Race Weekend Central

From Big One to Big Win: William Byron Reflects On Daytona Triumph

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — William Byron has been victimized by superspeedway wrecks plenty of times. His Daytona 500 resume entering Monday (Feb. 19) was defined by examples of how you get the short end of the stick: four Daytona 500 DNFs in six tries. He didn’t even have a lead-lap finish or any result better than 23rd.

Byron knows what happens when a bad bump doesn’t go your way. So it was a weird feeling for his bad bump to clear the way for what would be a record-tying ninth victory for Hendrick Motorsports in the Great American Race.

“I have so many emotions,” Byron explained. “Obviously, I hate what happened on the backstretch. I just got pushed and got sideways.”

That incident brought out a 15-minute red flag with eight laps remaining, wiping out Brad Keselowski and other top Ford contenders while Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott escaped without any damage.   

See also
Big Wreck Turns Brad Keselowski's Terrific Run Tragic: 'I Was Making the Pass for the Lead in the Daytona 500'

As the smoke cleared, the trio was left with a perfect setup to gang up on Ross Chastain. On the restart, Byron and Bowman continued to work together, snatching the lead and beginning to pull away heading to the white flag, battling for the lead among themselves.

“[Byron] deserved it there at the end,” Bowman said. “They did all the right things, and I feel like we did too there at the end. Had to go up and block the top lane and that just killed the middle for a bit. We got the middle back rolling and then they all started crashing.”

As the caution light came on, Chastain among those spinning behind them, NASCAR went to instant replay to show Byron’s nose stayed inched ahead of the No. 48. And just like that, a driver in Byron, who entered this race last year with four career wins in his first five seasons now, has seven in just the last year-plus — including a Daytona 500 trophy.

“I’ve always been really raw throughout my career,” Byron said. “I have a lot of undeveloped talent, I guess you could say. I felt like speed was always easy for me. Making lap time by myself was always really easy and came natural, but racing around other cars and managing all those things has been tough.

“But it’s just come over time. I’ve spent half my racing career in the Cup Series, which is crazy, but it’s just the way that my career trajectory kind of went. I think Mr. H [team owner Rick Hendrick] always knew that putting me in the Cup Series would allow me to learn the things I needed to learn, and we’ve been able to see kind of the evolution of that with my team over the last year-and-a-half.”

To do that, Byron needed to reset from his bad bump in a matter of minutes. It’s a weird dichotomy of wreck-turned-win, but a scenario the driver knew he needed to overcome in order to capitalize on a golden opportunity sitting in front of him.

“I just had to block that out and then think about, man, this might be my only shot to ever win this race,” Byron said. “Like, literally. There’s a lot of people that never get a chance to line up on the front row with two laps to go.

“I feel like that motivated me, just the thought of this might be the only time I get this clean of a chance.”

“There was a lot of things taking place at that moment,” added Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon. “You had what was happening up there the first two with Ross and with Keselowski kind of trying to battle to get position for the lead, and everybody behind them is just pushing and shoving, and it was time to go, honestly. …

“Unfortunately, at that time there’s just a lot of movement, and so William is trying to make that move of that one little gap, and when Alex gave him a little nudge, that’s all it took to turn him and make contact with those guys.”

When all was said and done, it was Byron who leaves with the trophy. And for a driver who can often be buried within HMS, both by the popularity of Elliott and the national success of Kyle Larson, any criticism will only motivate him.

“I’m the other guy,” Byron said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get that chip off my shoulder. It’s always been there. It’s just I’m very quiet about it. I don’t know. There’s always reasons to find. We didn’t win the championship, and we don’t get talked about the most, and other people get more publicity, things like that, and I feel like I just — whatever I find, I use as motivation.”

Byron also now stands alone among his HMS counterparts. He’s the only current driver within the quartet with a Daytona 500 win, step one in a crown-jewel quest crew chief Rudy Fugle has set up for his driver in 2024.

Now it’s time to be champions,” Fugle said. “So Daytona 500 champions, and like I said, the World 600 champions, those big races, we’re setting our eyes on those and winning the championship at the end of the year.”

Like it or not, Byron is bumping his way up that list.

Follow @NASCARBowles

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

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.

Share via