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March 24, 2024

William Byron bulls his way to dominant Cup Series victory at COTA

Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron turned in a steady and inspired drive to earn the NASCAR Cup Series victory from pole position in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas road course Sunday, holding off the field by less than a second but dominating the field when he needed to.

Following up on his season-opening Daytona 500 win, the 26-year-old Charlotte native became the first driver to win multiple races this season. This was his 12th career NASCAR Cup Series victory and gave his Hendrick team a series all-time best 28th win on NASCAR road courses.

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While at times Byron made it look easy, holding a nearly three-second advantage on the field with 10 laps remaining, his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet did have to fend off a hard-charging Christopher Bell, who made up four positions in the closing laps and kept Byron honest in what was ultimately a 0.692-second margin of victory around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile circuit.

“I feel like I made a lot of mistakes in the last 10 laps, just micro-errors and Christopher was really fast there on the longer run,” Byron said. “This sport is so hard and so difficult week in and week out to show up and have fast cars. We’ve had a little bit of a rough stretch the last few weeks but put a lot of preparation in this past week and just thankful for the team I have around me and all the people back home as well.

“Just super thankful to have this opportunity. It’s just a lot of fun to win races, and it’s really difficult, too.”

For his part, Bell, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and a winner at Phoenix this season, acknowledged it came down to a good road-course battle among good teams and talented drivers.

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“Obviously, once I got to him, it was going to be tough to pass him, I just needed a couple mistakes, but William has been really good on the road courses and he was flawless today,” Bell said.

Just behind the pair was Bell’s 21-year-old JGR teammate Ty Gibbs, who is having a stellar sophomore season in NASCAR’s Cup Series. Gibbs ran top five for the majority of the day and was second to Byron until Bell passed him with only two laps remaining. The third-place effort marked Gibbs’ fifth top-10 finish in the season’s six races.

“We were just a little too loose in the right-handed corner,” Gibbs said. “I just wish we were a little tighter, but we did a really good job today. … Good points day. We’ll just keep working hard.”

In fact, the effort now brings Gibbs to second place in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings, only five points behind his teammate Martin Truex Jr.

Byron’s Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman finished fourth, followed by 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, the 2023 COTA winner.

Unlike the previous day’s races at COTA with NASCAR’s other two national series, Sunday’s race had only two caution flags — both for scheduled stage breaks. It was a clean race that still featured seven leaders and 11 lead changes. But Byron led a dominant 42 of the 68 laps.

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One of the sport’s best road-course racers, AJ Allmendinger finished sixth, followed by the 2022 COTA winner, Ross Chastain. Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch and Truex rounded out the top 10.

Shane van Gisbergen and Kamui Kobayashi — two international drivers making their first Cup Series starts this year — endured difficult days. Van Gisbergen’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet lost first gear during the middle portions of the race, and he finished 20th. Kobayashi had two on-track tangles — first with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and later with Sunoco rookie Josh Berry — that relegated his No. 50 23XI Racing Toyota to a 29th-place outcome.

Zane Smith was the highest finishing rookie in 19th.

The NASCAR Cup Series moves to Richmond Raceway next Sunday for the Toyota Owners 400 (7 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson is the defending race winner.

NOTE: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage confirmed Byron’s victory. The No. 51 was disqualified for not meeting minimum post-race weights. The No. 1 was taken to the R&D Center for further inspection.

Contributing: Staff reports