DARLINGTON, S.C. – William Byron survived a series of late-race yellow flags and a late restart on Sunday, May 14 to win his first NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway and seventh of his career. Finishing a close second was Kevin Harvick, with Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace rounding out the top five.
This is Byron’s seventh career win at a seventh different track and third of the season. It’s also Hendrick Motorsports’ first win at the South Carolina circuit since 2012.
But What Really Happened?
Four consecutive weeks.
This is the fourth week in a row we’re talking about Ross Chastain, and it hasn’t been just because of the top-five finishes.
On this week’s edition of Melon Man Melancholy, it’s Kyle Larson becoming the latest receiving end of Chastain racing hard for position – it’s not the first time for him, either. In this skirmish, they were both going for the win at the 1.366-mile track with only six laps to go.
It was another optimistic and aggressive move by the Floridian, and one that ended with the collective groan of everyone in the Darlington media center.
Larson isn’t upset with Chastain for the first time ever, but it’s the latest chapter in the book, and although he said he doesn’t want to get involved in a fight during Saturday’s media scrum bullpen, it sure would have been nice to hear what he wanted to do after he finished 20th and climbed out of his car on Sunday.
It would have been nice, but we don’t know since the driver of the No. 5 declined comment and beelined for his hauler before leaving without a trace.
It’s like what your mom always told you – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Unfortunately, we still have to talk about it for the fourth week in a row.
If you don’t believe that Chastain was the cause of that last Big One at Talladega Superspeedway, that’s fair, but the fact that he was involved in anything is cause enough for mention nowadays. That said, even if the Melon Man wasn’t part of an incident on Sunday, it would still be a story on its own.
Think about it. Chastain having a quiet race with no incident? When’s the last time that happened? It feels like a while ago, doesn’t it?
But that’s where we are. Week after week, the Melon Man has been involved with some hard racing that has angered another driver.
Admittedly, it is fascinating to watch. Like it or not, Chastain has transcended this sport to become the talking point of many a water cooler on Monday morning offices.
But at what point do we start cringing a little bit every time it happens? Because it’s got to be getting close.
We’ve seen that type of aggression before in NASCAR’s history from a certain driver, and he heeded a warning to the Melon Man on Sunday afternoon.
It’s going to take longer than only one race weekend for Chastain to no longer be the story of media. The damage is done to the point that most drivers in the field are upset with the Trackhouse Racing driver, and him saying sorry is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.
There’s simply too much heat around him, whether he likes it or not, and every bump, scrape and rub on another driver’s sheet metal is making it worse.
No, this is something that takes time to cool down before we stop making it a story.
We want to, but we just can’t yet.
Who Stood Out?
When one door closes, another one opens, as they say.
That’s certainly the case for Larson’s HMS teammate Byron.
It’s ironic that Byron’s win comes after Chastain and Larson’s incident parted the seas for the HMS driver to inherit the lead for the final restart. One year ago, Byron had his own scuffle for the win with two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that ended with him (likely) as heated as Larson was on Sunday.
It’s almost like a redemption story, but more than that, it’s a story of continued success. It’s Byron’s third win of 2023, which is the most out of anyone else in the field. However, it’s not what he’s doing this year that’s interesting. It’s what he wasn’t doing last year.
In a stretch of seven races that spanned from the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race to Worldwide Tehcnology Raceway in 2022, Byron didn’t earn a single top-10 result.
We’re in that span of races now this year, and Byron hasn’t finished outside of the top 10 since Martinsville Speedway.
Whatever it was that plagued Byron for most of 2022, the No. 24 team has gotten rid of it, and it might earn them a spot in the Championship 4.
Or maybe even the title itself.
Who Fell Flat?
Martin Truex Jr. was involved with an incident with Chastain, too. Unlike the incident with Larson, however, it wasn’t the Melon Man’s fault.
No, really. It actually wasn’t this time.
The 2017 Cup Series Champion was running down the No. 1 for the stage two win near the end of the segment. With one to go, lap traffic Daniel Suarez held up Chastain heading into the final corner, allowing Truex to catch the Trackhouse driver and gifting him with one more shot at the stage win.
So, Truex threw it inside, but when Chastain hit the wall, Truex hit him and spun himself.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recovered well after that. In fact, Truex still finished 10th in the stage and still earned a stage point.
But that’s not what ruined his day. The contact he had with Logano after a restart with 13 laps to go, however, is.
Did you notice something a little familiar with that move, too?
That’s right. It’s the same thing he did with Chastain. In fact, it’s also similar to what happened with Chastain and Larson.
The incident ended Truex’s day when it was all said and done. The No. 19 went to the garage shortly after. Instead of earning a top five result, Truex would be credited with a 31st-place finish.
Better Than Last Time?
An HMS driver upset with contact they had with another driver costing them a win at the Throwback Weekend race at Darlington?
Anyone else having Deja vu?
On-track disagreement similarities aside, this year’s 400-mile Darlington race was similar to the one we saw one year ago, albeit with a little bit of a downturn in competition. That’s pretty much a good thing.
Although, you have to admit, that first stage was a snoozer.
However, things certainly spiced up near the end of stage two. What happened after in the final segment was a series of lead changes that put it near last year’s race competition-wise.
There were 13 leaders and 24 lead changes in 2022, which is upward in comparison to Sunday’s eight leaders and 19 changes.
However, when you look at Darlington as a whole, this track proved once again why it is the beloved NASCAR circuit that it is.
It produced a wild late-race finish and had plenty of those edge-of-your-seat side-by-side battles we’ve come to know and expect from the Lady in Black, and some of those battles didn’t end well (see any section above).
Paint Scheme of the Race
It’s that time of the year again.
As mentioned in last year’s edition of Thinkin’ Out Loud at Darlington, a great throwback paint scheme should include the livery’s design, its colors and its number font.
First, Logano’s throwback to Roger Penske’s first NASCAR win as a car owner should be mentioned. The red, white and blue popsicle look perfectly encapsulates what Mark Donohue‘s AMC Matador looked like when it won at Riverside International Raceway in 1972.
Then, there’s the Trackhouse Racing duo.
Once again, the drivers of the Justin Marks-owned team have shown up to the gala in some dresses that have everyone talking.
Suarez’s new partnership with Quaker State has allowed the team to pay homage to Ricky Rudd‘s Quaker State car from 1993. Additionally, Chastain’s UPS livery pays respect to Dale Jarrett‘s 2001 UPS paint scheme. Of course, both cars not only changed their number font, but used their sponsor’s history in the sport to their design advantage.
Of course, there’s the return of the Rocketman.
With Ryan Newman‘s return to Cup Series racing coming so suddenly, Rick Ware Racing didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for Throwback Weekend. Despite that, they still came out swinging and pulled a design made for one of the NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers.
But despite all of these lovely designs, no car in the field truly looked like the original design it was replicating.
Except for one.
It’s a little more special when considering it’s paying homage to Elliott’s lineage. He joined his father on the NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list recently as well, making it just a little more special. That’s probably why it won Best in Show, too.
Well, that, and it was a fan vote.
It’s time for a blast from the past – All-Star style.
After being away for 26 years, the sport returns to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for one of the most anticipated All-Star Races in NASCAR’s history. Qualifying for the annual NASCAR All-Star Race will begin on Friday, May 19 at 5:45 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, May 21 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
For those drivers not already locked into next weekend’s race, the NASCAR All-Star Open will be live on Sunday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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