Heading into the last race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12, William Byron started off the weekend qualifying 25th at Kansas Speedway in the No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. However, once the green flag dropped for Sunday’s race, Byron quickly worked his way through the field and found himself in contention for the win as the laps wound down. With two attempts at overtime, Byron fought to a Cup Series track-best fifth-place finish, but came up just short on advancing on to the next round of the Playoffs.
Despite qualifying 25th Saturday afternoon at the mile-and-a-half track, Byron was confident of the race speed the No. 24 team worked on during practice the day before. Methodically maneuvering through traffic when the green flag was displayed for the start of the 267-lap race, Byron was inside the top-10 running order halfway through Stage 1. As the race continued to go green the leaders began to make pit stops, cycling Byron to the lead until crew chief Chad Knaus called him down pit road under green as well on Lap 50 for four tires and fuel. As pit stops cycled through, Byron was scored seventh when the caution came out on Lap 76. Knaus called the sophomore driver back down pit road for four fresh tires and fuel. Lining up 10th for a two-lap dash to the end of Stage 1, Byron went on to finish the stage in the 11th position, fighting a loose No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Electing not to pit under the stage break, Byron started Stage 2 from the seventh position and grabbed sixth place before the yellow flag was displayed on Lap 117. Running a bit tighter that last stint, Byron came down pit road for four tires and fuel before restarting from the seventh position when the field got the green flag with 40 laps remaining in Stage 2. Continuing his march to the front, Byron worked his way within the top-five running order, securing a fourth-place finish in Stage 2. Coming to the attention of his UniFirst crew, it was another four-tire stop for Byron with minor adjustments to hopefully help him gain some side bite to his Chevy.
Restarting sixth for the final stretch of the race, Byron once again began making up ground as a long green flag run ensued, running up to fourth. However, as the run continued, Byron reported that his No. 24 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was getting too tight with the current set of tires. Once within their fuel window to make it to the end of the race, Knaus called his driver down pit road under green on Lap 215 for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments. Once green flag pit stops cycled through completely, Byron was scored fifth and was trying to run down those in front of him. However, a caution with 13 laps remaining changed the complexion of the race. Coming to pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and adjustments, Byron lined up seventh for the upcoming restart with 10 laps to go. Battling to make it within the top five, the yellow came out with a handful of laps remaining, setting up the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Finding himself fifth just before taking the white flag, the yellow was displayed once again, lining the field up for the second attempt at overtime. Once again trying to reach the front of the field when the field took the green, Byron’s momentum was slowed but he was able to hold on to score his best Cup Series finish at Kansas Speedway of fifth, his fourth top-five finish in 2019. Unfortunately though, the fifth-place finish wasn’t enough to help Byron advance on to the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Chase Elliott was the highest finishing Hendrick Motorsports car crossing the finish line in the second position and advancing on to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs. Byron crossed the stripe next in fifth, followed by teammates Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman in 10th and 11th.
William Byron: “It’s just a bummer. But we had a great run today and we can take pride in that, for sure. We had a great car, one of the best cars we’ve had on a 1.5-mile track. It was fun, but we just needed to win and we couldn’t do that. But it is what it is. It was a great day for us overall, we’ll move onto the next couple of weeks and keep fighting. If we can go out and win, that’s all that really matters now.”
You said your goal was to be 12th in points. Now, you guys can get ninth. Is that still a focus?
WB: “Yeah, absolutely I think so. I think we can still further our position in points, which is awesome. Really, for us to make that next step, we have to compete for wins. We’re getting close, we’re running in the top five and that’s great. We just have to make that next step and I think we’re really close.”
Considering where you were this time last year, you have to be most improved driver.
WB: “Yeah, last year was no fun and this year has come a long way for me and my team. It’s been a lot of fun. Last year, I blew up here 60 laps in. This year, finishing fifth is great. We came close and I think we could have finished second or third. But overall it was a great day.”
Standings (from leader): 12th
Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Nationwide AgriBusiness team rolled off 16th on Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. Just 10 laps into the event, Bowman had driven his way into the top 10. Shortly after, the No. 88 machine made contact with the wall and another competitor, causing left rear damage. With damage, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 became extremely free on track causing Bowman to fall back on the leaderboard. On Lap 35, Bowman was in the 25th position and was the first car one lap down. Crew chief Greg Ives told the Nationwide team that they would remain on track in hopes of catching a caution before making a green-flag pit stop. Unfortunately, the yellow wasn’t shown and on Lap 60, Bowman came to pit road for right-side tires and fuel.
Just 14 laps later, the first caution of the day was shown for debris in Turn 4 and Ives radioed to Bowman to take the wave around. Since some of the leaders stayed out, the Nationwide AgriBusiness machine was unable to take the wave around and Bowman came down pit road for four tires, fuel and damage repair. On the Lap 77 restart, Bowman was scored in the 29th position. At the conclusion of Stage 1, the No. 88 machine crossed the line 26th. The 26-year-old driver radioed to Ives that his car was still pretty free. Ives told Bowman that the team would make two pit stops under the stage-ending yellow. The team came down pit road the first time and worked on damage repair and then came down a second time for tires and fuel. Bowman restarted Stage 2 from the 29th position.
On Lap 97, Bowman advanced four positions to 25th and just 10 laps later radioed to the team that his car still wasn’t turning in the front. On Lap 115, Bowman was in the lucky dog position when the caution was shown. Under the yellow, the driver pitted from the 23rd position for four tires, fuel and multiple adjustments to help the free handling machine. When the field took the green flag on Lap 120, Bowman was in the 23rd position. With a charge toward the front, the Tucson, Arizona, native was in the 14th position on Lap 154. When the caution was shown for the end of Stage 2, Bowman was scored 15th and reporting that his car didn’t have anything to lean on. Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. After a quick stop by the Nationwide team, Bowman was set to restart 11th on Lap 166.
During the next green flag run, Bowman reported that as he got closer to competitors his car would get free. Ives responded to the driver on Lap 194 to relay that the team would be making a big adjustment on the next stop. On Lap 216, drivers were beginning to make their green-flag stops. Bowman took the lead on Lap 219 and maintained that position until pitting on Lap 224 for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment and added grille tape. With less than 30 laps remaining in Kansas, Bowman was in the 17th position.
The yellow flag was shown on Lap 252 and Ives elected to take the wave around. When the team took the green flag on Lap 258, Bowman was in the 16th running position. Six laps later, the caution was shown once again for an incident on track sending the event into overtime. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel under this yellow to set the driver up for the first attempt at overtime. After restarting 16th the caution was quickly shown, and Bowman was scored in the 12th position. The driver of the No. 88 machine would advance one position to finish today’s race in the 11th spot.
Although the team was able to make up positions at the end of the event, ultimately the No. 88 team did not advance to the Round of 8. Bowman now sits 12th in the driver standings going into next week’s event at Martinsville Speedway.
Alex Bowman: “We got up to fifth or sixth there pretty quickly and obviously had a really good car to start. I got loose, I saved it and it was all good; that’s just racing. I guess just the No. 6 (Ryan Newman) being right there tore the left rear off of it. You wouldn’t think it, but that’s probably the most sensitive corner on these cars for rear downforce and rear side force. We really fought with it the rest of the day and all but crashed it for the remaining 260 laps or however long it was.
“I hate that we didn’t make it in the Round of 8. We had a good start and a really good car there for five laps or however long that lasted. It just sucks driving a wrecked race car for the rest of the day and not being able to fight for a win.
“I think we kind of got thrown for a loop on Friday with the new tire and it’s really windy, which didn’t help what we were fighting. But I felt like for the first five laps or so, we turned our stuff around. Our car was really good, and we made good changes Friday night. We were obviously going forward when that happened.”