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      Wild final laps at Talladega end in photo finish

      © 2020 John K Harrelson / NKP

      WILLIAM BYRON

      Start: 19th (to the rear)
      Finish: 11th
      Standings: 14th

      With rain postponing the NASCAR Cup Series race from Talladega Superspeedway to Monday afternoon, William Byron had to drop to the rear of the field for the start of the 500-lap event due to technical inspection issues. With weather still playing a factor on Monday, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native powered his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the front of the field multiple times through the event, before collecting another track-best finish of 11th at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

      Having to start tail-end of the field when the NASCAR Cup Series finally took the green flag on Monday afternoon after weather postponed the event, Byron wasted little time making his way to the front of the pack. Running within the top 10 after only five laps, the third-year driver maintained a running position within the top 10 to top 15 as the field ran three-wide until the competition caution on Lap 25. Fighting a tight Axalta Chevy, Byron came down pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment, picking up five positions on pit road in the process. Restarting 12th just past halfway in Stage 1, intensity picked up within the field as rain loomed nearby. Making his way to the lead on Lap 40, Byron did his best to maintain the top spot, but got shuffled out of contention. Trying to work his way back to the front of the field, Byron made it to the 10th position just as the caution came out for rain with three laps remaining in the first stage. As the rain worsened, the red flag was displayed, delaying the race further. Once the rain stopped and the track was dried, the red flag was lifted and the remainder of the stage was run under yellow. Still fighting the handling of his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Byron came down pit road for four tires, fuel and both an air pressure and chassis adjustment.

      © 2020 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      Picking up another position on pit road, Byron lined up ninth for the start of Stage 2. With weather still potentially threatening, intensity was still high throughout the field. Continuing to race three-wide, Byron shifted between the bottom lane and the middle, trying to maintain his momentum. When the caution came out on Lap 95, crew chief Chad Knaus made the call for Byron to pit for two right-side tires, fuel and for the Axalta team to add tape to the nose of the No. 24. Restarting ninth with 22 laps to go in the stage, Byron maintained his top-10 running position as the field continued to race three-wide. With the yellow flag once again being displayed, this time with five laps remaining until the stage break, Byron did not pit, lining up eighth for the two-lap dash to the stage end. Jumping out to lead the outside lane, Byron momentarily took over the top spot, but lost momentum coming to the stripe, finishing the stage in the 10th position. Liking the handling of his Axalta Chevy, the 22-year-old driver came down pit road for four tires and fuel before rejoining the field for the final stage.

      With varying pit strategy taking place, Byron found himself 20th for the final leg of Monday’s race. Maneuvering his way through traffic, Byron narrowly escaped being collected in an on-track incident with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on Lap 134. With the yellow flag displayed, Byron came down pit road for four tires and fuel before lining up 23rd for the restart. However, with the caution coming out just three laps later, Knaus called the No. 24 back down pit road for fuel only and then again to top off when the field got the one to go signal. Lining up 15th with just over 40 laps to go, Byron utilized the high line to make his way to the front of the field, ultimately taking over the lead on Lap 151. Byron maintained the top spot for 10 laps until an ill-timed push from behind got the No. 24 too loose, forcing Byron to lose momentum and shuffled him to the middle lane with no help. Finally able to fall back in line just outside the top 15, Byron searched for drafting help but was unsuccessful due to the majority of competitors trying to save fuel to make it to the end of the race. As the laps wound down, the caution flag was displayed with three laps remaining, allowing Byron and some of the other leaders to come down pit road. Electing to take two right-side tires and a splash of fuel to make it to the end, Byron lined up 20th for the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. With some cars running out of fuel coming to the green, Byron did his best to make up ground, as well as avoiding two wrecks happening in front of him coming to the checkered flag. When all was said and done, Byron crossed the finish line in the 11th position, collecting a track-best finish at Talladega Superspeedway.

      Alex Bowman crossed the finish line in seventh, leading the charge for Hendrick Motorsports with Byron close behind in 11th. Jimmie Johnson rallied from a late race spin to finish in the 13th position. Unfortunately, Elliott was unable to continue after his on-track incident during the final stage, leaving him with a 38th-place finish.

      William Byron: “Well we finished 11th today. We had a shot there at the win with about 29 laps to go and just got a push from Logano in the corner. I don’t know why it got loose there but it did. We lost our track position and then really just fought to get back from there and tried to save fuel at the same time. We pitted with two to go to get some extra fuel and we made a pretty good charge to the front there in the third lane. We had a good number of cars to the inside but ultimately finished 11th. It would have been nice to finish top 10 but we did finish a superspeedway race in one piece which is nice. I thought we had some great speed at times and great opportunities to lead the race. We just have to build on that and continue to get better. I feel like these races are always unpredictable but at the same time there is skill involved. We did a decent job of controlling the skill part we just have to keep working.”

      ALEX BOWMAN

      Start: 8th
      Finish: 7th
      Standings: 8th

      Following a random draw, Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Valvoline team started eighth for the 500-mile event on Monday at Talladega Superspeedway. After starting in the top lane, Bowman made his way down to the bottom to start lining up with his Chevrolet teammates. By Lap 10, the driver was in the 14th position and was the sixth car in the bottom lane. Bowman reported 10 laps later that his Valvoline machine was a little tight off and free into Turn 3. The competition caution was shown on Lap 25 and Bowman was scored in 12th.

      Crew chief Greg Ives called the Valvoline team to pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure adjustment, and a wedge adjustment. Bowman restarted 13th on Lap 30 and within three laps was up to seventh. While running in the top lane, the field got shuffled around and on Lap 38 the driver was scored in 19th. In typical superspeedway fashion, just eight laps later, Bowman was in the lead at Talladega. After getting shuffled around, Bowman was running second with five laps to go in the stage. On Lap 57, the field went under a red flag for weather in the area.

      After the storm rolled through, drivers got back into their vehicles and finished Stage 1 under the yellow flag. Bowman crossed the line second, earning valuable stage points. Ives called Bowman to pit road for four tires and fuel following the stage and the Valvoline team was set to restart from the lead on Lap 65. After the top lane didn’t get going as quickly as one would hope, Bowman was scored in the ninth position on Lap 67.

      On Lap 83, the 27-year-old driver radioed to the Valvoline team that his Chevrolet was extremely loose while running in the 22nd position. The caution flag was shown on Lap 94 and Ives elected to bring Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. Bowman was set to restart 21st on Lap 99. The yellow flag was shown on Lap 115 for debris on track and Bowman radioed to Ives that his car was really good, but that he was just stuck in traffic. Knowing that fuel could be a deciding factor in the race, Ives called the driver to pit road for four tires and fuel. Bowman restarted 18th on Lap 119.

      At the conclusion of Stage 2, Bowman finished 16th after electing to save a little bit of fuel. In another strategy call, Ives called the driver to pit road under the yellow for fuel only. Bowman gained 14 spots on pit road with this call and restarted seventh on Lap 125. With 60 laps to go in the 188-lap event, Bowman was running 10th. Just five laps later, the caution flag was shown, and Bowman radioed to the team that his car was pretty good. Ives called the Tucson, Arizona, native to pit road for four tires and fuel. The green flag was shown with 50 laps to go and Bowman restarted 14th.

      Running 10th on Lap 141, the caution was shown and Bowman hit pit road for fuel only. With one lap to go before taking the green, Ives called Bowman back down pit road to top off with fuel. Following that second stop, Bowman was set to restart 10th on Lap 146. With 28 laps remaining, the Valvoline driver was scored in seventh and on Lap 163 was leading the field once again. While leading, Ives relayed to Bowman that they were going to be one lap short on fuel. The driver elected to back off of the lead in order to get better fuel mileage. With 15 laps to go, he was scored in fourth.

      A late race caution had Ives calculating how much fuel the Valvoline machine would need to make it to the end. The Valvoline crew chief made the call to bring the driver to pit road for a quick splash of fuel under the yellow. Bowman restarted 15th for the first attempt at NASCAR overtime. The Valvoline driver made it through two additional wrecks with one lap to go to finish Monday’s race seventh. Bowman led 12 laps at Talladega and captured his fourth top-10 finish this season.

      Alex Bowman: “Figuring out you are a couple laps short on fuel while leading a speedway inside 15 to go is not very much fun. We took the lead there and our fuel mileage number plummeted farther than we thought it would be. We thought we were good and then all of a sudden we weren’t good. Led a bunch and had to give up the lead to try to make it there at the end. I saved enough once I gave up the lead, but so bummed. We had such a good car and definitely had a shot at winning. It is just one of those deals. Really appreciative of everyone at Valvoline and Hendrick Motorsports. P7 isn’t the end of the world, but man giving up the lead like that is a bummer.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports