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      Third-place finish propels William Byron into Round of 12

      © 2021 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      Start: 14th
      Finish: 3rd

      Starting 14th Saturday night for the final race of the Round of 16, William Byron quickly began making up track position in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE at Bristol Motor Speedway. Making his way up to the 11th position by the time the competition caution came out on lap 40, Byron radioed that his Chevy was too tight in the center of the corners. Under the yellow, crew chief Rudy Fugle called his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment, lining Byron up in 12th for the restart. Continuing to make up track position, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native raced his way up to the seventh position. However, in the closing laps of the stage, the front tires began to slide, forcing Byron to slip back to 10th by the time the opening stage ended. Still needing help with the handling of his Axalta Chevy, Byron came down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.

      © 2021 Matthew T. Thacker / NKP

      Electing to take the low lane for the start for the start of Stage 2, Byron restarted in the fifth position but ultimately settled into ninth when his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE fired off too loose. Once the handling of his car started to swing back the other direction, Byron worked his way through traffic, reaching seventh by the time the caution came out on lap 169. Byron came down pit road to the attention of his team for four tires, fuel and both an air pressure and chassis adjustment. However, issues with the air hose on the right front slowed the stop, forcing Byron to restart in 14th. Byron wasted no time making up lost ground, racing back inside the top 10 by lap 200. After a short red flag for track cleanup on lap 221, Fugle made the call for the No. 24 to remain on track with 18 laps remaining in Stage 2. Restarting eighth, Byron got a great restart jumping up within the top-five running order before crossing the stripe in fourth at the conclusion of Stage 2. Just a little bit on the tight side still, Byron came down pit road at the stage break for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment.

      With various pit strategy taking place, Byron restarted 16th for the final stage but was able to make his way back inside the top 10 after a handful of laps. Fighting through heavy lap traffic, Byron continued to pick up positions, racing up to seventh by the time the yellow flag was displayed on lap 364. Still fighting a tight No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Byron came down pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. However, the No. 20 missed his pit stall and Byron lost valuable time trying to avoid an incident with him on pit road. When the field went back green, the 23-year-old driver suffered slight damage on the restart but was able to maintain the eighth position when the yellow flag came back out almost immediately. Under the yellow Fugle made the call to come down pit road, however Byron misunderstood the call, and remained on track. Lining up in eighth, Byron narrowly missed an on-track incident in the opening laps of the run, reaching fifth at the time of the yellow. Byron elected to take the low lane on the choose, restarting third with 93 laps remaining. Losing ground initially when the field went back green, Byron turned his focus on those in front of him, making it back inside the top five with 75 laps to go. While other competitors had issues, Byron kept his momentum reaching the third position in the closing laps. With a spot in the Round of 12 on the line, Byron fought within car lengths of the leaders, crossing the finish line with a track-best finish at Bristol Motor Speedway of third – advancing into the next round of the playoffs by two points.

      Kyle Larson scored the win in Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway – his sixth of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Byron scored a third-place result which secured his place into the next round of the playoffs. Alex Bowman also secured a top-five result and locked himself into the Round of 12 with his fifth-place run. Chase Elliott finished 25th at Bristol after suffering a late-race flat tire that forced him to pit road in the closing laps.

      William Byron: “Honestly, I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps. I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could. I mean, I don’t know. I had the best seat in the house for the leaders getting together. I was just trying to make as much speed as I could. I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment that we could pull through being 18 points out and come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”

      Byron looks ahead to Round of 12: “I think we’re going to some really good tracks. We won on a 1.5-mile earlier this year. The ROVAL, we’ve been really fast there and have had a number of poles on road courses, so I feel like we just had to get through this round. We had a really unfortunate start to it and we made up for it tonight. Thanks to Axalta, Chevrolet, and Mr. Hendrick, and everybody back at the shop. It’s pretty awesome.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports