After weather on Friday shifted the weekend schedule at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron and the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series was left with one lone practice session Saturday afternoon and the lineup being set per the NASCAR rule book. Starting ninth in the No. 24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, due to his position in owner points, Byron was having a solid top-10 day until a mechanical issue with 50 laps remaining ended his race early, leaving him with a 39th-place finish.
Rolling off the grid from ninth at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the 2019 Cup Series season, Byron maintained his top-10 running position until the first round of green-flag pit stops began almost halfway through Stage 1. Fighting a tight Axalta Chevy, Byron came down pit road on Lap 36 for four tires, fuel and a minor chassis adjustment. As green-flag pit stops cycled through, the sophomore driver found himself 10th but was able to climb to the eighth position by the end of Stage 1. Still fighting the handling on the No. 24, Byron came down pit road under the stage break for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments.
Restarting from the ninth position, Byron initially radioed that the last set of changes helped the handling on the No. 24 Axalta Chevy but as the run continued the handling swung back to the tight side causing him to lose a couple of positions. Slipping back to 11th, crew chief Chad Knaus called his driver down pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 118 for four tires, fuel and a different set of adjustments to hopefully aid in the handling. Returning to the track and running 10th as the caution came out on Lap 138, Byron came back down pit road for four tires and fuel, but the No. 24 team made significant adjustments, leaving Byron 12th for the restart with 20 laps to go in the stage. However, the last set of adjustments made the No. 24 Axalta Flames of Independence Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 too loose for the run but Byron was able to hold on and maintain the 12th position at the conclusion of Stage 2. Coming back down pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of chassis adjustments, issues on the left front tire resulted in a lengthy stop for the Axalta team.
Lining up in 17th for the final stage of the race, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native began methodically working his way back through traffic, making his way up to the 10th position before the next round of green-flag pit stops began. Hitting pit road on Lap 209, the No. 24 crew went to work for a four-tire pit stop with fuel and a minor chassis adjustment. However, just seven laps later, Byron radioed to the team that he was having an issue as the Axalta Chevy slowed on track. Coming back down pit road, it was determined that a mechanical issue would end Byron’s race early with 50 laps remaining, relinquishing Byron to a 39th-place finish.
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman led the four-car contingent to the checkered flag in Sunday’s race with a ninth-place finish. Jimmie Johnson crossed the finish line next in the 13th position followed by Chase Elliott in 15th.
Byron: “It’s been a really good season for the No. 24 team. Today’s race didn’t end the way we would have liked and it’s unfortunate that a mechanical failure is how our last race of the season would end. I’m still proud though of everything we have accomplished this year as a team, especially to be able to finish 11th in points. We’ll take the offseason to keep building on the momentum we have had going over the last few months and be ready to come out even stronger in 2020.”
After weather was a factor in Friday’s practice sessions at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR elected to cancel qualifying on Saturday to allow teams to get some practice in prior to Sunday’s season finale. The field was set by points and Alex Bowman and the Nationwide team were set to roll off 12th. Just two laps into the event on Sunday, Bowman had gained two positions and was looking to continue building off that momentum. On Lap 7, the Nationwide driver reported that his car was tight and made a comparison to a run-in practice the day prior.
On Lap 15, Bowman was scored in the 15th position and was continuing to battle tight racing conditions. Crew chief Greg Ives called the driver to pit road on Lap 35 for four tires, fuel and an adjustment to help the handling of the No. 88 machine. Following the stop, Bowman came over the radio to relay that his car took off turning a little better but would then just lose it. With three laps to go in Stage 1, the Tucson, Arizona, native was running 21st. Bowman would maintain that position through the completion of the stage.
Under the stage ending caution, Ives elected to bring Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and another set of adjustments to continue improving the cars handling. The Nationwide machine was set to restart 20th when the field went green on Lap 86. Less than 20 laps into the green flag run, Bowman radioed to the team that he felt the car was a little better, but the previous change took the overall grip out of the car. Seven laps later, Ives called Bowman to pit road for a scheduled green flag stop for four tires, fuel and another adjustment.
The 26-year-old driver reported on Lap 122 that his car had the most grip it had had all race. The caution flag was shown on Lap 136 and Ives elected to take the wave around and gain their lap back. With 20 laps to go in the stage, the field took the green flag. As Stage Two came to an end, Bowman crossed line 20th and he radioed to Ives that he wasn’t able to turn, and he didn’t have any rear grip. The Nationwide team came to pit road under the yellow for four tires, fuel and a “major” adjustment. When the field took the green flag on Lap 166, Bowman rolled off 21st.
With 77 laps remaining in the 400.5-mile event, Bowman was scored in the 14th position. The driver of the No. 88 machine had his eyes set out front and began knocking off positions. Ives called the team to pit road on Lap 210 for the final pit stop of the 2019 season. The Nationwide pit crew changed four tires and added fuel and sent Bowman on his way. On Lap 227, Bowman was quiet on the radio and running in the 12th position. Less than 10 laps later, the No.88 machine was able to take over the 11th position.
Bowman was able to gain two additional positions before the conclusion of the event to finish the 267-lap event in ninth. The No. 88 team finished the year 12th in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings.
Bowman: “The last three races, we’ve finished fifth, 23rd and ninth. So, we just need to be a little more consistent than we have been. Nights like tonight are kind of our M.O.; we ran 22nd half of the night and then got our stuff together, drove forward and passed a bunch of race cars. If we didn’t have to do that, the last two runs would have been quite a bit better I feel like. I’m proud of my guys for the changes they made. But we just need to be more consistent and start the races off better. … We will work over the course of the offseason to find what we need to click a little better at certain tracks.”