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      William Byron matches career-best Cup Series finish with Martinsville runner-up


      © 2019 Rusty Jarrett / NKP

      WILLIAM BYRON

      Start: 11th
      Finish: 2nd

      Rolling off from the 11th position Sunday afternoon, William Byron marched his way to the front of the field early on, and continued to maintain a top-five running position throughout the majority of the 500-lap race, inching closer to the lead with every lap. Lining up second in the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for back-to-back late race restarts, Byron ran within striking distance of the leader but ultimately crossed the finish line in the second position, tying his previous Cup career-best finish as well as securing a track-best finish at Martinsville Speedway.

      © 2019 Matthew T. Thacker / NKP

      Happy with his Liberty University Chevy after qualifying 11th on Saturday, Byron wasted no time when the green flag dropped to make his way to the front of the field. Despite fighting a loose-handling machine, Byron was able to pit under the caution on Lap 29 for four tires and fuel before restarting eighth when the field went back green. Continuing to pick up positions as the rest of the stage went green, Byron was able to cross the finish line in the sixth position. Under the stage break, Byron returned to pit road, this time for four tires, fuel and a minor adjustment to try tighten up the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

      As the field went back green for the start of Stage 2 on Lap 140, the sophomore driver quickly jumped into the third position before ultimately taking over second just 30 laps later. Catching the leaders while racing through lap-down traffic, an untimely caution came out on Lap 179, stacking the field back up. Byron came to the attention of his Liberty University crew under the caution period for four tires, fuel and another slight adjustment to the No. 24. Restarting in the fourth position, Byron continued to maintain his position until the caution was displayed once again, this time on Lap 253, setting up a three-lap dash to the end of the stage. Restarting sixth with different pit strategies playing out, Byron was able to hold onto that position until the green-white checkered flag waved to end the final stage break of the race.

      Gaining one position under the caution for electing not to pit, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native moved from the seventh position up to second in a handful of laps once he went back racing. Still fighting a loose-handling race car, the No. 24 came down pit road on Lap 347 and was able to secure a low-lane starting position of third before the field went back green. Once again taking over the runner-up spot under green flag conditions, Byron was chasing down the leaders when the caution came out once again, this time with 137 laps remaining. Pitting for four tires and fuel on the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on Laps 363 and then again on Lap 450, Byron was scored third but quickly took over second as soon as the green flag came out. Bunching the field back up for the end of the race, Byron had two more restart attempts to try to take over the top spot as the yellow flag was displayed on Laps 460 and 473. Battling hard with the No. 19 despite restarting in the high lane, Byron unfortunately wasn’t able to get around him as the laps wound down before ultimately crossing the finish line in second, scoring his fifth Cup Series top-five finish of the year.

      Byron led the Hendrick Motorsports four-car contingent at Martinsville with his runner-up finish. Teammate Alex Bowman sustained damage late in the race, crossing the finish line in the 30th position. Chase Elliott, who experienced a mechanical issue in Stage 2, finished the race in 36th while Jimmie Johnson was collected in an on-track incident that left with him with a 38th-place finish Sunday afternoon.

      Byron on what he needed to challenge Martin Truex Jr.: “Oh, I don’t know. He was really strong. I could work my brake bias a little bit in the car and gain a little bit and then I’d get to him and I’d heat them up a lot and kind of fall back. So, I don’t really know. He was super strong. Our car bounced a little bit on the short run, which was tough to kind of get around, but overall it was a really good day. This isn’t a place that I’ve loved coming to, and it just clicked this weekend. The things we did with the car going into qualifying and then obviously our race. So, I’m super excited, but second is not super fun either. So, we’ll try to get one spot better next time.”

      ALEX BOWMAN

      Start: 19th
      Finish: 30th

      Alex Bowman and the No. 88 LLumar team had multiple challenges at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday afternoon, which led to a 30th-place finish at the end of the 500-lap short track event. Two separate incidents – a loose right front wheel and an on-track collision that caused heavy damage to the right front of the car – were the culprits in the finish.

      Bowman started the race in the 19th position and radioed in to crew chief Greg Ives that the car was “free in, tight in the center and free on exit” early in Stage 1. Ives called for key adjustments to help the No. 88 during the next pit stop. Later in the run, Bowman said the car had no drive. The Llumar team finished the stage in 21st place and made additional adjustments on the No. 88 Chevrolet during the stage break pit stop to help with the drive.

      © 2019 Rusty Jarrett / NKP

      Stage 2 got underway with the No. 88 team in 18th position on the track. Unfortunately, just a few laps after the green flag, Bowman radioed to the team that he felt a loose wheel. He quickly came to pit road shortly after, where the team changed right-side tires and determined that the right front tire was loose on the car. This made the No. 88 LLumar team fall back to 30th position on the track. With the tough setback, Ives told the driver and team to focus on the car and work towards making it better. The team was able to provide Bowman with better drive for the car and was able to gain some additional spots to finish the second stage in the 24th position.

      After 260 laps, the final stage of the race began with the No. 88 in 24th position and on the lead lap. Bowman raced up to 20th by lap 308 and while under caution on Lap 345, the driver was running 19th and reporting that the car was freer than his previous runs and the back of the Chevrolet was bouncing. In order to gain some track position, Ives gambled and did not pit during a caution at Lap 368. On the restart, Bowman was scored in the 11th position.

      Just a few laps after the restart, the No. 88 was involved in a collision on the track with another car which caused heavy damage to the right front of Bowman’s ride. The LLumar team worked on the damage during two separate pit stops in order to get Bowman back in the race. Unfortunately, this put the driver five laps down in the 26th position when Bowman was able to get back on the track. From there, the No. 88 maintained position as best as possible, but ultimately finished 30th, six laps down to the leaders.

      Alex Bowman: “Obviously this wasn’t what we wanted to happen today. This LLumar team made some good adjustments on the stops, but today just wasn’t our day. We will move on to Texas next week and work toward ending the year out on the right foot.”

      Hendrick Motorsports