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      William Byron advances to Championship 4 for first time in Cup career

      © 2023 Gavin Baker / NKP

      On Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, William Byron scored a 16th-place starting effort in the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. When the field went green for the 500-lap event, Byron quickly jumped up to the 13th position. As the run went on however, the handling of his Chevy gradually grew tighter, dropping him to 15th halfway through the opening stage. The first caution of the race came out on lap 103 allowing crew chief Rudy Fugle to call his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Electing to take the top lane for the restart with 19 laps to go in the stage, Byron lined up 16th but once again propelled himself up to 13th. He continued to try make up track position as the stage came to a close, ultimately crossing under the green-checkered flag in the 12th position. Still needing further adjustments, Byron came down pit road during the stage break for two right-side tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment.

      With a mix of pit strategies taking place, Byron restarted 18th for the start of stage two. However, with intensity picking up, a stack up put the driver of the No. 24 three-wide forcing him to lift to avoid a collision. The loss of momentum dropped him to 24th. Regaining his composure, Byron went back to work, making his way up to 21st. However, the handling of the Chevy swung to the tight side again on the long green-flag run, relinquishing him back to 22nd by the time the caution came out on lap 215. Under the yellow, Fugle made the decision for his driver to pit for four tires, fuel and major air pressure and chassis adjustments. Opting to restart in the low lane from 21st on lap 225, Byron picked up a position to 20th, maintaining that until the end of the second stage. Under the stage break, Byron asked his team for help with his entry to the corner when he came down pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments.

      Once again a variety of pit strategies jumbled the restart order with Byron lined up 22nd when the field went green for the final stage. Just as they went back green, the caution came out almost immediately with Byron scored 16th. Electing not to pit under the caution, Byron restarted 16th and maintained that until the caution came out again, this time on lap 303. Calling the last set of adjustments made “powerful,” Byron remained on track during the yellow, restarting 15th. He once again went to work making up track position, racing his way to 13th when the caution came out with 177 laps to go. Now within their fuel window, Fugle called the No. 24 Chevy down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. With quite a few cars electing not to pit, Byron lined up 21st with 169 laps to go. Grabbing two positions on the restart, Byron used the initial laps of the run to maintain his tires. But with 100 laps to go in the event, he began his march to the front once again. As the laps continued to wind down as the race stayed green, Byron slowly progressed his way through traffic, reaching 13th with 10 laps to go. Sitting in a good points position, Byron crossed the finish line in 13th, with enough to lock himself into the Championship 4 battle.

      © 2023 Gavin Baker / NKP

      Kyle Larson led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the finish line Sunday, crossing the stripe in sixth. Byron rallied to score a 13th-place finish, enough for him to lock himself in and join teammate Larson in the Championship 4. Chase Elliott had to pit in the final laps for fuel, relegating him to 17th. While Alex Bowman was scored 32nd at the checkered flag after being involved in an early on-track incident.

      First of all, how are you feeling? That was a drive to put yourself into the Championship Four, and I know it took every ounce of energy behind the wheel.
      William Byron: “Yeah man, I feel terrible, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the result. My crew chief knew what buttons to push. Our car was so hot from, honestly, around lap 30. I’ve never been that hot. The helmet fan – it really wasn’t pushing enough clean air to me. I would have to shut it off, turn it back on and it would cycle. But overall, our No. 24 PODS Chevy was not great honestly, but we dug deep. I’m just proud of my whole team. They stuck behind me and they gave me adjustments that I needed, and I’m just really proud of them. I wanted to make the Championship 4 for them. Just drove the hell out of it for the last 30 laps. We were sliding all around, but that’s what it took.”

      How aware were you of the points battle, especially inside 150 laps to go?
      Byron: “My team was keeping me pretty aware. I wish I had information every lap because I needed some kind of carrot to keep me motivated. I should have learned from the first race here; I was the same way. Just need to get better at that and make improvements. But overall, really proud of this No. 24 PODS Chevy team. We work really hard and they deserve this.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports