Byron: Keselowski’s move in final Daytona practice ‘unnecessary’

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — William Byron says Brad Keselowski apologized Thursday night after purposely initiating contact between their two cars in final practice at Daytona International Speedway.

It was an apology Byron said he welcomed, even if he still disagreed with Keselowski’s initial intent.

“I just feel like it was unnecessary, still,” Byron said Friday afternoon after Busch Pole Qualifying for Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) was canceled for inclement weather. “I talked to Brad and got his opinion, and I really appreciate him talking to me because that helped just understand where he’s coming from. But I just still feel like it was unnecessary for practice.”

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Keselowski was outspoken after Thursday’s final Monster Energy Series practice, saying that his recent history with others’ blocking techniques had left him in a pickle — either ride his momentum and collide with the leading car, or lift off the throttle and risk contact from behind. Thursday, he chose the former, explaining that he wanted to deliver a message to the rest of his competitors that his frustrations with being chopped off had boiled over.

Message delivered? For Byron, not quite.

“It would’ve been more professional to just come talk to me about what was wrong, instead of tear up a race car and make my guys have to bring out a backup and have to work all the way through last night and show up early this morning and work even more,” Byron said. “I don’t think that’s the way to handle it, so that’s the unnecessary part for me.”

Another driver who took exception to Keselowski’s tactics was Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson, who called the incident “avoidable.” Johnson said blocking is the name of the game under the current rules package and that Keselowski’s salvo only aggravates a pressure-packed playing field.

“I don’t know if, I don’t think he sent a message to anybody,” Johnson said. “I think it was kind of careless and not such a smart move yesterday. If he feels good about it, which clearly — I just watched his interview, it was on in the bus before I came over here — he feels pretty good about what he did, and we’ll just see how it all unfolds for him.”

Only a dramatic save by Byron saved the incident from being much worse. His No. 24 damage sustained only moderate right-side damage and he was able to drive the car back to the garage.

The 21-year-old driver says he took comfort in Johnson’s show of support, as well as his No. 24 Chevrolet crew, which worked tirelessly to make his reserve car race-ready.

“It doesn’t bother me because I’m driving the car at the end of the day, and I still have an opportunity to do that and my team backs me,” Byron said. “The confidence that comes from my team to know that they support me is all that I need. I think I’ve said this other times, but I don’t care to have him as a friend or anything, and I don’t really need other people’s approval. So I can still have a clean race car to go race on (Sunday) and hopefully win the race.”