By Toby Christie, Editor — Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie
FORT WORTH, Texas — I don’t really know how William Byron, a rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, found the resolve and wherewithal to go from the back of the pack to finish Sunday’s crash-filled O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in 10th-place, but he indeed found it.
Byron’s weekend started off on a sour note, as his motor let go during practice on Friday. Byron then went on to record the 33rd — out of 37 — fastest laps in Busch Pole Qualifying.
It looked like it would be another week of learning and struggling for Hendrick Motorsports’ 20-year old driver. But then came two solid practice sessions on Saturday. Byron would finish third and 13th respectively in both sessions. It’s just practice, but it at least showed that Byron and crew chief Darian Grubb had found some much needed speed.
When the race went green on Sunday, Byron put his foot to the floor and started marching forward. As Byron began passing cars, other major contenders began to fall by the wayside. On lap two Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Alex Bowman went for a ride. Their days were effectively ruined. Then just before the end of Stage 1, Martin Truex Jr. blew a tire and slammed hard into the wall ending his day.
The rookie, Byron, had worked up to 16th — one lap down — by the end of Stage 1.
In Stage 2, Byron was able to work his way back onto the lead lap, and when the Stage was over more top-tier drivers were no longer in the running like Kyle Larson who cut a right front tire on lap 127. Byron would end this Stage in the 13th position.
In the final Stage, Byron led a lap during a green flag pit sequence, and he was able to avoid a seven-car melee, which took out even more top contenders including Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
Byron noticed the very thin line that drivers were walking in Sunday’s race.
“Really, really sketchy. One restart I restarted eighth, and ran the second groove and I was 30th by off of four just by missing the bottom by that little bit. It was really hard, but everybody already knew that,” said Byron, “It was just a fight for the bottom which makes it really sketchy. As a driver you want a little more — at least two lanes to run so you can run side by side and not crash.”
In the closing laps, Byron was battling his fellow rookie of the year contender Bubba Wallace for position. Wallace would eventually out duel Byron to finish eighth, but Byron finished out his impressive day with a solid 10th place effort.
“This weekend was really good for us. We had solid practices. Kind of fought the same weak spots during the race, but there were some improvements from the off week that really allowed us to be that much better. I think we are getting there, still a lot of work to do. But I think that was a really good run for us, and something to build on,” said an optimistic Byron.
Byron now moves to 18th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, on the heels of his first-career top-10 finish, as the tour heads to a track not traditionally kind to rookies — Bristol Motor Speedway. If HMS can keep upgrading their new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s though, Byron is proving that even though he is a rookie, he is actually capable of driving like a cagey veteran.
Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing