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      William Byron crosses the line fourth in Phoenix finale to wrap up career-best season

      © 2023 Nigel Kinrade / NKP

      With a 50-minute practice session on Friday and qualifying on Saturday, William Byron went on to secure the pole award in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series championship race at Phoenix Raceway. When the field went green Sunday afternoon, Byron took the lead on lap one and never looked back. Despite a slightly loose race car, the 25-year-old driver was able to maintain his lead as the laps wound down in the opening stage. With the entire opening stage going green for 60 laps, Byron led every circuit, crossing the finish line in first at the end of stage one. During the stage break, crew chief Rudy Fugle called his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment.

      Winning the race off pit road, Byron chose to restart in the bottom lane, maintaining his lead until lap 93 when the No. 4 got around him. Building a bit more free on this run, Byron slipped back to fourth by the time the caution came out on lap 108. Electing to come down pit road under the caution, the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevy got four tires, fuel and another air pressure adjustment. On the choose, Byron opted to restart in the low lane from the third position. Giving up the third position early on, Byron maintained fourth until slipping back to the fifth position with under 50 laps to go in stage two. However, as the run went on, Byron re-gained momentum, taking over fourth within the closing laps. As the green-checkered flag was displayed for the end of stage two, Byron crossed the stripe in fourth and asked his Axalta team to give him more rear grip. Under the stage break, Byron came down pit road to the attention of his pit crew for four tires, fuel and both a chassis and air pressure adjustment.

      After gaining two spots on pit road, Byron elected to take the high lane on the front row, starting second for the start of the final stage. As the run went on though, his No. 24 Axalta Chevy began to build “too tight,” dropping him back to fourth as the green-flag pit stops drew closer. Finally on lap 240, Fugle called his driver down pit road under green for four tires, fuel and another round of air pressure and chassis adjustments. Once pit stops fully cycled through, Byron was scored in the fifth position but was catching the championship contenders in front of him. Before the Charlotte, North Carolina, native was able to make the pass, the caution came out lap 274 allowing Byron to come down pit road again, this time under yellow. After a quick four-tire pit stop, with varying strategy taking place, Byron rejoined the field in fifth and opted to restart there as well for the final time with 30 laps to go. Despite all his effort, Byron was unable to get around the two competitors, settling into the fourth position as the race neared completion. Ultimately when the checkered flag flew, Byron earned a fourth-place finish and unfortunately came up short on securing his first Cup Series championship.

      © 2023 Lesley Ann Miller

      Byron’s fourth-place finish was his 15th top-five finish (tied with Kyle Larson for the most) and his series-best 21st top 10 of the year.  He led the series with six wins. In addition, his 95 laps led gave him 1,016 for the season — a single-season high for the Charlotte, North Carolina, native. Byron finished third in the final standings with 5,033 points.

      Larson led his Hendrick Motorsports teammates to the checkered flag in the 2023 season finale at Phoenix Raceway, scoring a third-place finish, coming up one position short of the championship behind Ryan Blaney. Byron followed the driver of the No. 5 across the finish line in fourth. Chase Elliott scored a 16th-place result with Alex Bowman also close behind in 17th.

      You dominated the beginning parts of this race. Around Stage Two, it seemed to get away from you guys.

      William Byron: “Yeah, once the track rubbered in, we got really tight, especially when we lost the lead. We just had a big balance shift and got tight back in second through fifth and just couldn’t gain a lot of speed through (turns) one and two, and just had to really over slow the car to get it to the bottom. That’s all we had there.

      “Just really proud of this No. 24 Axalta Chevy team. It’s been a great season. It stinks to come up short, but I’d like to think we’re going to be back in this position and we’re going to have more shots at it. We just have to keep working. Keep working on the short-track program for us – that’s definitely been the tough part of our season. But I felt like we brought a good car this weekend, and really until the track changed, I thought we were in the game. Just all we had there.”

      © 2023 Ben Earp / NKP

      What was it like racing with Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson? You guys were so close at times and you know you’re racing for the win, but also for a championship.

      Byron: “Yeah, I feel like we all raced really hard. I felt like in Stage One and Two, I could kind of take Ryan’s lane away a little bit and get him tight. And then once he got in front of us, it was really hard to chase him back down. With Larson, I thought we were pretty even. We came off pit road and he did a good job the last run. They had more speed than us the last run. The last run of the race, we were pretty tight there.

      “Like I said, just really proud of this team. We’ve had a great season and there’s a lot to be proud of, and we’re going to keep digging hard.”

      Via Hendrick Motorsports