William Byron had a career-day in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway, as Hendrick Motorsports looked to have turn a corner.
Byron, 20, qualified sixth on Saturday, but was one of 13 teams that had its time disqualified for failing post-qualifying inspection. The No. 24 car took the green flag in 38th, but it didn’t take long to jump up the scoring pylon.
At the conclusion of stage one Byron was 15th, taking two tires on his green flag pit stop. But at the end of the second stage, after finishing 10th and earning a stage point, was where his crew chief Darian Grubb upped the strategy even further, having the rookie driver stay out to resume the race as the leader, just had a quartet of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. Byron was able to lead the next 10 circuits.
“We’re starting to have the speed to make those moves kind of moves and be able to have it pay off,” Byron said of the strategy call. “It was risky, but we got a caution. We were really top 10 right before that and we finished 10th in the stage. It wasn’t a huge surprise for us to be there. It feels good to have some speed and to be able to have a run like that.”
Over the final 60 laps, Byron faded outside the top 10. However, with a series of late-race cautions, the No. 24 car was in the right lane on restarts and took the checkered flag in sixth, a career-best for the Charlotte native.
“Our cars are just getting faster,” he said. “Now we have the speed to run in the top 10, which makes it a lot easier to do things and allows us to be more aggressive and allows me to drive the car the way I know how to drive it. I feel like our speed is just starting to get us in a position to be more aggressive with it, which is really good.”
Pocono was Byron’s first time back to a track for a second time outside of Daytona in the Cup Series. In the June race at the Tricky Triangle, the No. 24 car was average, starting 16th and finished 18th.
He believes coming back to a track for a second time helped him earn a sixth-place finish.
Byron said: “Just bringing the same setup [as June] and everything helped a lot for us knowing exactly what we were going to have in the race. I think there’s a couple things we can work on going forward but really good to get a day like that.”
With five races remaining until the playoffs begin, Byron will need to win to be a part of the rookie season. Currently, he sits 21st in points, 106 markers off the cut-line, held by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, who also posted a career-best finish on Sunday (third).
But from the of the start of the weekend to finishing sixth, Byron believes this was his best weekend in 21 Cup Series races this year.
“We qualified sixth, didn’t get to stay up there, but we qualified sixth, finished sixth is good,” he mentioned. “I feel like that’s really strong for us, and I’m excited about it.”
The series heads to Watkins Glen International next weekend where Byron has a pair of top 10s between K&N and XFINITY in two starts.
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