Byron, Elliott aiming for Homestead bounce-back after Vegas

William Byron's No. 24 Chevy leads Ryan Blaney's No. 12 Ford through the turns at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Jonathan Bachman
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William Byron and Chase Elliott — the two drivers who still carry Cup Series title hopes for Hendrick Motorsports — ended their Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on opposite ends of the playoffs’ elimination line. Continuing their postseason run will come down to two tracks where each has experienced a degree of success.

Byron finished 13th and Elliott 21st in Sunday’s South Point 400, the first of three races in the Cup Series’ Round of 8. Both were able to avoid the calamity that struck fellow playoff drivers Ryan Blaney and Christopher Bell, who now rank seventh and eighth in the postseason pecking order, but Byron and Elliott were unable to capitalize with substantial gains in the standings.

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“I thought Las Vegas was going to be good for us, but unfortunately all day, we couldn’t really show that,” said Byron, who added that the handling balance of his No. 24 Chevrolet was a trouble spot. “We had some decent stage points, but never enough to really get up towards the front. Just a struggle all day.”

Byron finished 10th and sixth at the stage breaks, mitigating some of the woes with six points added to his current tally. The misfortune for Blaney and Bell actually moved him up a spot to fifth place in the standings, but Byron lost three points relative to the elimination line. He now sits at minus-6 to Denny Hamlin, the last driver above the provisional cut.

Elliott absorbed a larger 14-point loss relative to the elimination line, but his cushion of playoffs points as the regular-season champion and a five-time winner this year softened the blow. He’s third in the standings with a plus-17 margin above that cut-off point.

Another 1.5-mile track looms on the schedule with Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The round will end with a trip to Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30, when the postseason field will be trimmed from eight drivers to the four who will compete for the championship at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6.

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Both Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won at Martinsville, and Byron is the Cup Series most recent winner (Feb. 2021) at Homestead. Elliott was second at the South Florida track in 2020, but was still smarting from his Vegas performance when asked about prospects for Homestead, a dissimilar circuit of the same length.

“Homestead is definitely different,” Elliott said, “but I need to re-evaluate myself, in general, to have a shot next week.”