William Byron held off Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace after a late race restart at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday (Sept. 24) to win his sixth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season. Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin finished close behind in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The victory marks Hendrick Motorsports’ 300th Cup Series win in its existence and the most for the No. 24 since 2007 with Jeff Gordon.
But What Really Happened?
Forgive me. I’m going to be a bit of couch racer today.
Wallace only had to stay in his lane to beat Byron off the exit of turn 4 with six laps to go. If he could do that, his victory and a ticket into the playoff Round of 8 was all but secured.
That’s it. That’s all he had to do.
But instead, he tried to block Byron.
Sunday had started off with such positivity, too. After winning only his second career Cup Series pole the day before, Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota was looking at a clear track ahead of him when the pace car rolled off before the green flag. After narrowly escaping a brutal Round of 16 with his championship hopes intact, it was an even sweeter sight knowing he was starting the next round on the right track.
Wallace took the green flag and led 70 laps in the first stage. Unfortunately, he was unable to score the stage win after pit strategy put him behind the top 10.
Stage two was more of the same. After leading an additional 27 laps, Wallace faded near the end and only scored two stage points after fading all the way back to ninth. It was a great start in terms of laps led, but oddly enough, it wouldn’t amount to much in terms of championship points.
It at least ended with the most laps led of his career and with a third-place finish — his best result since his win at Kansas Speedway last year.
But it could have been so much more.
There is arguably no driver in the Cup Series garage that is harder on himself than Wallace, constantly blaming himself for losses and what has been a winless season so far in 2023.
And Texas will likely be no different. After leading the most laps of the day and even leading the race with only six laps to go, the No. 23 team missed what may have been their best opportunity to win and advance into the playoff Round of 8.
But instead, he’ll have to start the wild card races of Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL two points below the cut line.
Who Stood Out?
But before Wallace could make his blunder, Kyle Larson was the man to beat yet again.
While Wallace had led the most laps on Sunday with 112, Larson found himself leading the second-most with 99. Late in the going as the sun began to touch the Texan horizon, Larson led the way and was by far the fastest car on the track.
Just how fast, you ask?
Out of all 36 cars in the entire 267-lap event, Larson was the only driver to run a lap time under 29 seconds. On lap 216, the No. 5 ran a 28.832-second circuit around the 1.5-mile track.
No one else came close to that. In fact, it was the fastest lap all day by nearly four tenths of a second (0.400).
Even more sweet for the 2021 Cup champion, he was on the road to be the one to earn Hendrick Motorsports its 300th Cup victory.
It all was shaping up to be yet another dominating win in Larson’s favor.
Who Fell Flat?
Until 19 laps to go, that is.
In a late race caution, Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels found themselves with the choice of either pitting for tires and losing the lead, or staying out and retaining their coveted track position.
They chose the latter, and when around 13 other drivers did the same, Larson looked like he was in prime position for Mr. Hendrick’s win No. 300.
His only problem? He had a very hungry Wallace restarting alongside him. When they finally dropped the green flag and piled into turn 1, Wallace held his line well after a strong restart and kept the No. 5 from clearing him. The two remained stuck together for a whole lap before reaching turn 1 again.
But when they did, Larson couldn’t hold his inside line anymore and slipped up the track.
And into Wallace.
Larson never was able to return to the race and was credited with a 31st-place finish.
With a victory in stage two, he was able to salvage some points from the endeavor. However, his mishap now has him only two points above the cut line — and the same driver that he had made contact with in Wallace.
Better Than Last Time?
Last year’s main event at Texas was plagued by blown tire madness as fans had to constantly witness their favorite drivers hit the wall in blown tire after blown tire and a Texas record-breaking amount of caution flags as a result.
Sunday was nowhere near as bad.
But it was still pretty chaotic.
With 16 cautions in 2022, this past weekend’s 11 doesn’t seem like that much in comparison to race stoppage. That is a Texas two-step in the right direction to be sure.
But remember last year was 500 miles, a whole 67 laps more than there were on Sunday.
With 22 lead changes, (while less than last year’s record 36) Sunday seemed pretty average as modern-day Texas races go in terms of competition.
Whether that’s good or bad, the jury’s still out to lunch.
But they’re about to walk back in with a verdict soon, and they’re probably not going to have good news.
Paint Scheme of the Race
It may have been another normal race Texas for the Cup Series, but what wasn’t normal was the collage of new paint schemes making their debuts this weekend.
But on design alone, one scheme seemed to stand out more than others.
Ty Gibbs‘ Interstate Batteries scheme may have been a color reversal scheme, but when was the last time we’ve seen a simple color reversal scheme look so good?
The original green lightning bolt scheme was already easy on the eyes, but the black primary with green secondary offered a great-looking alternative that probably would have worked even better in a night race.
Maybe one day it actually will.
The biggest wild card race in the playoffs.
The Cup Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway for its second trip to the 2.67-mile oval of the year. Qualifying for the YellaWood 500 will be live on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 4:30 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.
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
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.