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March 27, 2024

Richmond Turning Point: Could Byron dominate 2024? A must-perform weekend for SHR; More mid-week story lines

General view of Richmond
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with COTA in the rearview and Richmond (Sun., 7 p.m. ET, FOX) right around the corner.


1️⃣ Could William Byron dominate his way through the season?

2️⃣ Not must win, but must-perform this weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing

3️⃣ How Christopher Bell lost COTA in Stage 2

4️⃣ These drivers are tops on short tracks in the Next Gen era

5️⃣ Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

William Byron, Rudy Fugle pose in Victory Lane
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

1. Could William Byron dominate his way through the season?

With a Daytona 500 and road-course victory already on the resume, the 26-year-old driver appears to be well on his way to cementing the No. 24 as the top dog in the Cup Series once again.

Two wins after six races on the Cup calendar match what Byron accomplished last year, as he marched on to six wins in 2023 and reached the Championship 4. Even though his 2024 has been hit or miss, with three finishes outside the top 10, he finished 25th or worse in three races at this point in 2023.

Richmond certainly wasn’t kind to Byron last season with two results outside the top 20, but with the return of night racing around the 0.75-mile facility, the No. 24 team could solve their woes at the track as Byron and crew finished top 10 in six of eight races that concluded under the lights last season.

Based on trends in the Cup Series Playoffs era (since 2014), Byron is looking good to be a lock for a Championship 4 return as the first multi-time winner in each season of the current era has advanced to the title round in nine of 10 seasons. This is the third consecutive year Byron has accomplished the feat.

MORE: Final standings result for first drivers to score multiple wins in a season

While Richmond will be a challenge for the No. 24 team, Byron has won at three of the next six tracks on the schedule (Martinsville, Darlington, Texas) following the weekend in Virginia’s capital.

Sonoma is on tap soon after that stretch and Byron will likely be the favorite for that event as he’s finished top two in the last three road-course races.

2024 is still in its youth, but based on Byron’s current prowess and his success on upcoming tracks, this could be the season that takes him from title contender to No. 1 in the Cup Series.

William Byron drives at Sonoma
Logan Riely | Getty Images

2. Not must-win, but must-perform this weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing

Stewart-Haas Racing hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Kevin Harvick capped off a back-to-back run of wins at Richmond in 2022. With short tracks being the organization’s bread and butter in the Next Gen era, can they finally snap a year-and-a-half winless drought?

As Stewart-Haas Racing is in a current rebuild state with a fresh driver lineup, there have been subtle signs of its improvement early in the season.

Both Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson have a pair of top 10s to kick off 2024 and the drivers showed quality pace at both Las Vegas and Phoenix. While Ryan Preece and Josh Berry have yet to find their stride this season, Richmond could flip the script.

The last time NASCAR visited Richmond, SHR was arguably the organization of the day with three top 10s and Briscoe bringing the No. 14 Ford home in 11th. Going back to the spring race in 2023, all four cars finished 18th or better, and rookie Berry finished second while filling in for the injured Chase Elliott at Hendrick Motorsports.

Sunday is the first Richmond night race in the Next Gen era, so there will be few notes to go off, with the new short-track package making its sophomore outing and both practice and qualifying sessions taking place in the middle of the day. As the race will likely be determined by pit strategy and tire conservation, it could play into the hands of Preece and Berry, who come from the local short-track scene where both aspects are paramount to success.

SHR doesn’t need a victory Sunday evening, but Richmond will be pivotal in displaying the trajectory for the organization through the rest of 2024.

Ryan Preece drives at Richmond
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

3. How Christopher Bell lost COTA in Stage 2

NBC’s Steve Letarte and MRN’s Todd Gordon look back at Christopher Bell’s first pit stop of the day at COTA, costing him precious seconds due to a fueling issue.

4. These drivers are tops on short tracks in the Next Gen era

The usual suspects top the ranks of drivers with the most points scored on short tracks in the Next Gen car, but a few may surprise you ahead of Sunday’s race at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin443
Christopher Bell417
Kyle Larson416
Ryan Blaney342
Chase Elliott340
Joey Logano338
William Byron333
Ross Chastain328
Chase Briscoe323
Chris Buescher322

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

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Cup cars drive at Richmond
Jonathan Bachman | Getty Images