Midway through the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, there were discussions about whether the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers would take all of the spots in the championship race. Now, this outcome appears unlikely as William Byron sits well below the playoff cut line with one race remaining in the Round of 16.
The driver of the No. 24 HMS Chevrolet Camaro has struggled during the first two playoff races, albeit for very different reasons. A broken valve stem at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 5 caused a flat tire and sent the No. 24 into the wall, relegating Byron to a 34th-place finish. He completed the entire race at Richmond on Sept. 11 but simply could not keep pace with race-winner Martin Truex Jr. and his fellow playoff drivers en route to a 19th-place finish.
Byron now sits in the 15th position with only one race remaining in the Round of 16. He is 18 points below the cut line while Tyler Reddick (-5) and Alex Bowman (0) sit just ahead of him. Only Michael McDowell (-38) sits in a worse position after 37th and 28th-place finishes at Darlington and Richmond, respectively.
Byron’s Speed Was Slightly Off at Richmond
The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet kicked off the season with a run of strong performances. He won the third race of the season — the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway — and then rattled off another 10 consecutive top-10 finishes to keep him near the top of the points standings.
Byron showed impressive speed throughout the season, but he struggled at Richmond. The No. 24 was the 19th-fastest stock car on Sept. 11, per NASCAR, with a top lap speed of 106 mph and a lap time of 23.232 seconds. For comparison, Truex posted a lap speed of 107 mph and a time of 22.83 seconds.
“We were just really bad. We finished seventh here in the spring and felt like we had something decent,” Byron told NBC Sports after the race. “We tweaked some stuff to try and get a little better. I think the best we got was we got to 11th one time. We just had a lack of grip. Some runs I could run with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and the 12 (Ryan Blaney). Some runs I was way off the pace. I don’t know. I fought both; tight center at the start of the race. I thought we got some more drive in the car. I thought that was kind of making us faster, but that kind of ran out too.”
Byron Has 1 Chance To Reach the Round of 12
While he sits 18 points below the cut line, Byron still has one more chance to move on to the Round of 12. He just needs to win at Bristol Motor Speedway and secure his spot next to Truex, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Larson among the other drivers.
Byron has not won at Bristol in his brief Cup Series career. He has only made six starts at the Tennessee short track, posting a best finish of eighth overall in the first 2020 race. His other finishes have all been outside the top 15, including 38th in the 2020 playoffs due to a crash. The on-track incident ensured that he would see his playoff run end in the Round of 16.
One year later, Byron will strive to go further in the playoffs, but he will have to do so at the same track where his championship hopes previously ended. The Bass Pro Shops Night Race will take place on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage of the action as Byron fights to move on in the playoffs.