Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: It’s Only Up for William Byron

What Happened

William Byron, Ross Chastain, Corey LaJoie, Austin Cindric and Alex Bowman came dogfighting to the white flag. Chastain made a risky move to the inside with only feet to spare and tagged Cindric in the process leaving the path completely open for Byron to take the victory at Daytona International Speedway.

Bowman had a run and managed to pass Byron but it was a moment too late as the caution came out.

With this win, Byron has managed to break Hendrick Motorsports’ winless drought in the Daytona 500, the last victory coming in 2014.

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

It is his 11th NASCAR Cup Series victory, Hendrick’s ninth in the 500, and the fourth 500 for the No. 24, bringing the number back to victory lane in the Great American Race for the first time since 2005.

What Really Happened

With a sold-out crowd, an array of manufacturer and driver changes, and good racing in the Bluegreen Vacations Duel races, there was a considerable measure of disappointment when the Daytona 500 was moved to Monday (Feb. 19) due to rain. Instead of the traditional 2:30 p.m. ET start, the race was set to start at 4 p.m. ET the next day.

Many stories rotated heading into the event at Daytona. Joey Logano’s pole helped Ford grab the front row, toppling Bowman and Hendrick’s pole domination of the 500.

Meanwhile, Toyota continued its sweep of 2024’s Cup Series events with Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell each taking a victory in the Duels. Despite its usual streak of bad qualifying runs, the Toyotas were showing out while the Chevrolets drivers had yet to take anything for themselves.

Coming to the green flag on Monday there were a lot of unknowns as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum is not exactly the greatest tell-all when it comes to performance.

Surprisingly enough, each manufacturer held its own on the high banks, taking control of the race at different points. The Toyotas and Chevrolets were strong during the first stage while the Fords flat-out dominated in the second.

The third stage saw a broad mix of manufacturers shift in and out of dominance but it was the Chevrolets that controlled the race at the very end.

Byron won the 2024 Daytona 500 coming off of a breakout six-win season in 2023, effectively continuing his dominance of the Cup Series.

If he hasn’t arrived yet (and he certainly has), he’s here now, returning to victory lane at the site of his first-ever Cup Series victory in 2020.

Byron ran within the top 10 for the majority of the day and has now shown he can put together a full race at every track type. If he continues this trajectory going into the rest of the season just as he did throughout 2023, it is only up for Byron. The momentum from a 500 victory is unlike any other race and his confidence can now return following a loss to Ryan Blaney in the Championship 4 race last year.

It’s also a big redemption arch for HMS, which has had some degree of bad luck in the 500 in the past few years, now smashing its winless drought and working together to place all four cars within the top 15 and in contention in the final two laps.

See also
The Underdog House: Corey LaJoie Turns Up the Heat at the Daytona 500

Who Stood Out

Justin Haley deserves a huge shoutout for the speed that he showed in Rick Ware Racing equipment. The new driver-team combination and partnership with RFK Racing have helped the team’s performance when Cody Ware could usually be spotted running a mile behind the draft.

Haley was drafting with the Fords fastest and helped them dominate the front in stage two. Unfortunately, he had fuel pressure issues and dropped out of contention before the start of the final stage.

LaJoie showed an immense amount of maturity and skill behind the wheel at Daytona. Spire Motorsports is another team that has been revamped for 2024 and it is showing speed right out of the gate. Throughout the final stage, LaJoie showed a lot of promise and had the potential to take the victory. In the end, he finished fourth and is starting his season off strong.

The Legacy Motor Club drivers showed a ton of speed Monday and last week. John Hunter Nemechek and Erik Jones finished seventh and eighth, respectively, and ran strong all day, aiding the Toyota drivers in their efforts. Unfortunately for the team, Jimmie Johnson was caught up in the first crash on lap 6 and was never really able to compete but at least he was able to watch his team have a good day.

Stewart-Haas Racing showed up with a lot of confidence this week as well. Maybe the organization is really onto something with all of its offseason promotional talk. It’s Daytona so it’s hard to gauge true performance, but a ninth and 10th-place finish for Noah Gragson and Chase Briscoe, respectively, will surely help with momentum. Josh Berry and Ryan Preece also had a lot of potential, though they fell back due to their issues.

Of course, I can’t talk about who stood out without mentioning HMS again. Specifically Bowman and Chase Elliott, both coming back from injuries and less-than-stellar runs last season. Kyle Larson also squeaked out an 11th-place finish despite suffering damage in The Big One. So much for him being bad at superspeedways.

Who Fell Flat

On the flip side of the Legacy conversation, Johnson had a very bad race in this running of the 500. Of course, it was due to factors largely outside of his control but his Duel finish put him in the back of the field where he could be caught up in an early-race crash.

Johnson will always be a seven-time Cup champion, but you can only say he’s run into bad luck so many times before it starts to become more than a coincidence. Johnson came home Monday with a 28th-place finish.

The same could be said for Austin Dillon, who is a usual favorite for the Daytona 500 with his prowess on drafting tracks and his experience as a former winner of the event. Unfortunately, it looks like he may be continuing the trend he was on last year, leading the series in DNFs. Dillon finished 37th, many laps down and the last of the cars still running on track.

Chastain was extremely fast throughout this running of the 500 and had a real chance to win at the very end. Unfortunately for him, that never came to fruition because he made a last-ditch effort to pass Byron on the inside and caught Cindric in the crossfire, falling flat and sending them both into the infield.

Chastain demonstrated clear skill in the draft Monday and he has already stated how much he does not care, but it does not take a genius to see that with this move he is not helping his reputation in the garage going forward. The caution flew moments after and he managed a 21st-place finish.

See also
Tuesday Morning Pit Box: Kyle Busch Burnt by Pit Road Gaffes in Daytona 500

Better Than Last Time?

The last three Daytona 500s have had very good racing at least and been a phenomenal show at best. There has been consistent three-wide action throughout the pack, comers and goers, and the ability for teams to act out strategy and teamwork. The consistent single-lane freight trains have largely been a thing of the past.

The difference between this race and the 2023 running was the crashes. This year there were only five cautions in total, compared to the eight last year. This is mostly owed to the lack of an overtime finish, which made the end of this race bearable to watch, so yes, it was better than last time.

Paint Scheme of the Race

Though the clash saw the debut of many new primaries, including some beautiful designs on the new Toyota and Ford bodies, the Daytona 500 is usually where teams bring their real “A” game and bring it they did.

Gragson’s Clash ride certainly stunned fans, but in the wrong way and for all of the wrong reasons. Fortunately for our eyes, SHR redeemed itself with Gragson’s scheme featuring Black Rifle Coffee Company on the hood.

Everything from the American flag draped over the black camo hood to the Winchester logo proudly placed behind the number, to the palette so iconic to Gragson, it fits in with the SHR aesthetic and felt so good to see on the track.

23XI Racing put up two bangers in a row on the No. 23 car with Bubba Wallace’s McDonald’s scheme. It seems like with each year McDonald’s is getting edgier and edgier. In 2021 and 2022 Wallace showed up with a white and red Mickey D’s scheme, and then the following year he arrived on the scene with a matte grey scheme.

Now he takes to the track in an all-black and red scheme. I don’t know what strings Grimace is pulling behind the scenes but I think it’s just in time for a villain-arch, or at least another breakout season.

What’s Next?

For the first time, Cup will be headed to back-to-back points-paying races on drafting tracks at the start of the season.

With Auto Club Speedway taken off of the schedule for the time being, Atlanta Motor Speedway will host the Ambetter Health 400, the second race of the season on Sunday, Feb. 25th at 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on FOX.

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12 Comments
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Bill B

As always a crap shoot race.

While not a Byron fan, being a Gordon fan for all those years, it’s hard for me not to get a little nostalgic about seeing the 24 car in victory lane. I was also glad that someone from a team that has little chance of winning on a non-plate track didn’t win and get gifted a playoff spot. That is still a ridiculous attribute of the current points format.

It was also nice that there wasn’t a lot of single file parade laps in the race. Of course I was happy that DH was involved in the first big one. I don’t really care who wins most weeks as long as it isn’t him.

All in all a pretty typical Daytona race. A couple of big wrecks, a bunch of damaged cars, and a totally random finishing order.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill B
Jeremy

Since Gordon is basically running the day to day for Hendrick now, he’s still winning when any of their cars win.

The underdogs still have 2 more races to luck their way into the playoffs!

Rg72

Traditional 2:30 ET start time? Only in the same way tradition was modernized when the Labor Day race was moved from Darlington to Fontana.

DoninAjax

The first full telecasts of the 500 got the green at 12:45. The TV broadcast came on at 12:40. I wouldn’t exactly call this progress. But they were really a “race” until 2003.

janice

when they get to that 3rd segment on a plate (well i guess it’s spacer) track, you know the storm will hit. what a mess that was. i was glad when hamlin got caught in it. i was hoping truex or ky busch would had won, since they’re some of the few old guards left. onto atlanta. hey our weather this weekend is supposed to be very nice. cool in the mornings but in 60’s fri/sat and possibly 70’s on sunday. let’s hope it stays that way.

DoninAjax

Bubba finishing fifth is like Natalie Decker finishing 18th: a lot of cars have to have problems.

DoninAjax

With 10 laps to go Bubba was 27th.

Kevin in SoCal

How do they determine the last place cars of Hocevar and Burton? They both wrecked out.
How come Grala, Dillon and McDowell only have one point?
Lastly, weren’t there points in the Duels, too?

DoninAjax

They go by the position of the cars at the start of the lap.

Positions 36-40 get one point each.

There were points as usual for the TV timeouts, 10-1.

RD

Why didn’t Chastain get credited with a 2nd place finish? NASCAR’s own photo shows him sliding across the finish line ahead of the 48?

DoninAjax

Chastain did not finish lap 200. He was the first car one lap down.

Kevin in SoCal

He crossed the lap 199 line, but he did not cross the finish line, that’s why.

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