played out during the break, Byron continued to maintain his top-10 position despite fighting a Liberty University Chevrolet that was getting progressively looser over the run. With 25 laps remaining in the stage, green flag pit stops began to take place. The sophomore driver cycled to take over the lead on Lap 87 before coming to pit road under green as well for four tires and fuel. Before green flag pit stops could fully cycle through, the caution came out, leaving nine laps remaining in Stage 2. Electing not to come back down pit road, Byron restarted seventh but after being shuffled back to ninth, the caution flag flew again and would also signal the end of the stage.

      Once again choosing not to pit, Byron lined up eighth for the start of the final stage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After a couple quick cautions slowed the pace, the driver of the No. 24 was able to work his way back within the top five, with just over 30 laps remaining in the 160-lap event. Coming to pit road under yellow on Lap 130, Knaus made the call for four tires, fuel and minor adjustments to a Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that had now swung to the tight side. Restarting seventh, Byron was able to pick up one position before the yellow flag came out for the final time on Lap 148. Lining up sixth for what would be the final restart of the race, Byron used the last nine laps to maneuver his way up to the fourth position by the time the checkered flag flew, scoring his third top-five finish of the 2019 season. 

      Byron led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the line at the conclusion of Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Chase Elliott also scored a top-10 finish, crossing over the yard of bricks in the ninth position. Both having late-race incidents, Alex Bowman finished 21st and Jimmie Johnson was relegated to a 35th-place finish.

      William Byron: “I don’t know what happened on pit road at the beginning of the race, but other than that, it was a good day. I think it is a result of so many lead lap cars coming down pit road at the same time, and there is really only one lane to turn into your pit box. We are used to three lanes to come down pit road and turn into our pit box, but here we only have two. It makes it tough.

      “With Jimmie (Johnson) and I it was a racing thing. I really didn’t have anywhere to go. Once Kurt (Busch) slipped by and we were three-wide, I was trying to give him enough room and not slide into Jimmie but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough room.”

      ALEX BOWMAN

      Start: 13th
      Finish: 21st
      Standings: 9th

      On Sunday morning, Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide team qualified 13th for the 400-mile event later that afternoon. Once the field took the green flag for the Brickyard 400, Bowman was able to advance two positions to 11th early on. The first caution flag of the afternoon was shown on Lap 11 for fluid on the racing surface. The Nationwide driver radioed to his team that his car was really good. Crew chief Greg Ives called the driver to pit road for right-side tires and fuel under the yellow and the team was set to restart eighth.

      While running seventh on Lap 27, Bowman radioed to the team that his car was tighter than he wanted it to be and Ives relayed that the right-side tires would tighten up the car. Just a few laps later, the 26-year-old driver told the team that he thinks the car will be better when they take four tires at the scheduled stop. On Lap 42 the caution was shown for an incident on track and Bowman was running ninth. Under the yellow, Ives elected to bring the Nationwide Chevrolet to pit road for four tires and fuel. The team gained one position on pit road after a quick stop. Shortly after the field took the green flag, the caution was shown once again. Stage 1 concluded under the yellow and Bowman crossed the line ninth, earning valuable stage points.

      The red flag waved over the track for cleanup following the Lap 48 caution and once the track went back under the yellow, Ives radioed to the driver to remain on track and not pit. On the Lap 56 restart, Bowman rolled off sixth. The Tucson, Arizona, native remained quiet on the radio while battling for the seventh position. On Lap 76, Ives called the team to pit road for a green-flag pit stop for right-side tires and fuel. Just seven laps later, Bowman relayed that his car was free center off. The fourth caution of the day was shown on Lap 88 and the team was scored in the 13th position.

      Under caution, Ives made a strategy call to bring Bowman to pit road for left-side tires and fuel. Unfortunately, the team was handed a speeding penalty and the Nationwide crew chief elected to bring Bowman back down pit road for four fresh tires and a splash of fuel. Bowman rolled off 21st on the Lap 95 restart. Before the field could get back to the line, the yellow flag was shown once again for debris in Turn 2. Stage 2 ended under the caution and Bowman was scored with a 22nd-place finish.

      © 2019 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      After a handful of drivers pitted under the yellow, Bowman restarted 15th on Lap 104. Two laps later the caution flag was shown for a multi-vehicle incident that Bowman was able to maneuver through without getting much damage. Ives radioed to the driver to ask if he slid the tires and Bowman responded that he didn’t think he did. Bowman told the team his car still felt good and the tires felt up. Ives elected to keep the Nationwide machine out on track and Bowman restarted eighth on Lap 111.

      On Lap 123, Bowman came over the radio to relay that his Nationwide Camaro ZL1 was good and when the caution came out five laps later, he said that his car was just a little bound up center off. In order to make an adjustment to help the handling, Ives called the driver to pit road under caution for four tires and fuel. After a quick stop by the Nationwide team, Bowman was set to restart fifth on Lap 134.

      With 26 laps to go in the 160-lap event, Bowman made contact with a competitor on track which sent the No. 88 machine into the wall. The driver was able to get the car to pit road and the Nationwide team made a lengthy pit stop in order to repair everything they could. Once Bowman got back out on track, he radioed to Ives that everything felt good on track and he restarted 24th on Lap 139. Ten laps later, the caution was shown, and Bowman relayed that his car was extremely tight. Ives called the team to pit road for four tires, fuel and multiple adjustments to help the handling.

      Bowman restarted fifth on Lap 151 and was able to advance one additional position to finish the event in the 21st position. The Nationwide driver now sits ninth in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings, 40 markers behind the leader. This is the second year in a row that Bowman has qualified for the playoffs. Next week’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is the first race of the playoffs for competitors. Earlier this season, the No. 88 team finished 11th at the 1.5-mile track.

      Alex Bowman: “We had at least a fifth-place car here today, but our finish definitely doesn’t show that. It’s part of racing here. You have to run hard. It is great to be in the playoffs again this year and I know we have some tracks coming up here that we have pretty good finishes at. We’ve just got to go out and perform and not have good days and then bad days. The second round is extremely good for us, so I am looking forward to that. I think our Chevrolets are going to be really strong and hopefully get some more wins.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports