William Byron finished second behind Ryan Blaney in the Oct. 1 Round of 12 playoff race at Talladega, narrowly missing out on adding to his Cup Series-leading six victories in 2023. While the final result was undeniably positive, what happened in the final laps with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott raised questions and prompted the 25-year-old to explain his actions after the race.
It all started when the No. 9 car ran in the bottom lane and led the field across the start-finish line with five laps remaining and the Nos. 5 and 24 right behind him. In those closing laps around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, which is known for drafting and success is often dependent on how well drivers work with their organization and manufacturing teammates, it made sense for the three HMS cars to work together until the end of the race and potentially secure a win for the organization.
However, coming out of Turn 2, Byron had other ideas and moved up the track to the middle line in front of a hard-charging Kevin Harvick. The Stewart-Haas Racing car pushed the No. 24 car to the lead, where the driver then dropped back down to the bottom lane in front of the two teammates he was trailing just moments before.
It paid off at the race’s end as Byron finished second while Elliott and Larson were involved in a late crash yards before the finish line and ended 7th and 15th, respectively.
Byron explained his decision to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio reporter Claire B. Lang after the race.
“I feel like the No. 4 and No. 12 could really get linked together well,” he said. “And when I got down in front of the No. 9, it felt like we had some momentum and then it kind of stalled. I just feel like it was tough to link up there at the end.”
William Byron Confirms Issues With Chevrolets at Superspeedways
William Byron admitting how it was tough to link up with his HMS teammates is a telling statement and confirms the issue discussed all season about how Chevrolets struggle on the superspeedways of Talladega and Daytona to stay connected and push in the draft due to the car’s design.
Conversely, as Byron mentioned, the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney did not have any issues. They have thrived on the high-speed tracks all year. Throughout the race, the blue ovals regularly connected and pushed each other to the front of the field.
That continued until the end, with Blaney and Harvick eventually battling up front on the final laps. Ironically enough, the Team Penske driver won the race by inches because he received a better push from Byron.
Become a Top Driver in 2023
While some HMS fans might view the late move by Byron as not being a team player, the final result shows he made the right decision, especially when considering he avoided the crash that produced a lot of damaged cars and, more importantly, cost drivers positions, including Elliott and Larson.
Anyone paying attention this year realizes that the decision-making of the No. 24 pilot has improved, as he’s become more aggressive and calculated in his moves. You don’t have to go back very far to see evidence of it, including the Sept. 24 Texas race, where he made a bold move late on Chase Briscoe and Bubba Wallace that ended in a trip to victory lane.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the young driver to the top of HMS and the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023, and there’s every reason to believe he will continue to make more aggressive moves like this the rest of the season. If that happens, no one should be surprised if it propels him to his first-ever championship in Phoenix.