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      William Byron ready for start of Round of 12: ‘Vegas is crucial’

      © 2021 Matthew T. Thacker / NKP

      South Point 400
      Las Vegas Motor Speedway
      Sunday, Sept. 26 | 7 p.m. ET

      NOT DONE YET: Needing to make up 18 points on the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cut line last Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, William Byron and the No. 24 team did just that. Scoring crucial points in both stages in the 500-lap event, Byron battled his way within striking distance of the leaders in the closing laps, scoring a track-best finish of third at “The Last Great Colosseum.” His third-place result was good enough to secure his spot in the next round of the playoffs by two markers. With points resetting for the Round of 12, Byron is now sitting eighth in points, just above the cut line by one point.

      BEST YEAR YET: With only seven races left in the 2021 Cup Series season, Byron is continuing to have a career-best campaign at the highest level of competition in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. So far, he has collected one win (Homestead-Miami Speedway), two pole awards (Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – most by a driver this season), 10 top-five finishes and 17 top 10s all while leading 276 laps and collecting three stage wins. In his Cup career, these are the most top-five finishes, top 10s, laps led and stage wins the 23-year-old driver has collected in a single season.

      1.5-MILE MOMENTUM: With the Cup Series racing six times on 1.5-mile tracks so far this year, Byron has finished inside the top 10 in five of those events. This season, he has an 8.33 average finishing position in 1.5-mile races – the third best behind Kyle Busch and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson. Going back as far as the last 10 races on 1.5-milers, Byron has secured seven top-10 finishes – tied for the fourth-most behind Busch (nine), Martin Truex Jr. (nine) and teammate Alex Bowman (eight).

      LOOKING FOR LUCK: When the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet ZL1 1LE unloads for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it will mark Byron’s eighth Cup Series start at the 1.5-mile venue. Out of those seven previous starts, Byron has a track-best finish of seventh (September 2019). However, Byron’s stats at Las Vegas don’t accurately represent the strength the No. 24 team has displayed there. Last February, he ran solidly inside the top five before a flat tire late in the race resulted in a 22nd-place finish. In September 2020, Byron pushed through the field to find himself within the top-10 running order, but an on-track incident with six laps to go left him in 25th. Byron rebounded in the spring of this year, starting second and racing to an eighth-place result.

      VIVA LAS RUDY: Returning to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the second time in the Cup Series, crew chief Rudy Fugle is confident heading to a venue where he has had success at before. In his first Cup Series showing earlier this season, the No. 24 scored an eighth-place result at the 1.5-mile track. Aside from that one start, the Livonia, New York, native has called the shots for 10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Las Vegas. He earned one win (March 2019) with Busch, four top-five finishes, six top 10s, three pole awards and 238 laps led. With Byron in the Truck Series in 2016, the duo qualified 10th and raced to a fifth-place finish at the 1.5-mile venue.

      BYRON ON IMPORTANCE OF VEGAS IN ROUND OF 12: “It’s a great feeling knowing that we had the performance we did in Bristol and were able to advance on. I knew this team was capable of it but to be able to execute it in a Game 7-style situation is even more impressive. Now we’re moving on and turning our focus to the next round. These upcoming tracks are ones that have always been good for us but they also can be wildcards in their own respective, especially Talladega (Superspeedway) and the Charlotte ROVAL. That’s why it’s even more important for us to go to Vegas, execute everything and maximize points. We don’t want to start this round off in a hole like we did the first round. Myself and Rudy (Fugle) would rather play offense through these next three races than have to worry on defending points. Vegas is crucial, in my mind, to determine how you play the rest of the round. Hopefully, we come out with a win and the only points that matter for the next two races are playoff points.”

      FUGLE TALKS MOMENTUM: “We’re super excited to hit the reset button at this stage. Darlington put us behind and we didn’t have a good run at Richmond. It made Bristol way too stressful. I feel like Vegas is really good for us, and this whole round has tracks where we are fast and perform well. I’m really excited about getting a reset, getting a good start at Vegas, competing for a win and maybe not having to worry about the next two (races), so that would be great.”

      © 2021 John K Harrelson / NKP


      PLAYOFF PAYOFF: For the first time since 2014, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers remain in contention for the Cup Series championship following the first playoff elimination race. At least two of the team’s drivers have advanced to the Round of 12 each year since 2014, including three in 2019.

      THRIVING UNDER PRESSURE: With Larson’s Bristol victory, Hendrick Motorsports has won the last four Cup Series playoff elimination races, including teammate Chase Elliott sweeping the final three last season en route to the 2020 championship. Elliott won the Charlotte ROVAL in the Round of 12, at Martinsville Speedway in the Round of 8 and in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway to clinch the title.

      A ONE AND A TWO: Larson’s Bristol win was Hendrick Motorsports’ 25th top-two finish of 2021, which is tied for the second-most all-time through 29 races (Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019). In 1956, Carl Kiekhafer Racing recorded a record 34 top-two finishes in the first 29 Cup Series events. This year, Hendrick Motorsports has 12 victories and 13 runner-up finishes.

      GOOD COMPANY: On Saturday night, Larson became the eighth Hendrick Motorsports driver to record a race win during the Cup Series playoffs. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Elliott and Mark Martin won as active playoff contenders, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers recorded victories as non-playoff spoilers. The organization has won a race during the playoffs in a record 17 of the 18 seasons since the format was established in 2004.

      WIN CITY: Hendrick Motorsports has six Cup Series victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, including Larson’s triumph in March. Going into Sunday’s playoff race there, the organization holds the track records for top-five finishes (24), top 10s (43) and laps led (1,695). Its four Las Vegas stage wins are tied for the most of any team.

      Via Hendrick Motorsports