William Byron scores first career win in regular season finale

William Byron at Texas Motor Speedway, Nov. 2019

William Byron and his crew chief Chad Knaus almost certainly sighed with relief when post-race inspection cleared the No. 24 car Saturday night, confirming Byron’s first career NASCAR Cup Series win.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott helped Byron outrun the Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway. Hamlin and Truex Jr. held on to finish the Coke Zero Sugar 400 third and fourth respectively, and Bubba Wallace avoided the final-stage mayhem to score the third top-five finish of his Cup career.

The first points-paying win for the No. 24 with anyone other than Jeff Gordon behind the wheel locked Byron into the NASCAR Cup Playoffs, which will kick off next week. 

“I had confidence in (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the guys that we could get four tires and make the most of it,” Byron said. “So, I’m just extremely blessed, and this is incredible. It’s been a hard couple of years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and gel with this team. These guys did an awesome job today and got us in the Playoffs, and it’s amazing.”

For Knaus, the victory meant more than the obvious excitement of scoring a Playoffs berth. He explained, “It was a long time coming. Obviously the goal for me was to try to get to Victory Lane with this 24 car again. To be able to do it here in Daytona is really special.” 

Prior to this weekend, Knaus had 81 victories as a Cup crew chief on his resume, all earned with the No. 48 team and Jimmie Johnson. 

“The one thing to be selfish from my standpoint is I wanted to get to Victory Lane with a car number as a crew chief without [the name] Jimmie Johnson on top of the door," Knaus stated. "Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it, to see if I could accomplish it.”  

After the race, Elliott was asked about having been told on the radio to stick with his teammate. He replied, “I was looking for an opportunity for myself, for sure. I never saw an opportunity that I thought was going to benefit me. There were a couple opportunities that would have probably hurt both of us. I didn't see a scenario. Maybe there was. I'm certainly not the best plate racer. Maybe there was a spot for me to make it work for me and go on to win. At the moment in time, I didn't see that developing. Tried to give William the best shove I could, go on down the road.” 

The event slowed for caution six times for a total of 21 laps, but only three were for incidents, all in the final stage. Two of those resulted in red flags, the first for just over 10 minutes and the second for 05:34. More than half the field sustained some level of damage during the race, including Johnson, whose playoff hopes and bid for an eighth championship in his final season came to a disappointing end in a Lap 159 crash involving 10 other cars.

Sixteen drivers combined for 35 lead changes. Joey Logano led six times for 36 laps, but got tapped by Denny Hamlin to set off that Lap 159 melee, ending his day. Kyle Busch looked sharp leading three times for 31 laps but his night ended in the Lap 152 fracas. Byron led five times for 24 laps, barreling his way through the two “Big Ones.” 

Clint Bowyer made it into the Playoff field by finishing the second stage of the race, leaving Matt DiBenedetto to claim the final spot at race end by a scant six points over Johnson.

The NASCAR Cup Playoffs begin Sunday, September 6 at 5:00 p.m. Eastern with the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. 

Here are the contenders in points order: 

1Kevin Harvick2057
2Denny Hamlin2047-10
3Brad Keselowski2029-28
4Joey Logano2022-35
5Chase Elliott2020-37
6Martin Truex, Jr.2014-43
7Ryan Blaney2013-44
8Alex Bowman2009-48
9William Byron2007-50
10Cole Custer2005-52
10Austin Dillon2005-52
10Aric Almirola2005-52
13Clint Bowyer2004-53
14Kyle Busch2003-54
15Kurt Busch2001-56
16Matt DiBenedetto2000-57
William Byron scores first career win in regular season finale William Byron scores first career win in regular season finale Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Sunday, August 30, 2020 Rating: 5