Who… should you be talking about after the race?
Can a good driver take his car to a better finish than it might have been worthy of? Sure, and the best drivers can do it often. William Byron didn’t have the best car for Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway, but he had the best restart when he needed it and a bold move up his sleeve to grab the win.
It’s Byron’s sixth win of the year, a career best, and it assures him a place in the Round of 8 in the playoffs.
Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson had the field covered between them. Larson was racing Wallace for the lead in the final stage when his No. 5 got out from under him, and the resulting crash ended his night.
Wallace had a comfortable lead after that, surviving one late restart, but he couldn’t quite make the No. 23 stick on the final restart of the day, and that’s when Byron struck. He dove low with the No. 24 as Wallace battled Chase Briscoe, and his brash move paid off. Byron was able to clear Wallace and a charging Ross Chastain, who also got by the No. 23, to draw away in clean air to take the win.
Byron led just six laps, but those six laps put him much closer to contending for a title.
And don’t forget Briscoe. Briscoe was second on the final restart and almost cleared Wallace for the lead before slipping back to 10th. That’s a good day for Briscoe, who has struggled in 2023 after making the payoffs last year. It’s his seventh top-10 finish of the year, and Briscoe handled himself well in a chaotic situation. If any driver needed a boost of confidence, it’s Briscoe, and he gave it to himself Sunday.
What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?
Despite late-race issues that derailed a very promising day, things are looking up for Legacy Motor Club. Erik Jones was one pit call away from contending for the win before getting caught in a late crash as a result of the call, and Carson Hocevar had another solid mid-pack run, an overall positive learning experience.
The organization had a similar pattern last year when it picked up significantly in the second half, but after a season wrought with performance and personnel issues, along with the announcement that the team would move to Toyota next year, things seem to be stabilizing in that camp.
The team has said it’s not getting further information from Chevrolet after announcing the manufacturer change, so its improvement is doubly impressive. But what will life be like in the Toyota camp for Legacy and co-owner Jimmie Johnson, a Chevrolet driver since the age of 16?
Joe Gibbs Racing is Toyota’s flagship team, and it hasn’t seemed to be open to sharing the Toyota goodies with other teams in the past. It’s taken Toyota a long time to build to the eight teams it will have next year. Will JGR share everything? Certainly, working together will be beneficial to LMC and 23XI Racing, both two-car organizations.
Jones is a former JGR development driver, and new teammate John Hunter Nemechek came from that pipeline as well. LMC might have benefitted from a veteran driver (Nemechek was Toyota’s top choice for the ride) and may get some from a part-time effort for Johnson, but the move sets the team up for a solid future, especially if equality reigns supreme in the Toyota garage.
Where… did the other key players wind up?
Pole winner Wallace was the class of the field for much of the day, leading a race-high 111 laps. But as often happens in racing, leading the most laps doesn’t mean leading the last one. Wallace had the race in hand until a six-car incident with just 12 laps to go gave the rest of the field another chance. Byron’s big move on the restart put Wallace in traffic, where he finished a solid third.
Defending race winner Tyler Reddick won the first stage, and like his teammate, was having a strong race early. Reddick led 36 laps on Sunday, but the late crash that derailed Wallace’s day also derailed Reddick’s, as he was collected in the incident and finished 25th.
Active Texas win leader Kyle Busch started seventh and looked strong early on. His troubles began after a round of pit stops in the first stage. Whether it was a loose wheel or another wheel issue, Busch drove through some handling problems before the car snapped around on him, slamming the wall and causing so much damage that Busch had to drive it from the backstretch to pit road backwards.
His team attempted to make repairs, but the clock ran out on them and Busch was credited with a 34th-place result, dropping him to 12th on the playoff scoreboard.
Last week’s winner Denny Hamlin looked like a contender early. He scored points in both of the first two stages, finishing ninth and third. Hamlin didn’t quite have the speed to fight for the win, though. He didn’t lead laps but finished fifth, putting him in good position ahead of the uncertainty of Talladega Superspeedway and the difficult Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
When… was the moment of truth?
It doesn’t take much to be the difference between winning a Cup race and not. Jones was running second in the final stage after finishing runner-up in stage two, but the decision to pit under caution for tires while many of the leaders stayed out put Jones in the danger zone, where he was part of the lap 255 pileup.
A shaky final restart after that same incident cost Wallace the win. Wallace chose the outside lane for the restart, often the preferred line, but it was the bottom lane that got the momentum on the start, making that decision at the choose costly.
It’s not just the big crashes or problems that can change a driver’s day: The little things matter. A lot.
Why… should you be paying attention this week?
Other than Byron, the playoff drivers won’t sleep easy this week with Talladega on the horizon.
The unpredictability of superspeedway racing ramps up with the added pressure of the playoffs. With the current package, one which NASCAR seems unwilling to change, the huge packs of cars running inches apart instable air almost guarantee at least one multi-car pileup, and getting caught in that has spelled disaster for playoff contenders in the past. It’s a race where the title won’t be won but it can be lost.
For the drivers outside the playoffs, Talladega represents an opportunity to earn a little attention with a win. Drivers not in the title hunt don’t get a lot of mention unless they force the conversation, so Talladega is a race that come of the smaller teams circle on the calendar.
How… big a deal is 300 Cup Series wins?
It’s a big enough deal that no car owner had ever done it … until Sunday. Byron’s win was the 300th victory for his car owner.
But the first almost never happened. Rick Hendrick was one race away from shuttering his organization when Geoffrey Bodine came through with the organization’s first win at Martinsville Speedway in 1984.
Since then, Hendrick Motorsports has scored an additional 299 race wins and 14 Cup championships with another 19 drivers.
Jeff Gordon tops the list with 93 of those wins; he and Johnson combine for more than half with a total of 176.
Others had just one win in their time with the organization. But every one of them has his name and each of his wins immortalized in the HMS competition center. All are valued for their contributions, whether it’s one win or dozens of them, the first one or the most recent. When the organization celebrated the 300th win, every one of those 20 drivers was represented.
That’s important, because Hendrick’s belief in all of his people, all of his drivers, is why the team can put 300 wins on that wall. Hendrick appreciates each and every one of them — maybe because he came so close to not having the chance to win any at all.
About the author
Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.