The No. 24 Chevrolet of William Byron is pushed through the Indy garage
Zack Albert | NASCAR Digital Media

No. 24 team adapts after hauler fire at Indy: ‘Everybody’s safe’

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – One day after the fire that cloaked the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports hauler in smoke, the team had a day of relative quiet at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On a Friday without on-track activity, crew chief Rudy Fugle and the rest of the group assessed the damage, which was thankfully minimal.

The No. 24 team unloaded and began its initial prep for William Byron’s efforts in Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) with some adjustments necessary. Parts, spares and tires that ordinarily would have found homes by the No. 24 hauler all took up real estate in the Speedway’s spacious garage area, and some extra cleaning helped to remove the soot smell from the car and the team’s uniforms.

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Fugle said he’d received a phone call Thursday evening as the hauler was still ablaze in a staging area adjacent to the track. He said a fortunate stroke for the team was the presence of a wash crew that was actively cleaning road grime from the NASCAR Cup Series haulers. When the fire sparked, they sprang into action and kept the flames at bay until the fire department’s arrival.

“It was a great team effort from NASCAR personnel and track workers, fellow truck drivers, the fire department to be able to get it contained where we have everything we need this weekend,” Fugle told NASCAR.com, adding that fire department officials were investigating the cause of the incident. “We have to get a new hauler, but everybody’s safe and all the equipment was able to be salvaged so that part’s great.”

Fugle said the call he received mid-fire initiated a series of contingency plans, including moving the team’s flight to an earlier time, arranging for a reserve hauler and leaning on Hendrick Motorsports’ other three teams for resources. Once on the ground in Indy, the overall assessment was a blend of thankfulness and relief.

“We’re not gonna really know until we go on track but as of right now we don’t see any kinds of performance damage at all,” Fugle said. “The biggest impact is just not having a trailer, which is our hub in the garage area for now. We probably won’t have one that we can work out of until Sunday, but we have teammates that we can borrow from and NASCAR has helped us out by having an internet hub in here so we can use our garage area toolbox generator and kind of use that as our home base for looking at information, data and things for inspection, and tomorrow to make good decisions.”

Byron arrived at the team’s garage stall shortly after lunchtime, chatting with Fugle and the rest of the crew. He said he was thankful first and foremost that no injuries were reported, and secondly that the impact of the incident to the car and equipment was small.

“I just think our team just takes it in stride, and just moves on and focuses on what we can control this weekend,” Byron told NASCAR.com. “I’m excited for it, and it doesn’t really change much for the weekend. I feel like these guys do a really good job of just adapting. We’re really fortunate to have a lot of good resources at Hendrick, so I think they’re going to bring the test hauler that we ran at Watkins Glen and tested with, so we’ve got a lot of great resources. If we were a single-car team or something, I’d be concerned, but thankful for all the people and support we have at Hendrick to deal with something like this.”

Byron is a two-time winner this season, which locks him into the Cup Series Playoffs field. His victories have come at Atlanta in March and Martinsville in April, but he hasn’t scored a top-five finish since that second tally – an especially dry 13-race stretch.

An early indicator that a turnaround could be nigh: Byron showed speed and won the pole position for the series’ Indianapolis Road Course debut last year. This year, the team has already had another first – an unwanted distinction before the haulers ever parked on the Brickyard’s grounds.

“I worked with some older guys as you’re growing up, and they say if you do this long enough, you’re gonna have something new happen and something crazy happen, and things you never thought would happen to you always happen,” said Fugle, who has been a crew chief in NASCAR national-series competition since 2011. “So definitely mark this off when they go write it down in the book.”