Heading into the first short track race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron started 13th Sunday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway. Having to fight through some issues early on, Byron’s No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE showed speed, driving through the field multiple times within the 500-lap event. Once Byron regained track position in the final stage he continued to run within the top-10 until he crossed the finish line in the eighth position. His eighth-place result is not only a track-best finish at Bristol Motor Speedway but his best finish of the season.
With a random draw setting the field for Sunday, Byron rolled off the grid in 13th but lost a handful of positions on the start with the bottom lane getting bogged down. Despite an early caution, and a competition caution on Lap 20, Byron remained on track to keep making up the positions lost. Restarting 11th after the competition caution, Byron continued to run laps as fast as the leaders. However, on Lap 57 Byron reported a severe tire vibration on the No. 24. Able to hold on until the competition caution just three laps later, Knaus called the Axalta Chevy down pit road for four tires and fuel, discovering that the right rear tire was loose. Returning to the track in the 25th position, Byron utilized the next 60 laps to march his way back through the field, making it up to the 16th position by the end of Stage 1. Under the stage break, Byron came to the attention of his Axalta team for four tires, fuel and for adjustments to resolve the earlier loose wheel.
Lining up 25th for the start of Stage 2, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native once again began to methodically make his way through the field, racing up to the ninth position as the caution came out on Lap 200. Needing a little help on the exit of the corners, Byron came down pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Enduring a string of four cautions, as well as a red flag for track cleanup, Byron ultimately went on to finish Stage 2 in the seventh position. Still needing help on the exit of the corners, but also loose on entry sensation with the No. 24, Byron pit for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.
With the field split on pit strategy, the 22-year-old restarted 17th for the start of the final stage. However, on the restart, Byron got loose and tagged the wall with the right side of his car. A couple laps later the caution came out, allowing the driver of the No. 24 to come down pit road for four fresh tires and for the team to make damage repairs. Lining up 25th with over 200 laps remaining, Byron once again began to make up as much ground as he could gaining position both on the track and on pit road during two caution periods. Knocking on the door of the top-10 running order again, a caution on Lap 434 set up the final pit stop for the Axalta team. Coming down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to aid in a now tight No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Byron found himself in eighth for the final 61 laps. Another string of cautions halted Byron’s progress with his car set up more for the long run. Restarting seventh for a five-lap dash to the checkered flag, Byron maneuvered around an on-track incident to cross the line in the eighth position, a track-best at Bristol Motor Speedway. Byron’s eighth-place finish also marked his best finish in the 2020 season, and his second top-10 finish.
Jimmie Johnson was the highest finisher out of the Hendrick Motorsports camp, crossing the stripe in the third position with Byron in the top-10, finishing eighth. Chase Elliott was scored 22nd at the checkered flag after an on-track incident with two laps to go. Alex Bowman left Bristol Motor Speedway with a 37th-place finish after issues earlier in the race.
William Byron: “It was a tough race at the start for us but we finished eighth which was good. Lately we’ve had damage and just a lot of things go wrong for us. We just really needed a good finish and we did today.
“We had a loose wheel at the start of the race and had to start at the back of the field after that. We marched our way through the field, back to the top 10. We then again had to start at the back to make repairs to account for the loose wheel. For a third time we had to start back again later because of right side damage. Once we finally got our track position back, we stayed up towards the top 10 and kept ourselves up there. At the end, some of those guys had fresher tires and we faded a couple spots. Overall though it was a good day for us, and we can go onto Atlanta where I think we have a good shot at winning.”
Following a random draw for starting positions earlier this week, Alex Bowman and the No. 88 ChevyGoods.com/ Adam’s Polishes team rolled off 11th on Sunday afternoon. After a hectic start to the 500-lap event, Bowman was scored in the 23rd position on Lap 7 when the caution was shown. The driver radioed to the team that his car was a little free, but that he was stuck behind some cars following the start. Crew chief Greg Ives elected to remain on track during this yellow and Bowman was set to restart 22nd on Lap 13.
Seven laps after the restart, the first of two competition cautions was shown and the No. 88 Chevrolet was scored in 16th. Bowman reported that his car was pretty stable, but snug through the center. Ives, once again, made the call to remain on track and the team restarted 12th on Lap 30. The driver of the No. 88 was battling with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate in the No. 48 on Lap 40 for the 10th position. Bowman was quiet on the radio and running 12th when the second competition caution was shown on Lap 60.
Under the yellow, Ives brought Bowman to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar adjustment. The team also adjusted the tape on the grille during the stop and he was set to restart 13th on Lap 68. Bowman was able to advance two positions on the restart and was scored in 11th on Lap 75. With 20 laps to go in Stage 1, Bowman had his eyes on the top 10. He would ultimately cross the line 11th at the conclusion of the stage. The driver relayed to the team that his car was tight in the physical center of the corner. Ives called the 27-year-old to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track-bar and air pressure adjustment. Following the stop, the team was forced to return to pit road after a lug nut was cross threaded on the right side of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Bowman restarted 30th on Lap 137 and had his eyes out front with fresh tires. The Tucson, Arizona, native was running 26th on Lap 182 when he got loose in Turn 4 and had a big save on track. Just four laps later, Bowman relayed to Ives that his car was too free to race people. The field went under the yellow on Lap 197 and Bowman reported that he believed his clutch broke. Ives told the team they would pit for tires, fuel, adjustments to tighten the car and the team would make damage repair to the tail-end of the car. Following the stop, the team had to push Bowman out of the box due to the clutch issue.
When the field took the green flag on Lap 208, Bowman restarted 27th and in three laps was up to 25th when the caution came out on Lap 211. Ives elected to keep the driver on track and Bowman was set to restart 25th on Lap 216. On Lap 230, the caution was shown for an incident on track and Bowman was involved. The No. 47 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun on track and with nowhere to go, Bowman made contact with another competitor, which ended the team’s day.
Alex Bowman: “It looked like the 47 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) crashed and I just couldn’t get stopped in time. I was hoping they would stay low and as they all came up, I got on the brake pedal, just locked the fronts up and couldn’t turn. Bummer – hate it for our ChevyGoods.com / Adam’s Polishes guys. The first race for having Adam’s Polishes on the car; bummed for them. We had a really good car, just had some weird stuff happen today. We cross-threaded a lug nut, had to come back down and change that out. The clutch pedal fell off inside the race car, so that wasn’t good for pit stops by any means. So, we struggled with that the last pit stop and lost some more track position. And then, just wrong place wrong time. Hate it. It was one of those days that everything was going wrong and finished it off.”