CONCORD, N.C. — Needing a win to advance in the playoffs, William Byron laid it all on the line.
Byron entered Sunday’s showdown 44 points below the Round of 12 elimination line and trying to advance to the Round of 8 for the first time in his career.
After starting 11th in the NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle flexed their muscles with a masterful combination of tire strategy and pure pace. Their valiant effort came up short with a heartbreaking finish, however.
Byron began the day by finishing top 10 in Stage 1 and Stage 2, putting him in prime position to compete for the walk-off win in the final stage.
“Everything went almost according to plan,” said Fugle, leader of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. “The only thing that could have went better is if we didn’t get that one yellow where it bunched everybody back up and caused some chaos. It ended up getting us in an incident. We had the lead, we were stretching the lead and if it stays green, I don’t think anybody catches us.”
Byron charged his way to the front of the pack late to lead a race-high 28 laps before the game-changing yellow flag flew with just 21 laps remaining, setting up a pressure-packed restart.
“It was lookin’ like it was gonna be a really good day,” Byron said. “Even after the caution, it was looking like we were gonna have a shot to win.”
But after battling with teammate Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick to regain the lead, push came to shove and turned Byron’s day on its head.
Entering the backstretch chicane, Reddick got into the back of Byron, causing him to overshoot the curbing and surpass the track limits.
RELATED: Byron bumped out of the chicane
“I just passed the eight (Reddick) off Turn 8 and I guess he had the five (Larson) inside of him,” said Byron. “Just a lack of awareness.”
That on-track incident left Byron further back in the pack after serving a stop-and-go penalty — seemingly the final blow to the No.24 team’s playoff hopes after a myriad of earlier issues.
“We felt like this was one gonna be one of our best rounds,” Fugle said. “We’re great at the Roval, we’re generally great at Talladega but got in a wreck, and we were great at Las Vegas but we got a flat tire. It is what it is.”
Byron’s 11th-place finish in Sunday’s showdown confirms his Round of 12 exit from the NASCAR Playoffs for the second time in his career (2019). Now, the No. 24 crew is focusing on building momentum for the 2022 season and beyond.
“We’re building a championship-caliber team year in and year out,” Fugle said. “William is 23 years old. So, we’re gonna build a solid team around him that can compete for a championship on a regular basis.”